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Topic: Oboe or No?

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  1. #1

    Oboe or No?

    Finally, an orchestration question ...

    I'm tweaking my score for my musical and I must admit I'm a little afraid to use the oboe except in a few select places, and then usually as an exposed solo. The second reed player doubles on the English Horn and Clarinet. But in one number I need to double a vocal line with the oboe because nothing else sounds as good (at least with the sample libraries in my DAW). I'm just wondering if it will work in practice.

    The oboe is used in a few other places in the number, but I want to bring it in a little earlier (on the second verse) to double the melody of a baritone singer, two octaves above. The melody is a bit rangy, so I think having the melody somewhere in the accompaniment would really help the singer. The only other instruments playing at this time are walking bass (a bassoon, doubled by the string bass an octave below) and the drums, at a light march tempo.

    At two octaves above, the accompanying melody line would end on the oboe's lowest note. According to one of the orchestration books I've read, this instruments gets sort of honky in its lowest register. Honky is okay, stylistically, for this number. A French horn, trombones, and trumpets (muted and open) come in on the chorus. A stuffy, stodgy feel is all right, too. I just don't want the oboe to overpower the singer and make it hard for the audience to hear the lyrics.

    I've tried several other instruments in this arrangement, either in unison with the singer or doubled one or two octaves above. Available are a piccolo, the French Horn, or a muted trumpet or trombone, but none of them sound as good as the oboe. I even tried having the piccolo player switch to the flute, which isn't bad, but it sounds a little contrived to bring in a flute just for this verse (and the rest of the part is too high, so it has to be on the piccolo).

    Any feedback would be welcome.

    Thanks.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Oboe or No?

    My own feeling is that we don't hear the oboe's plaintiff tones often enough in modern music, so its use is to be encouraged.
    J.S.Bach uses a single oboe more than fifty times in arias within cantatas as listed within the accompanying documentaion to the BGA. It can be found on IMSLP.
    My own particular favourite, which might impart inspiration (who knows) is the opening aria of BWV32 "Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen" which can be found here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRl0s7n5t_8
    Agreed it's not for baritone but for soprano, but its presence lifts the aria to a new height.

    Just a random thought!
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

  3. #3

    Re: Oboe or No?

    Thanks for the feedback. Love Bach.

    I think the oboe's use is discouraged by the more recent books I've read about orchestration. Probably because the writers assume that composers are trying to write contemporary-sounding pieces (i.e. heavily influenced by Jazz/Big Band music, Rock, and beyond) where the oboe doesn't really fit in (except as a solo).

    Also, the way I normally want to use oboes in an ensemble would be with two of them (with two bassoons on the lower parts) and pit orchestras for musicals usually don't have enough players (furthermore, I get the impression that it's easier to come by players that double on clarinets, flutes, and saxes rather than the oboes or bassoons).

    Allegro Data Solutions

  4. #4

    Re: Oboe or No?

    For me Bach is #1 and it's been like that for the last forty years or more.
    Much more recently, fifteen years ago, I discovered his cantatas. Rendered speechless.

    I really don't understand the logic behind discouraging the oboe's use.
    All the other woodwinds are SO bland in comparison.
    Bach also not infrequently uses pairs of oboes, oboe d'amores, even oboe da cacias in his cantatas not to mention the occasional use of threesomes.
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

  5. #5
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    Re: Oboe or No?

    Most woodwind players usually don't double on oboe. The embouchure strength to play oboe takes quite a bit of practice. I play in a local concert band and getting good oboe players is a challenge. The 2 we had this passed year have played for quite a few years but hadn't been playing as much the last couple years. They struggled all year as they just didn't have the strength to play in tune for a whole concert. Besides having tuning issues they also lacked on the vibrato side.

    Jim

  6. #6

    Re: Oboe or No?

    Jim - That's what I've heard from many other musicians. They sometimes cue the oboe part for soprano sax or clarinet, too, if I'm not mistaken. (Though, these days, I suppose anything could be cued for a keyboard a virtual instrument library, in a pinch.)

