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New Website?

Our website has been a very functional and popular site for double reed players. We built it almost 10 years ago and although it was updated frequently, it was time to create a full update.

Here it is! We hope you enjoy what we’ve created. Please let us know if you find any faults, and feel free to tell us how wonderful we are 😉

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A student asked: “why do my oboe reeds play flat?”

If the reeds are not super long, generally, this means more breath support is needed. An indelicate test for this is to play into a tuner, and squeeze the reed harder with your lips while you’re playing. If the pitch is uncertain or swoops upward, the reed is too easy for you, and your concentration of breath is not sufficient to make it work consistently.

A common misconception is that softer reeds means easier reeds. Actually, the softer (easier, less resistant) a reed, the more embouchure control and breath support are needed to produce a good, consistent and in-tune sound.

Always consider that the instrument may be having a problem, too. If all your reeds are flat, or weird, it’s probably not you, or the reeds. Get your instrument to a repair technician.

If you have an experienced teacher, they will be your best resource. If not, try asking around and see if you can find someone to work with you in person.

There’s a great book on this subject that can help out. The Breathing Book, by Stephen Caplan, is a guide we trust. 60 pages of detailed instructions, illustrations, explanations, and examples. It’s helped out many a flummoxed reed player.

There’s a so much more to share on this topic – this little explanation barely scrapes the surface (hehe). I’ll write more sometime soon.

Have any questions? Let me know. I know a lot of stuff, and I’m eager to share.

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A Question About Ponte Oboes

“Mitch the Multi Instrumentalist” from Oregon posed a great question:

“Who really made those Ponte oboes?”

Well Mitch, I spent more than a few years at Charlie Ponte’s midtown Manhattan shop as the reedmaker (and floor sweeper, truth be told). During that time, I saw dozens of new Ponte oboes come in and go out. You would think I would know everything about them, right? I honestly think that no one knows the full story except Charlie, and he’s been gone a while.

In the photo above, Charlie is the man on the left. Bennie Fairbanks is further down the counter. My reed making counter was just to the right of this photo. Unfortunately I don’t know who the customers are.

People have been sending them to me for many years, and I’ve repaired and sold dozens and dozens of them. From what I’ve seen, there are three main types of “Ponte Oboes.” None of them were made in Manhattan, of course.

There’s the lighter, thinly plated version, which is often stamped “made in Italy” somewhere on the body. These resemble the Prestini oboes from that time period. I believe those were made by Chasserini, a relative of Prestini’s who turned out a lot of stencil instruments. Remind me to tell you about old man Prestini sometimes. He came from Italy to Ponte’s shop every few months to wine and dine with Charlie, Sam, and Benny. Quite a character.

The mama bear versions are marked “made in France” and seem uncannily like older Kreul instruments. They have familiar intonation quirks, and the key structure is very similar. The overall dimensions, weight, and feel are like Loree oboes from that period, but I don’t think there is any connection there.

The big bruisers are the “made in Germany” models, which are most probably from Malerne. They’re heavier, more richly plated, and often have a really dark, chocolaty tone.

Like many smaller companies, Charlie imported instruments with no name on them from quality manufacturers. He then stamped his mark on them, and gave them serial numbers. I swear the numbers make no sense at all, so don’t even bother trying to date an oboe by that method. These, as you know, are called stencil instruments.

The best of Ponte oboes can be extremely good instruments and I’ve performed on them over the years. Charlie retired in 1983, and didn’t produce very many oboes at the end of his run, so you can count on all of them being from before 1983.

Thanks for asking! If you ever want to try one, we have models for sale pretty regularly. Visit our used instrument pages to see what’s available.

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Does Music Help You Study?

As a student, I liked to have music playing when I got down to serious studying. Headphones, speakers whatever – as long as it was music I knew and enjoyed.

Have you been told how bad this is supposed to be for you? “How can you concentrate with that racket?” was my parents’ complaint. I felt bad going against their wishes, but I knew deep inside that music helped my academic performance. I could feel it even though I couldn’t explain it.

