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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

I Learn to Play Oboe

The first time I ever heard an oboe and realized what it was was when I was working in the small motor testing lab in Ft. Wayne and would slip into the soundproof room to listen to a record of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” I fell in love with the eerie, mysterious tone of the instrument; it made me think of exotic far-away places in the orient. I wanted to learn to play one. A year or two after we met the Andrauds I asked him if he might not have a second hand oboe that I could buy; I knew that a new one was out of my reach financially. He had a Lorée that had been cracked and repaired with pegs for about $150. He assured me that the tone was not affected by the crack - they are made of wood and the former owner had not dried it properly after playing - so I bought it. Andre gave me one lesson and the instruction book he used with his beginning students and I was in business. On my next trip to Chicago I went to Lyon and Healy’s music store on South Wabash and bought a book of oboe exercises and practiced them regularly until I became fairly adept tho I never felt I had mastered it. The oboe is a double-reed instrument and requires so little air to produce the tone that you have to expel the air left in your lungs at the end of a phrase before you can grab another quick breath and go on. During a long oboe solo you practically hold your breath the whole time as tho you had your head under water. The long oboe solos in Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is an example of what I mean.

I got my first chance to play oboe in an orchestra when an orchestra was formed by a few musicians at the Methodist Church. I think they played for Sunday School but most of us played just for the fun of it and didn’t play with them on Sunday unless there were a special service of some kind. The church was generous in providing the money for a good orchestral library - we played Dvořak’s New World Symphony, for example - that is, we practiced it. We played a lot of music that was over our heads but we had fun. Later on I switched from cello to oboe when the second oboe player joined the army. The first oboe of the West Shore Symphony was from Grand Rapids. Finally, when America got into the war, he also went into the services and I played first oboe, a high school student from Grand Haven playing second. I never tried to make my own reeds as many oboists did, I bought them from Andraud. Getting good reeds is always a problem for those who play reed instruments. The symphony was kept going all thru the war even tho many of our key players were drafted or enlisted. After Yolande graduated from high school I took a years leave and we went to Mexico. The oboe was the only instrument I took along. On our return to the Heights I played viola and eventually sold my Lorée oboe.

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Camping at Interlochen in Northern Michigan
Quartets and Other Musical Groups

Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31