    SysExJohn - I have to agree with you there, re: Bach. My Music Theory prof back in college used to say Mozart was the greatest composer who ever lived. (Her highest praise was that a composition sounded "as inevitable as Mozart".) But when I think of my all-time favorite pieces, more of them are by Bach than anyone else. It also seems to me that most people just tend to like Bach's work better.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  7. #7

    Re: Oboe or No?

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    SysExJohn - I have to agree with you there, re: Bach. My Music Theory prof back in college used to say Mozart was the greatest composer who ever lived. (Her highest praise was that a composition sounded "as inevitable as Mozart".) But when I think of my all-time favorite pieces, more of them are by Bach than anyone else. It also seems to me that most people just tend to like Bach's work better.
    I'm afraid your professor was just plain WRONG!
    WAM came second or third after Beethoven.
    No, upon reflection, second.

    When Mozart visited Leipzig and heard one of Bach's cantatas it's reported that he said something like "at last here's someone from whom I can learn!" I suspect I've paraphrased it somewhat.
    Also, at a tender age, (8 as I recall) Mozart's father took the young prodigal to learn orchestration from Bach's youngest son.
    It's reported that Mozart had great respect for Johann Christian and visited him when he came to Vienna.
    There are also a few of Bach's fugues transcribed for orchestra by WAM.
    Did you know that he also signed himself Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart when he was in a German speaking country?
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

  8. #8

    Re: Oboe or No?

    Quote Originally Posted by Haydn View Post
    Most woodwind players usually don't double on oboe. The embouchure strength to play oboe takes quite a bit of practice. I play in a local concert band and getting good oboe players is a challenge. The 2 we had this passed year have played for quite a few years but hadn't been playing as much the last couple years. They struggled all year as they just didn't have the strength to play in tune for a whole concert. Besides having tuning issues they also lacked on the vibrato side.
    Ah, the oboe!

    I spent some years of my youth learning to play the fiend.

    First of all is the double reed.
    A pair of pared down reeds, bound with twine to a 'staple', which is a metal tube covered with cork at one end to fit into the neck of the oboe. The staple can be moved out slightly to 'tune' to the fixed pitch instruments. Mine was about 445Hz when fully inserted.
    The reeds are then 'scraped' to make them thinner at the top.
    The resulting flattened, eliptical hole is about 1/4 inch wide and maybe 1/10th of an inch tall.

    The embouchure.
    The lower lip is folded back over the lower teeth and the reed placed upon it.
    The upper lip is also retracted over the teeth and the mouth closed over the reed. (Mimic a person who has no teeth.)
    A very slight 'bite' is then done to form the embouchure.
    This strange placement of the lips is why oboe players always seem to wear a strange smile.
    The tongue is placed against the tip of the reed and withdrawn sharply as the blowing commences. (A spitting action.)
    The embouchure pressure is increased as the second, higher octave is played.
    There's more, but that forms the basics.

    Back to the reed.
    One starts, as a beginner, with a medium soft reed, which a little scraping makes softer.
    But, as the reed gets wetter, it's ability to open and close reduces and eventually it stops working.
    So, as one progresses one goes to medium and finally to medium hard reeds. (I never progressed beyond medium.)
    The firmer reed will stay open for a more protracted period, but all reeds fail as they became more saturated.
    As reeds mature their ability to vibrate diminishes, and eventually one gets the staple re-reeded (or does it oneself if one acquires the expertise.)
    SO ...
    One learns to have several reeds available at all times.
    My teacher had a box with up to 40 (yes, forty) prepared reeds in it, on two levels.
    The ones at the bottom were all brand new, unused spares.
    The ones on the upper level varied in use from very new, on the left; good, well speaking ones in the middle and tired, wearing out ones on the right.
    She would always select half a dozen, from the centre, to have available in a small sealed box (to keep them moist) for a performance.

    There is such a small amount of air that can go through the reed, that an oboist nearly alway has to exhale before taking a new breath. I don't know of another instrument where one constantly seems to have too much breath.

    So ... be kind to your oboist. S/he is constantly fighting her/his reed.

    JohnG.
    Author of MIDI tutorials at http://midi-tutor.proboards.com/index.cgi

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