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A new approach to growing the numbers of wonderful young double reed players…

For a long time, and like so many other teachers, I have been seriously concerned to see the falling numbers of children taking up the oboe and bassoon, or even knowing of their existence at all. I felt that the next Double Reed event held at Wells Cathedral School should take a different approach to encourage and truly support Double Reed students at every stage of their musical journey, even those that have not yet started!

And so, with the generous support from Wells Cathedral Music School I started work with the composer Teresa Barlow on a new concept, in which we included Primary School children from local schools who have no musical experience at all to come to the day, learn how to squeak reeds and essentially have their first lesson on the bassoon and/or oboe. These complete beginners squeaked morse code for “oboe” and “bassoon” (yes, it fits quite nicely into 3/4!) as part of the piece, and rattle keys. The piece, entitled “Duck to Diva”, was very carefully crafted to show off students of all abilities, each level of student having their moment in the sun, and finished with a virtuosic cadenza for our “guests” on the day who were some of Wells’ great past students now working in the profession.The piece was first performed in October 2023, conducted by Pete Harrison in a “Double Reed Extravaganza” event and was very warmly received and played by 85 double reed players of all stages in Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School.

“Duck to Diva” was always intended to be a really fun way of recruiting new oboe and bassoon pupils. The piece was designed to be modular, and to work with various combinations that could be put together in such a way to help Music Hubs/local teachers/Saturday Music Schools make the piece work for the resources they have on hand.

We hope that by making these resources freely available through this website that the piece will earn its place in Double Reed History and help turn the tide of learners!

Of course, it’s not just a case of staging “Duck to Diva” as a one-off event that will help change the situation. “Duck to Diva” will only be successful if the “squeakers” that wish to take up oboe or bassoon lessons following the enthusiasm of the day can do so. Recognising the difficulties of finding instruments/finding a teacher/funding lessons, we have gone on to create a new network of teachers in the South West. The SW Teachers Team is working together to share their tips and tricks and supportive information to try to improve and maintain numbers learning, and having some fun on the way!

– Liz Fyfe