by Lee Ann Setzer
This week is the International Double Reed Society conference, and you know what that means. Well, maybe you don’t know what that means. Oboes! Also bassoons and English horns. Contrabassoons and sarrusophones. Heckelphones. And twelve hundred or so people who’ve come from all over the world to share their passion for double-reed instruments.
I have a ninth grade oboist, so I know a little about oboes. I know how much those double reeds cost, and how quickly a junior high oboe player can chew one up. I know I’ll always be able to hear him, no matter how loud the flutes are playing. And I know he doesn’t have to compete for First Chair. He’s the only chair. Oboes are cool.
But that’s all I know about oboes. Last night, we stumbled into a free concert marking the beginning of the double-reed conference. Every piece featured virtuoso solos or duets on oboes or bassoons. I’m assuming we heard the “rock stars” of the double reed world, and they were unbelievable. It was especially fun to watch a bassoon duet. Bassoons look like quarterstaffs, or maybe blunderbusses, with mouthpieces, so the duet looked like the beginning of an assault on a castle.
It takes a lot of dedication just to get a noise out of a double-reed instrument. The performers nurture along their reeds and their mouthpieces, using every break in the music to do enough maintenance to keep the thing working until the end of the performance. You could feel the whole double-reed loving audience silently rooting for them, and the concert hall erupted with enthusiasm for each piece. My husband and I kept our mouths shut, lest we demonstrate our ignorance.
Beyond the gorgeous music, I just enjoyed being surrounded by people passionate about and highly skilled in something I know almost nothing about. Passion like that rubs off on me: I’m just as happy chatting about crystals with a rock lover, or thinking “wow” in an enthusiastic explanation about theoretical physics (This happens sometimes when you live with a physics major.) And of course there’s always the potential for a great story idea. “The Bassoon and the Bandicoot”...now all I need is an international conference on marsupials.