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Oboe - A Reed Blown in the Wind
Marion Whittow
Puffit Publications
ISBN: 0 9518072 0 X
£14.95 (available from Puffit's website)

Oboe Pocket-Sized Problem Solver No.1
Marion Whittow
Puffit Publications
ISBN: 0 9518072 1 8
£3.25 (available from Puffit's website)

Reference manuals of this type can be notoriously hard reading, full of dry facts and with little in the way of inspired prose. Fortunately, Marion Whittow’s book, Oboe – A Reed Blown in the Wind, turns this stereotype on its head by combining a treasure trove of information with a compellingly enjoyable style of writing; throughout, facts are presented alongside illustrative anecdotes that provide a great insight into the pitfalls of putting theory into practice.

At the heart of the book are basic facts about the instrument – how it works, reed-making, historical development, etc. – which are clearly well researched. For example, photographs are included of the author’s visit to a cane factory in northern Spain; I wonder how many oboe students have actually seen a picture of the wood their reeds are made of in its natural state? Extensive attention is given to the all-important subject of reeds and here Marion Whittow’s advice, based on years of experience, will be of utmost use to any student of the instrument.

Musical examples from across the whole spectrum of the oboe and cor anglais repertoire are included, together with advice on how to overcome their technical challenges and which corresponding exercises to use. However, advice is not kept to just a musical level. It is refreshing to read someone warning of the more practical problems musicians often find themselves up against, ranging from how to tune the orchestra to appropriate concert attire and even what foods to avoid before playing; the chapter entitled ‘Physical Hazards’ lists all the common (and not so common) details one should consider before and during a performance.

Clearly a talented all-rounder, the author also provides copious illustrations which lighten the mood and make the book more readable by breaking up long passages of text.

The wealth of information provided is impressive and there is also a list of recommended publications for further reading on the topics covered. Worthy of particular note is the directory of related musical services, ranging from the website address for the British Double Reed Society, to where to find a dentist specialising in wind players. Overall, I can heartily recommend this book; whilst being perhaps more suitable for students and amateurs, there is nevertheless plenty in it to interest and amuse professionals as well.

The Oboe Pocket-Sized Problem Solver No.1 is, as the title suggests, a handy-sized volume that provides solutions to some of the most common obstacles that occur whilst learning the basics of the instrument. Marion Whittow gives easy-to-follow advice and supplements this with suitable exercises, as well as a concise reference section covering the basic dos and don’ts of both playing and instrument maintenance. A useful booklet for students to carry in their case, it will no doubt build, together with successive volumes, into a comprehensive tuition aid.

Edward Yesch  

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