The agony and ecstasy of reed making

About 3,000 years ago, an instrument called the shawm become popular in the Middle East. Tall and sleek, the shawm used a double reed and seven finger holes to produce a captivating tone. During the Crusades, this godmother of woodwinds found its way to Europe, where — during the reign of the Sun King — it joined the court symphony. The sound of the instrument was so clear and distinct that the French called it the hautbois (ou-bwa): “loud wood.” Given the speed of conversational French, it didn’t take long for this to become “oboe.”

My childhood introduction to the oboe was serendipitous.


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