We know that oboes seem to be so delicate that they’ll break if you look at them funny. So as we gear up for fall Festival season and maybe traveling to the Midwest conference in December with your students, let’s talk about how to safely travel with an oboe.
There are 4 things to consider when you’re traveling with an oboe:
1. Where instruments will be stored on the drive.
If you’re just going to the next town over for a band festival, the safest place for oboes is with the oboe student!
If you’re taking tour buses or going across the country, you may be storing a bunch of luggage and instruments under the bus. It can be a difficult journey for an oboe, depending on the weather. So my recommendation is: if you’re only anticipating a 10 degree difference in temperature between at home and your final destination, AND you’ll have an hour or two for the oboe to naturally come to room temperature before it’s played on, you can transport it in the luggage compartment with the other instruments.
BUT if it’s a run-off-the-bus-and-play situation, and/or if there’s a greater than 10 degree temperature change between school and your destination, the student should have the oboe with them at their seat.
To enhance the safety of the instrument as you travel: make sure the oboe doesn’t move around in its case. If it’s loose in the case, keys are more likely to get bent from normal jostling. So, rest a soft, clean cloth over the oboe to help it rest more securely in place inside the case. This can be a clean washcloth, a microfiber polishing cloth, or a scrap of an old (clean) sweatshirt.
2. What’s the climate like?
Temperature: One common cause of cracks is quick temperature changes while the instrument has moisture inside it. This could be an oboe that’s played outside at 65 degrees or lower, or it could be an instrument that’s just been transported in a not-climate-controlled compartment that needs to be played right away.
If the temperature is going to be quite different, the oboe may experience some swelling or contracting. As long as the instrument has been swabbed well, and is allowed time to come to room temperature, it should be just fine. BUT if you know you’ll need to play within an hour of arriving at your destination, I’d advise that the oboe travel in the passenger area with the student.
Humidity: The second main cause of cracking is rapid changes of humidity inside the oboe that aren’t matched outside the oboe.
If you’re traveling to a very arid area and going to stay there for a while, I recommend that the student put a humidification device inside their oboe case to keep a somewhat consistent humidity environment for the instrument when it’s being stored. This can be simply a damp sponge inside a plastic bag with holes in it inside the oboe case.
Warming up the oboe before playing: Your oboe student should physically warm the top joint of a wooden oboe every time they play. It doesn’t need to be warm to the touch, but should not be cold to the touch. If your student is playing a plastic oboe, warming up the top joint a bit will help prevent water from gathering in the octave vents.
3. What’s the oboe made of?
If the oboe is wood, the concerns over cracking are greater, and the oboe should generally be treated delicately and not subjected to big temperature changes.
If the oboe is plastic, or has a plastic top joint, it’s much less susceptible to cracking, and generally doesn’t need the extra special care I’ve listed above. Just make sure the instrument gets swabbed out well before it’s put into the luggage compartment.
4. What about reeds?!
Ah, yes, the oh-so-delicate oboe reeds. They will most likely be just fine as long as they’re stored properly in a reed case, and NOT the coffins/tubes they’re shipped in. You may want to set up a reed-case hydration system if you’re concerned about needing to play in a drier environment than normal, but that’s not required.
If you’re traveling to a different elevation your oboist may need to prepare by buying high-elevation or low-elevation reeds. Reeds I made at home in San Jose (200 ish ft. above sea level) don’t work the same or well in Denver (5000ish ft above sea level), and vice versa. So, please save your oboe student the literal headache and contact a reedmaker who lives at your destination to purchase a reed or two for the trip.
What about flying?
The oboe and reeds should be carry-on luggage with the student, and NEVER checked. Make sure that the student removes their screwdriver or any sharp reedmaking tools from their case before flying with the oboe, or they’ll have to leave the screwdriver or tools behind.
I haven’t often been asked to open my instrument case, but if the student is worried about it, they can tell the TSA agent x-raying their bag that there’s an oboe inside, or put the oboe in its own x-ray bin. All the TSA agents I’ve come in contact with are very respectful and careful with the instruments.
NOTE: The great majority of oboes do NOT fall under scrutiny for the materials they’re made of (grenadilla or african blackwood). You shouldn’t need to have a special letter of compliance with the rare materials clauses of international travel, but if you’re worried, you can contact the oboe manufacturer with questions.
And there you have it! I hope I’ve addressed all your potential traveling concerns, and you can feel free to print this out to give to your students and/or their parents in preparation for their upcoming trips with their oboes!
Until next week,
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