JMk: It was reported to me by Frederick Jacobi at Juilliard many years ago that he heard Tabuteau when he [Tabuteau] first came to the Met., and he sounded like each and every other French oboe player when he showed up, but not when he left. So, I have to feel that one of the things that Tabuteau started to do in his growth process started right then, at the age of, I think, nineteen, when he went to the Met., that it was a process of trying to expand the capability and the voice and the ways of the oboe, to be able to encompass a much greater array of capability than the instrument had been known to be capable of before.

Wind Speed

MT: Prepare the wind pressure. The device of saying ‘Ahh…’ prior to playing is intended for this purpose. Compare this to the fact that pressure exists in a water faucet before one turns it on.

MT: Say ‘aaah’ and sustain this, then abruptly close your mouth with the pressure and support still there. Only then should you begin to play.

MT to DB: Sing a good, healthy, open ahh, then play. Never play when completely full of air.

JM: He did mention the fact that you always had too much wind and should try to get rid of it though your nose while playing.

MT: The speed of wind must be sharp as a razor.

MT: Just as when you whistle, three times more wind speed is required in preparation to play the octave (third octave) on the oboe.

MT: Don’t let the pitch or the support fall; keep the pressure up, keep the direction up.

JM: He used to say that he would blow against a candle to just barely keep it from extinguishing. He did stress the use of the candle, although I have to confess I never did it.

JR (Joseph Robinson): The “X Diagram”—described in that way—is from John Mack, who told me it was “bedrock production theory during everyone’s first year at Curtis.”

T Chart.jpeg

JMk: Of course, needless to say, low notes were in principle played nearer the tip and high notes with the reed moving into the mouth. The oboe was played in principle with the mouth open, not shut, and the tone was carried by the wind, and the dynamics were a result of the composite, what you might call an indirect ratio between the wind speed and the lip pressure. That was spelled out to me in my very first venture as a sixteen year old, that that was what it was, that you had more lips and less wind or wind speed (He always used the word speed.) He wanted to think of the wind as something traveling and alive, never something like just pressure. He didn’t like the idea of talking about it that way, so he used the expression “speed,” which I think is quite fine.

Direction of the Wind in Relation to the Reed

RF: Tabuteau told me to direct the air at my nose.

MT: Feel the pressure behind the nose; this helps in keeping one’s throat open.

MT to DB: Feel the pressure of the air behind your nose, release the air through your nose if necessary.

MT: Never blow into the reed! Blow against your nose; feel the pressure in back of your nose; the reed will work by itself. The pressure of the wind gives inflection.

RF: Tabuteau  said Lifschey was extreme in the amount and direction of the air he aimed at his nose [upper palette] resulting in noise.


JMk: This idea of directional wind on the reed, maybe I should say a word about that. Tabuteau felt one should not blow directly down through the reed into the oboe, but rather obliquely across the reed and that the air should be directed toward the bridge of the nose as far as the sensation of blowing was concerned. He always wanted, I mean like a phrase in two parts that it would have a rebound in the middle of it and not just go in one stream in one direction. He felt that way about the blowing too. It’s a difficult thing to talk about, because it sounds sort of obtuse, but if anyone can try for themselves on the oboe to play with the feeling of blowing straight down through the reed in the oboe or blowing across it instead, there’s an enormous and marked difference between the two. What it is, I just leave up to anybody who wants to try to do that, but there’s a definite difference. I teach the same thing myself, and I can’t imagine not doing that.

The Dolce Tone

MT: A big tone comes from a small one.

MT: A big tone is only a dolce tone enlarged. The dolce tone is the one nearest to number one.

JMk: When Tabuteau talks about “the amplification of the dolce tone,” “forte” being the amplification of the dolce tone, I really think that this is just only an answer to one thing, and that is that he tried to counteract the natural limitations of the instrument, that is, for instance, for the tone to sound broader in the low notes and tinier in the top notes, to be sort of pyramid shaped, and he was always trying to get us to learn to play in as petite a fashion in the low notes as possible, and with as much scope to the tone in the high register as possible to sort-of overcome this, or to improve the voice of the instrument. I really think that when he says something like “forte being an amplification of a dolce tone” on that record that he made that what his point probably is that one should be able to give more and more tone when it’s necessary without ever having it come apart at the seams and come unglued and so forth and so on. That’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, but at the same time Tabuteau was completely aware of the fact that very often as the tone gets louder, extra richness has to be added to it to be commensurate with its size. Naturally, on the oboe one of the things we all have to work on, parallel to the high and low registers of the instrument, we have to work at the problem of being able to play as clearly as possible when playing quietly and to diffuse the sound enough when play loudly to keep it from sounding like getting a poke with a sharp stick. I think that’s what he meant when he said that.