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Reeding in the dark - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Reeding in the dark
Last Wednesday night's CCO concert (in a local nursing home) included "Gabriel's Oboe", by Ennio Morricone, from the film The Mission. Described by one reviewer as "one of the most serene tunes in film music history", the piece is the sort of thing to make it into Classic FM's lists of 'most relaxing classical tunes ever' (as recommended for the over-50s); it's certainly not my usual listening-matter, in fact it's the type of thing I'd probably disregard as lift-music ... were it not for the distinctive sound of the oboe.

How do you describe the sound of an oboe? "Bright and unique", says one writer; "strong" and "easy to pick out" says another. Elsewhere, the sound is described as "beautiful, sweet, haunting" (listen for yourself there and elsewhere and see if you agree). Some of these writers attribute the oboe's "haunting" quality to its descent from "pastoral" instruments such as the shawm, and while I'm as reluctant to subscribe to this sort of romanticized pastoralism as I am to resort to indescribing it as "indescribable", I'm not convinced I can do any better.

However, I do know why the sound of the oboe is particularly magical for me. It goes back to my school Carol Services (which were, essentially, over-produced talent shows for the sort of schoolchildren whom addedentry would probably regard as irredeemably middle-class). I loved the yearly ritual: the term of intense rehearsals finally crowned by four performances (one dress-rehearsal and three 'proper' performances), and for all its pretensions, the school extracted some impressive performances from its pupils. The programme varied from year to year, but there were some staples without which it simply wouldn't have been the Carol Service; and one of these was the performance, on oboe (with piano accompaniment), of Peter Cornelius's beautiful carol "Three Kings From Persian Lands Afar", with the oboe playing the solo melody and the piano acting as the accompanying chorale. For those few minutes the entire school and congregation was spellbound, holding its breath while some young bespectacled oboeist seemed to shine in the halo of the spotlight. I fell in love with each one of those oboeists for the duration of their solo, hanging on the yearning sound produced by their every breath, barely daring to breathe until the last memory of their final note had died away.

The CCO's oboeist, a lovely young man called James, laughed at me when I confessed that his solo part in "Gabriel's Oboe" always brought tears to my eyes, and I laughed it off as one does. I don't know to which Gabriel the title refers, but my mind made its usual associative connections. We may have been jostling for space in a room that was bright and heavy with light and heat, over-decorated with enormous glittering baubles and tinsel; but for a few moments, every ear in the room was focused on that single melody -- the sole star visible in a dark sky, a clear annunciation.
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Comments
keirf From: keirf Date: December 13th, 2005 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
To me the oboe sounds like a weird long-necked bird that lives in reed beds in dismal marshes, all on its own.
From: kaet Date: December 13th, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ditto. Like some kind of funky bitten. Something that lures tragic romantic heroines to your doom when you've gone out on the marshes without the guide.


I'd not go that way, after dark, if I were you, young Sir. They say that the sea fret be full of oboes ready to lure young adventurers to their doom. A young clarinet from London went out on a night like this, fifty years ago, they say, and was never seen again: was slowly drowned, they say, to the sound of oboes.

From: rgl Date: December 13th, 2005 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't Gabriel one of the characters in The Mission?

Apparently orchestras are having problems because there aren't any children wanting to play an instrument as middle-class awkward as the oboe any more, and it's extremely important in the Classical repertoire. Damned if I can remember where I read that, though.
j4 From: j4 Date: December 13th, 2005 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't Gabriel one of the characters in The Mission?

No idea. Never seen the film, only knew the piece was from the soundtrack because it said so at the top of the music. Had I gone to IMDB, I would have discovered that the film does feature a Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons), but that wasn't the point!

there aren't any children wanting to play an instrument as middle-class awkward as the oboe any more

Not to mention as expensive -- is there such a thing as a cheap oboe? I mean, you can get one of those horrid orange Chinese violins for not-very-much-money-at-all-really and it serves as proof-of-concept while the would-be violinist finds out whether they can cope with the idea of practising an instrument; I'm not sure if there's a super-economy equivalent for oboes.

However, finances permitting, I will make sure all my children learn to play the oboe; then the future of the classical orchestra will be secured! :-)
addedentry From: addedentry Date: December 13th, 2005 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I will make sure all my children learn to play the oboe

Hadn't they better learn different instruments in case we need to support ourselves while fleeing the Nazis in order to form an in-house orchestra?
j4 From: j4 Date: December 13th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Even better! I'm not sure I'm up to a whole orchestra, but with 4 or 5 children we could manage some excellent ensembles.

(There's a "consort" joke in here, but I can't be bothered to find it.)
addedentry From: addedentry Date: December 13th, 2005 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
IHNJ, IJLS "baby grand".
j4 From: j4 Date: December 13th, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
*wince*
ewx From: ewx Date: December 14th, 2005 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like the xmas userpic, did you have that one last year? (I mean I like the implementation, obviously the concept is not new to me.)
j4 From: j4 Date: December 14th, 2005 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I had it last year. Everybody expected me to put the hat on the badger, I think.
juggzy From: juggzy Date: December 13th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can I be the nun arbiter of who learns what, and on what mountain?
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j4 From: j4 Date: December 14th, 2005 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just how everyone wants to view their darling offspring, isn't it?

Well, no, but presumably some parents may be able to take off their rose-tinted spectacles for long enough to realise that their children are not perfect.

(I mean, I'm assuming that the book says the oboe is the instrument for children who are already like this, not the instrument to recommend if you want your children to turn out like this?)

What did the book say about the double-bass?
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