Oboe & English Horn
The first oboes were made of wood. Today, oboes are usually made of rose wood or African blackwood (also known as grenadilla), but can also be made of ebonite, plastic, or even metal. The oboe has been important to the orchestra for more than three hundred years. The oboe also plays in band and in woodwind ensembles. The oboe is often featured as a solo instrument in bands and orchestras.
The oboe family has four members. The oboes is the highest instrument. Next, piched in A, is the oboe d'amore which Johann Sebastian Bach used in many pieces. The English horn, pitched even lower in F, has a haunting mellow tone. The baritone oboe had a short history as it was replaced by the bassoon in performing groups.
The English horn is an alto oboe. It is bigger than the oboe and sounds five notes lower. The English horn is played mainly in orchestras. Many oboists double on the English horn.
The sound is nasal and thin. The oboe sound is made by blowing into a double reed which is made with two pieces of cane that are tied together and put in a tube. When air is blown into the double reed, the two pieces of cane vibrate against each other. The oboe is very easy to blow. Some of the fingerings are complicated but most are not harder than clarinet fingerings.
The oboe was first brought to Europe after explorers heard it played by snake charmers in India. The origins of the oboe date back to the 1200's, when the shawm was invented. The shawm, a one-piece instrument made of boxwood, used a double reed made of cane. Its sound was louder and more shrill than the modern oboe, but its tone was very similar. Shawms came in various sizes and were the main reed instruments in medeival bands.
The oboe emerged in the French courts around 1650. Its name came from the French word hautbois (pronounced o-bwa) which means "high-wood". By the 1700's the oboe was an accepted member of the orchestra. Throughout the century, keys were added so that more notes could be played. Since 1825, the oboe has remained basically unchanged.
Before you play: Grip the bell of the oboe in your right hand. Next take the lower joint in your left hand and join it to the bell. Hold the lower joint where there are no rods or keys. Use a gently, rotating, twisting motion to put the oboe together. The pieces should assemble easily. If there is any difficulty, grease the corks. Finger the keys in the upper joint when joining the upper and lower joints. Be careful not to bend the keys. Be sure the bridge keys are positioned correctly: the bridge key on the upper joint should be raised. The lower bridge key is inserted under the raise bell key. Place the reed in the instrument.
Tuning & Playing: The oboe is tuned by adjusting the length of the instrument. The reed can be pulled out or pushed in. To lower the pitch, pull the reed out, making the oboe longer. To raise the pitch, push the reed in. Alternatively, some prefer to pull out or push in between the upper and lower joints.
Cleaning: Moisture left in the oboe after playing with cause pads to deteriorate. Swab the inside of the oboe after playing. Use a cloth to wipe off moisture and finger marks. Blow moisture out of the reed and put it in a reed case so that it can dry out. Under each key is a pad that seals the tone hole when the key closes. If pads stick, they are dirty. To clean the pads, place a clean cloth (or dollar bill) under the pad, close the key, and pull the cloth through.
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