This week I’d like to introduce you to Annie Corrigan. Many of you might know Annie as being the local voice for NPR’s Morning Edition, she produces WFIU’s weekly sustainable food program- Earth Eats. I know Annie as a member of our community, and someone who approached me for help with organizing a fundraising event for “Dancing With Celebrities” last year, where we raised money for Middle Way House by way of a Carnival in Fountain Square Mall. Today, though, she’s here because of her degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University, and the handmade reeds she’s making as she continues to practice her craft. Without further ado: Annie Corrigan’s favorite handmade item….
I’ve posted several little bits of paper around my music desk that catch my eye as I make my oboe reeds.
“Happiness is a good reed in the box.”
“Three keys to a good reed are 1) sharp knife; 2) sharp knife; 3) sharp knife.”
“Create a beautiful reed sculpture and it will make beautiful music.”
Even with more than 20 years of oboe playing under my belt, I still sometimes recoil at the idea that my music making is dependent on my woodworking skills. But there’s no escaping it.
I am an oboe player, and that means I am also a crafter of tiny wooden sculptures.
It surprises people all the time to hear that advanced student players and professional oboists make our own reeds. We don’t buy them like clarinet and saxophone players. The questions that follow tend to be… Why is it that way? How long does it take you to make one? How long does a reed last? Every oboist would answer these questions differently.
For me, making a reed starts with tubes of cane that would remind you of those bamboo-like weeds that grow in ditches and marshes. I look for the exact right portion of the cane to chop off and run through my gouging machine. I let the cane rest for a day or two before I shape it, tie it and scrape it.
We use the verb ‘scrape,’ but here’s where we really start to ‘sculpt…’ I use several extremely sharp knives and razor blades to shave cane in just the right places. The tip of the reed needs to be very thin in certain places. The transition to the heart must be delineated and uniform side to side. Be sure to maintain a strong spine. Try the reed on the oboe by playing a very high note and a very low note. Scrape. Retry. How does it look? How does it feel? Usually one indicates the other. Let the reed rest. I’ll adjust it again before tomorrow’s rehearsal.
There was a time when I spent hours every day making reeds. It was emotionally taxing; each reed felt like life and death. These days, my musical life is by my own choosing – and as a result, so is my reed making. I’ve lost some of my skill and ease with the process, but I’ve gained an appreciation for these little wooden sculptures.
The more you know . . .