Hello and welcome to our nerdy baroque blog! My name’s Amy and I’ve begun the long journey of learning the baroque oboe – a very difficult instrument! I thought it would be an excellent idea for getting inside baroque music and seeing how the instrument lets you play the music of that period. Thankfully the Royal Northern College of Music have provided me with an instrument seen here…..
It’s a Stanesby model made by Richard Earle of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and is absolutely beautiful! Tony Robson, former principal of OAE, has been giving me lessons and generously provided me with reeds, cane, music, reed case etc. etc…..
Where to start? That was the big question beforethe summer holidays when I took the plunge…I wasn’t sure how to go about learning the different fingering system or even begin to understand the many varied national styles of playing from that period. I had half a lesson before the holidays to make sure I could make a noise on it and I literally felt like I was back at Grade 1 wondering what the fingering for A was. It took a long time for me to get my head around and I spent hours on scales and arpeggios, much to my poor parents’ dismay, trying to get the right finger movement and position.
Compared to modern oboe, your hands have to be much flatter and horizontal to the oboe because of the ‘double holes’ which you slide about on.
Also, reeds (dare I mention it) provided another challenge. They’re much wider and larger than modern reeds and you need to keep them further out of your mouth to ensure that the 1st octave notes don’t squeak. Also, embouchure has to be very loose or else you go very sharp and the bottom notes don’t speak. I’d advise lots of practice with a tuner (a semitone lower, 415) and checking every 10 minutes where your pitch is as it’s very easy to creep up closer to modern pitch.
Squeaks were a real problem, and still are sometimes,because to jump up the octave there is no octave key but it’s about air pressure and embouchure, much like the flute. Coming in on a 1st octave E-A was probably the hardest thing I’ve faced so far as you have to get used to the feeling in your core of preparing for more support and air.
Check out the OAE website as it has a great page on the history of the oboe and watch out for future posts that might be helpful if you’re wanting to get to grips with the instrument.