Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oboe Poem, Etc.

A student in one of my classes plays the oboe in a wind ensemble. I don't know much about the oboe, except that I like its sound. She explained that the oboe is very difficult to play because it has two reeds. She also said that playing the oboe requires such a sustained output of breath that one kills brain cells when playing it. Oxygen deprivation. Yikes.

So I was looking through The Norton Book of Light Verse, edited by Russell Baker, and there, on page 92, is a poem entitled "Oboe."


Oboe


Hard to pronounce and play, the OBOE--
(With cultured folk it rhymes with
"doughboy"
Though many an intellectual hobo
Insists that we should call it oboe)
However, be that as it may,
Whene'er the oboe sounds its A
All of the others start their tuning
And there is fiddling and bassooning.
Its plaintive note presaging gloom
Brings anguish to the concert room,
Even the player holds his breath
And scares the audience to death
For fear he may get off the key,
Which happens not infrequently.
This makes the saying understood:
"It's an ill wood wind no one blows good."

by Laurence McKinney


I showed the poem to the oboe-player, and she enjoyed it, but of course there aren't that many oboe-poems from which to choose. . . . --Interesting that apparently at some point "oboe" was not pronounced the way we pronounce it. . . . . I don't know enough about symphony-orchestras to know which player usually plays the first note when the tuning-up begins. Is it always or often the oboe-player? If so, why? . . . .I did observe to the oboe-player that I thought the oboe sounded better than the clarinet, but maybe that's not fair. Maybe it all depends on the piece and/or the player. . . . Does the oboe always sound gloomy? Probably not. There are probably all sorts of lighter, brighter pieces of music that feature the oboe. . . . But it certainly can sound gloomy. Is it possible for a tuba to sound gloomy? I suppose.

Here's another light, if much more fanciful, poem about musical instruments. I think it first appeared in an anthology called The Art of Music, published in California.

Bobby’s Crop

Bobby leased two-hundred acres,
planted clarinets & saxophones. Come harvest
time, he hired bands to play them. It’s a good life,
farming instruments. Folks say
even Bobby’s pigs root rhythmically.
His cows chew the blues.
Oh that sweet Kansas breeze,
swagging through sugar beets and wheat—
and catfish nosing into dusky
muck. That
tornado shuffling up I-35 from Oklahoma
—ain’t no thing to Bobby .
It skirts his acres, sniffs the barn,
now doglegs to Nebraska.
Bobby calls the twister Coltrane, goes
inside, fetches iced tea for himself
and the Missus, plenty of sugar
and a downbeat of lemon. Hey, Bobby. Hey.





Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom
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