Becoming A Professional Oboe Reed Maker
When I think about my musical beginnings and my entry into the world of handmade oboe reeds after a few years of lessons, I could have never imagined that I would become a successful professional oboe reed maker. I was terrible at at first...and second. Isn't life great! Here is my story- a little quirky, but hopefully a bit amusing- especially for those who have gone through it themselves.
When I was in fourth grade, I was wandering the halls of my elementary school when I passed the gym. The band was rehearsing. I observed them for a few minutes, and remember seeing one student across the room blowing on an instrument I could not recognize with something weird in his mouth. I tucked that memory away. When it was time to pick an instrument in fifth grade, I chose the clarinet- after all, I had heard of it, and didn't want to play flute. I was blessed at the time with $3,000 of braces on my teeth (one of the best gifts a parent can give to a child). I had two other blessings- an orthodontist who said no to clarinet (no offense to my clarinet friends) and a mother who actually knew what an oboe was. I actually remember the ride home from the dentist- go figure. So when she suggested oboe, I said sure - why not. I learned about the oboe sound through Bach Arias already in my home.
I signed up for oboe at school and lessons with the band director in preparation for participation in band. As I was the only oboist in the school at that time, I shared my lesson time with the tuba player. What a scene. Pretty soon, I was offered one piece to play in the band- "Yesterday" by the Beetles, and given a position in front of the conductor and the clarinet section- all by myself. I know there are a lot of you who can relate to this. You know that the best elementary school band music is played fortissimo, because it hides most of the flaws of its young players. To this day, I remember the clarinetist behind me (I will not reveal her name) asking me to please play softer. Ouch. As a professional reed maker now, I empathize with this situation, and do my best to craft an oboe reed that compensates for the undeveloped embouchure.
I progressed well, and was asked to do a student body and parent recital- mine was Swan Lake- in the key of a minor. Doable, until it becomes imperative to exhale- and I hadn't had that lesson yet. It was ugly, but at least I figured it out for the second recital for parents. In 7th grade, after taking some local lessons, my mom came through for me again. She followed Lois Wann, a professional oboist during her career, and suggested that I audition to take lessons. Lois was the go-to oboe teacher in NY. She taught at Juilliard, Mannes, Manhattan College and in her home in Bronxville. She was a teaching machine turning out some of today's most prominent professional oboists as well as many adult amateurs who have enjoyed a lifetime of music making on oboe. She was 15 minutes from my house. I agreed to audition. I was 12 and prepared a piece for her. I was out of my depth. When she played some of it for me- and did so beautifully. I remarked (and I am embarrassed to write this) "you played it better than me and I practiced it!" With laughter and good grace, I was accepted. After a year or so something magical happened. One day I was average (but earnest) and the next day I was exponentially better. It was rather shocking and wonderful for me. I was a socially awkward teen and my budding musical abilities gave me a social community, a certain status, and an excuse to skip certain classes in service of a rotating woodwind ensemble schedule.
I developed well enough to attend The Juilliard School (pre-college division) and continued my conservatory training at Oberlin College with James Caldwell. While I decided to purse a psychology major in in lieu of oboe performance, I continued a secondary performance curriculum.
I started a business career after college, but was fortunate to have extended post-grad mentorships with Bert Lucarelli and Virginia Brewer- who are wonderful friends to me now. I was grateful to have what I think was an extraordinary (and relatively stress free) musical life, and one that I could afford because I was working outside the industry.
Life has a funny way of going full circle. My MBA and sale/marketing management experience was a great foundation to start a specialty music business that more fully captured my interests, personality and lifestyle preferences. So, when I had enough of the corporate world, I was very well prepared to reimagine myself, and start this business.
Oboe reed making, even for personal use, is not for the faint of heart. I have been taught how to make oboe reeds the old fashioned way- and it took years of training, frustration, and persistence, just to get it right for me. It was once said that "it takes a barrel of failed reeds to get good at it". I have filled my barrel, and maybe more- but my efforts finally allowed me to be successful now. I actually find reed making fun, meditative, and even exciting when I discover just how good my reed can be.
I have chosen a business model that keeps us small, highly focused, hands-on and relationship driven. We know that this is a winning formula for our customers because we plan for quality above all else. I focus on products that are supported by our core competences, and that are truly differentiated in the market. This includes: oboe reeds with a bolder professional structure, great cane in the harder end of the continuum; and, used oboes that any pro would want to play, and at very attractive prices.
I don't think it is reasonable for buyers to wait 4-6 weeks for an oboe reed order to arrive. Oboe reed makers have all kinds of reasons for this kind of delay- but you don't have to make their problem your problem. Imagine being left without a serviceable reed the day before a concert. I plan ahead so you do not have to. I have plenty of blanks, sorted by strength and diameter, and ready to scrape to order for you. Best of all, we typically ship in 3 days, even having made the reeds over many days and several drying cycles.