As an adult who runs a business, I still depend on music, especially when I’m in serious concentration mode like writing copy for our catalog, doing photos for the website, or prepping for meetings.

Of course, some people are much better off studying in silence and some situations are just not good for listening while studying. A USA Today story last September reported that listening to music with lyrics is an especially bad idea when studying languages because the words of the song conflict with the part of your brain trying to understand words in another language.

Another research study run by British psychologist Dr. Emma Gray found that it’s important to choose the right music for the topic you’re studying.

Math and classical music are an example. Dr. Gray’s research found that students who listened to classical music (with 60-70 beats per minute) while studying math, scored on average 12 percent higher than without. “The melody and tone range in classical music, such as Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, helped students to study longer and retain more information,’ she said. “Music in this range induces a state of relaxation in which the mind is calm but alert, the imagination is stimulated and concentration is heightened. This is thought to be best for learning.”

For those studying science, humanities and languages, Dr. Gray found that Miley Cyrus and Justin Timberlake are worth downloading. “The left side of the brain is used to process factual information and solve problems, which are key skills in these topics,” said Dr Gray. “Listening to music with 50-80 beats per minute such as ‘We Can’t Stop’ by Miley Cyrus and ‘Mirrors’ by Justin Timberlake have a calming effect on the mind that is conducive to logical thought, allowing the brain to learn and remember new facts.”

The right side of the brain is used to process original, creative thoughts, so Gray suggests English, Drama and Art students listen to emotive rock and pop music. “Songs like Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’ by The Rolling Stones produce a heightened state of excitement that is likely to enhance creative performance,” she said.
Of the beauties in scientific research, that we attempt to understand the world around us through trial and error – repeated attempts at achieving clarity, without presupposing what the results should be, is my favorite. That’s exactly how I came to understand that listening to music while studying works for me.

What works for you?

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The World Is Never Quiet.

As a kid, I was unduly concerned with how radio stations get their sound to your radio. It seemed vaguely creepy – all that chatter and music flinging through the air – bouncing off and zipping right through me. Be still for a moment, and contemplate this: right now there are dozens or even hundreds of radio station signals passing through your body. Creepy, huh? I didn’t like it then, and though I’m a bit calmer about it now, I still feel restless about it sometimes.

Radio signals move through the air as vibrations. Ones that are beyond our limited ability to perceive. There’s an old joke about dental fillings picking up radio waves, but why can’t it be like that – why can’t we perceive the full range of vibrations all around us? If we could, the world would probably seem substantially different to us. I’m pretty sure we’re better off without that ability, though wouldn’t it be interesting? We have the limited, luxurious ability to perceive tones and vibrations in a specific range. And our abilities manifest in a variety of helpful and enjoyable ways.

As an amateur gym rat, I prefer to exercise using a tempo-based music track. I tune out as much as I can: the TV, the happy chatter and other distractions. I lower my cap over my brow, turn up the sound and repeat, repeat, repeat to the beat. It’s always worked for me, especially when I’m feeling less than prime. I easily slip into sync with the repetitive sounds and once on board, I’m a happy musical passenger. I’ve read that many pro athletes prefer no outside rhythm for their workouts. My understanding is that they are focused on the functions of their body, the flow of energy, the tempos and cadences of their form. Perhaps their ability to perceive inner rhythms and vibrations is more highly developed; perhaps it’s an innate gift. Maybe I’ll get there someday, maybe not. I know that my rhythms are there, it’s just that I can’t perceive them very well.
I think that music is not more noise in a noisy world. Rather, it’s that we can’t help but express what we sense. The talent of being a musician may lie in the ability to sense and make sense of the rhythms around them, as athletes can sense and listen to the rhythms within their own bodies.

I love the quote from Albert Camus, “The world is never quiet, even its silence eternally resounds with the same notes, in vibrations which escape our ears.” We all have access to the same vibrations. Our job and indeed our joy, is to respect and develop our senses to better perceive that which is around us.