The Oboe’s oversized friend

Not content with learning one instrument, the inevitability of this project is that there’s always so much more to discover – welcome the oboe d’amore!

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Thankfully the d’amore has the same fingerings as the oboe but I have been experiencing many difficulties which might be interesting to anyone wanting to give it a try. The oboe d’amore is a minor 3rd lower than the oboe so is in the key of ‘A’. J.S.Bach was a great fan of it because it could play much more easily in certain keys than the oboe and has a darker, more woody character. If you can play baroque oboe it’s almost a given that you should be able to double on oboe d’amore!

The main challenge is the sheer size of it….

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If you have small hands then tough luck. The spacings between holes are much wider than the oboe so you have to stretch out and make sure that you’re completely covering the holes. The first few times I tried it involved lots of squeaking as I couldn’t get the hang of the new hand shape and the basic intonation is slightly different as well. You have to be much more flexible with embouchure and give loads of support in the higher octave with a few more ‘false’ fingerings for safety. All the basic premises are the same but everything needs more accuracy to avoid bum notes!

To get a feel for the instrument I began working on Bach’s Concerto in A major BWV1055 (played here by Lucas Navarro) which was potentially a step too far initially! Even basic things like half-holing D and Eb became more of a challenge. But with more practice this will change fast and I’ll be able to explore the gorgeous colours the instrument can create.


RNCM Chamber Music Festival: Our Baroque Debut!

The annual chamber music festival took place at the RNCM from the 9th-11th of January 2015, and this year it featured a few performances on Baroque instruments, which both of us took part in.  Throughout the festival several of Zelenka’s ‘Lamentations’ were performed alongside some contemporary works, and there was also a performance of Biber’s ‘Battalia à 10’, directed by head of Historical Performance Roger Hamilton.  Here is a short clip of the Biber I played in, where the performers are encouraged to stamp their feet, tap their bows, or even attempt to hit each other over the head as one of the viola players demonstrated!

As it was our first try at playing the instruments in public we were slightly apprehensive, but the concerts went really well and were very enjoyable to play in.  The baroque violin in particular took a bit longer to tune on stage, and also seemed to slip a bit in the performance, but perhaps this just made the performance a bit more authentic..!

It was the piece by Zelenka that Amy and I both got to play in together, which was one of the beautiful Lamentations for solo voice and instrumental accompaniment.  We both discovered how much you have to listen to, and also watch, what the singer is doing to be able to play together and imitate the different phrases they sing.  Similarly, the ‘cello and harpsichord players have to be completely in sync with the bass line.

We were very pleased to get this opportunity to perform on our baroque instruments, and we’re really looking forward to the next time – a ‘Louis XIV’ concert at the RNCM on the 1st of March. Watch this space!

Welcome to the Baroque Oboe

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…..Stanesby model

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.

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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.Baroque oboe reed

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.