If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Oboe: Interview and demonstration with principal John Ferrillo

Video transcript

(classical music) - This instrument is an oboe. In French it's O-bwa and that means high wood in French. And it's a high instrument, tends to play the soprano role in a wind section. And it's a double reed instrument. This is a reed, has two blades. Like a bassoon, except this is the high double reed, the bassoon is the low double reed. It's made of granadillo wood, which is a North African wood. It's non-buoyant. The European ships of the 18th century use to get blocks of this and use it as ballast. If you put this in a pan of water it would sink like a rock. One of the more difficult aspects of learning this instrument is learning to make this reed. You can certainly buy them but if you are serious, even at a high school level, you need to learn to make these. These are made from a wood called cane, very much like what you have in caned chairs, like a bamboo that grows all around the Mediterranean. There's good cane, there's bad cane, saxophones, clarinets, bassoons, we all use the same material but in different sizes. So the craft of learning to make these is very much part of this. Very much part of it. There's some people that are very good at tootling this, but not quite as skilled at doing this. And unfortunately, you really gotta be able to do both. There's a very wide range of reeds that you need. You need light ones when you're playing soft, you need heavy ones when you're playing loud. And so we're constantly changing. And also by the way, as the weather changes, the reed changes. So we are constantly making them, constantly making sure we have backups. It's one of the tricky things about it. And you know, very often we'll say, you thought this was good, you should've seen the one that got away. (oboe music) The wonderful thing about the oboe, is that it was, in terms of the great symphonic composers, one of their favorite singing instruments. They loved to give lyrical solos to the oboe. And also the oboe was one of those instruments that they often put at a juncture between one section and one with a different character. Very often an oboe solo is the transition point for that. And there's something about that moment that's very exciting and very thrilling to do. (classical music) (oboe music) Jerry Schwartz called me up and told me right upfront some of the repertoire we were going to be doing for this. Certainly two of the most beautiful, most delicate and most difficult lyrical solos, are the famous solo in Tchaikovsky four. (oboe music) Slow movement of Tchaikovsky four is just a famous Russian folk tune. And very delicate, not easy to, it took me a number of years to really feel like I was doing it well. The other great solo is the one from Shostakovich five, which I must say was a particular specialty of my teacher's, John de Lancie. And I must have heard him on half a dozen occasions play this with Eugene Ormandy. And there was something about the way he did that, time just stood still. It was a cool, beautiful, elegant, I could never hope to match it. But I'm doing my best. (oboe music) To play Shostakovich five or Tchaikovsky four they both require special things. Shostakovich five is high, requires something that responds very well and holds the pitch in the upper register well. Tchaikovsky four, is in the other direction. Lies on the treble clef and you have to play low. It needs to be very flexible. So every single solo has, and I, you know my colleagues will tell you, they'll see five or six reeds sitting on my stand in any one moment. Not only as a backup, but you know, to give me the best possible range of choices. (classical music) 30 years ago, it was harder to get people that could make reeds and teach at a lower school level. So I was actually started on the flute and switched to the oboe around 8th grade. And if you think if somebody said, an oboist is a nerd, imagine a young persons who's playing the flute and saying to the kids on the school bus, my mom says that if I play the flute really well, someday I can play the oboe. And it was an insidious plot from the age I think of three, or four, or five, my mom would be playing recordings and she'd say, Johnny, you hear that, that's an oboe, wouldn't you like to play that. (classical music) The passion to play music and start very early, I remember when I was seven and my mom was teaching a music appreciation class and she dropped the needle on Brahms' second piano concerto and I you know, they talk about kids needing education, but I just knew from the first second I heard it, I was just was one of the most exciting things that I'd ever heard. But when you really start getting the sense, you know I may really do this, I'd say, you know, although I started at a age 13, by age 14, I was having my first orchestra experiences and the wonderful Greater Boston Youth Symphony and to sit surrounded by musicians playing this music is unbelievably exciting. It's fun. I have the same fun now, at my age, that I did when I was 14 and first started. I'm very, very lucky to be doing this. (classical music)