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Forte: The quest for the golden reed

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Have you ever made a sound by putting a blade of grass between your thumbs and blowing really hard? If you haven’t, give it a shot! The moving air causes the piece of grass to vibrate extremely fast between your thumbs, which in turn creates a sort of whistle.

This is essentially how an oboe reed works.

Oboe reeds are made of two extremely thin pieces of a bamboo-like cane. When the oboist blows into the reed, the two pieces of cane vibrate against one another to create a sound. The only challenge with oboe reeds is that they don’t grow on the ground like grass does! All oboe players must learn to make their own reeds, a craft learned soon after starting to play the oboe. We continue to hone it for the rest of our lives.

Oboe reeds are like wine; despite tending to our grapes as best we can, the results are never guaranteed. Most years the harvest won’t be anything special, but on rare occasions the harvest will be unforgettable. Oboists refer to such unforgettable reeds as “golden reeds” or “dream reeds.” We each have strong recollections of these reeds and how they played, how we felt while playing them, how they sounded, etc.

These kinds of reeds give us an unmatched freedom of expression. Every day we spend hours at our reed desk hoping to craft another dream reed. It is time-consuming and often frustrating work, but when we finally stumble upon a golden reed, we quickly forget about our struggles and can only savor the moments we have left with such an amazing reed.

YSO News: Join us on March 20 at 7:30pm for “YSO Roundtable: Meet the Viola Section.” A free, real-time, virtual event!

• Logan Esterling plays oboe and English horn for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. He and other symphony members write this column for SCENE.

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