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The Oboe

As a child, my parents took me to see the San Francisco symphony. We sat above what only could have been some sort of organ: I mostly remember staring at the shiny gold pipes that were vibrating with sound. After this trip, I was to pick an instrument. I was going to play classical music.

Since I spent all my time looking at the organ pipes, I failed to identify an instrument that I really loved. I recall flipping through the program and seeing lists of names beneath instrument names, but being unable to match any instrument names to the music-making going on in the hall in front of me. And so I stared at the organ pipes.

But eventually I had to name an instrument. I didn't want to be like the rest of the kids. So I picked the trombone. This was a short lived venture: there was a girl named Allison who was really good at the trombone and she was a year young than me- couldn't have that. Also I managed to bang the case so often that it got a hole in it. And my parents said I sounded like a dying cow.

So I returned the trombone and picked the only instrument the band director didn't play: the oboe. I must admit I was kind of surprised when I went with my mother to rent this instrument and the salesperson brought a small box out of the back. I thought they were going to bring a delightfully large, brassy instrument out- in retrospect, I think I imagined a tuba or a french horn. I hid my surprise: after all, I was supposed to have chosen an instrument I would love. And so I smiled, and picked up the oboe, and worried it looked too much like a clarinet.

For the next fifteen years, I would play that thing. I played with youth symphonies and in the school band. I played with a private teacher and I played in a jazz band. And then I got ready to go to college and I tucked it away and it gathered dust.

Though I wouldn't say I still play the oboe, I would say that those years were absolutely critical to becoming who I am today. Through music, I learned about making something beautiful with sixty other people. I learned about dogged persistence and I learned how very strong my lips could actually become. I learned how to draw ballerinas from my stand partner in youth symphony and I learned the differences between Mozart and Paganini concertos from my private teacher.

Sometimes I wish I could bust out the oboe and sing around the campfire like my peers who play/ed the guitar. But alas- we double reeds require a bit more planning. But I've got a partner who has shown me time and again, that to make music we only need a pair of spoons to clang against each other or two hands and a drum and a funky beat. I'm grateful for that early training, surprised as I was at the size of the instrument I picked- and besides, whenever I meet another former oboe player, we have something in common. After all, it is the oboe. It's weird, and wonderfully so.

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