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April 1-7, 2002

Pursuing the Perfect Reed

Photo by Frances Taylor

Bobby Taylor, associate professor of oboe, and four of his students recently traveled to a region in France known worldwide for producing the best cane for making woodwind reeds.

 

by Bonnie Arant Ertelt

I t is said that oboe players are crazy. Just ask an oboist -- they're the ones who say it most often. And the source of their craziness is their obsession with their reeds.

"It's like splitting diamonds," said Bobby Taylor, associate professor of oboe. "A really good oboe reed tip is thinner than three-hundredths of a millimeter. Research has been done that compares the reeds of some famous oboe players, and every one of them uses reeds that have tips measuring one-hundredth of a millimeter. A reed that thin produces a very warm sound with smooth tonal quality. But making a reed that thin is really hard to do.

"The next step beyond one hundredth of a millimeter is zero, so as you finish scraping a reed, you are very close to ruining it. On the other hand, if you stop too soon, you make a reed that functions, but doesn't have the right sound. This may explain our obsession with reeds."

 

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