Marian Anderson

17 01 2011

Oboist Engelbert Brenner performed in recital with legendary contralto Marian Anderson.  Anderson’s voice was described as a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.  As an African-American artist, her role in the Civil Rights movement was monumental. Her legendary performance at the Lincoln Memorial (after having been denied the venue of D.A.R. Constitution Hall) will be forever part of American History.  Through her grace & talent, a blind American public was forced to see.

Anderson gave Brenner this autographed photo after one of their musical collaborations.  He prized it, as do I now that the photo has been left in my care.

Marian Anderson

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2011


sliced wrong – or maybe right finally

16 02 2009

baloneyI play on a Marigaux oboe.  It is not what most American oboists prefer, but I discovered them back in the mid 1980s, and now play on my second of these wonderful instruments.  Oboes haven’t changed much in about 100 years.  The changes to the instrument’s slow evolution have mostly been refinements to the bore, tone holes or the addition of new keys to help facilitate specific note-to-note progressions.

The first real shake-up to the design of the modern oboe has been pioneered by Marigaux.  They have completely re-thought & reingineered the disassembly points to their M2 model.  Instead of the instrument coming

Marigaux M2
Marigaux M2

apart between the top & bottom hand keys, the majority of the oboe has been redesigned to be a solid, continuous piece of wood.  Gone are the 3 critical linkage points which control the D trill, the Bb controls & the often-persnickety bridge mechanism of the F# – G# linkage.  Oboists often peek at the linkage between top & bottom joints to ensure the alignment is true.  An oboe that has twisted a tiny bit becomes a lesser instrument for the moment, and smooth passages can be distorted to clumsy messes.

The description of the new M2 model is this:

  • Head-joints can be easily changed to suit individual needs so that tuning, colour, depth and fluidity of sound are all adjustable
  • In extreme climatic conditions a phenol-resin head-joint can be used in place of a wooden one to avoid unnecessary cracks
  • The instrument is assembled by aligning the octave key pillar with the plate on the main body of the oboe
  • Ergonomically improved Bb, B and Eb keys
  • Improved positioning of G and G sharp keys, thanks to the removal of the middle joint ring
  • Long F key is height-adjustable
  • New positioning of the half-hole gives better tuning on D’s and Db’s and improved performance on top octave D’s to Eb’s

I love my “old school” Marigaux, and can’t wait to try an M2 model.  My reeds have drawn stares from fellow oboists for years – imagine the glares this would draw!

Marigaux M2 in its special case
Marigaux M2 in its special case

Well, I could dream, couldn’t I?

casimer’s machine

1 10 2007

While still in high school, I realized that store-bought gouged oboe cane was not compatible with my unique style of reed making. The gouge used by my mentor, Engelbert Brenner was significantly thicker than anything commercially available. Brenner suggested I get my own gouging machine.

Hans Moennig & Casimer Luczycki60 miles away from my childhood home, Hans Moennig sat in his woodwind repair shop for decades. His craft was so highly in demand, one had to “know someone” to have an instrument worked on by Herr Moennig. Brenner was that “somebody” for me, and I was allowed to be a customer. Moennig overhauled and repaired my instruments for several years while still in high school, and later at the New England Conservatory.

Moennig had an assistant named Casimir Luczycki. Casimer learned his craft from Moenning, and his work was first-rate as a result. Brenner made a call to Herr Moennig on my behalf, and requested a gouging machine for me. Moennig assigned Casimer to the project, and I was informed that there would be a waiting period of several months while the machine is ‘made’.

Later that year, I received a call from Casimer – the gouger would be ready for pick-up at the end of the week. We set that Friday as the day I would come to Philadelphia to get my new gouger. Mr. Brenner’s oboe was in need of a tweak from Moennig’s magic hands, so we both Casimer-Graf Oboe Gouging Machinedrove together to Moennig’s shop. Mr. Brenner was treated like royalty in the old, rickety downtown Philly shop. Orchestral “War Stories” were exchanged. Stevens Hewitt was there that day, and had never met Brenner before, but told him that he traveled weekly from Philadelphia to New York to hear him play principal oboe in the Stadium Concerts over the summer months. 2 Curtis students were there that day as well – in awe watching the two symphony oboists share stories (me too!).

The strange thing about this trip for me is that it was to be an empty-handed trip back to New Jersey; Casimer had not finished my gouger in time, and it simply wasn’t ready for delivery! He showed it to me – it was in pieces in a cardboard box. He told me he would call me as soon as the machine was finished.

About 2 weeks later, Casimir Luczycki called me to tell me that the machine is complete, and that he needed directions to my house so he could hand-deliver it to me. It was a classy thing to do in light of the situation. He brought me my machine and told me a bit more about it. It is a stock Graf gouger that he disassembled completely, replaced the Graf blade with an experimental blade (different metal composition) of his own design, and used an invention of his to ensure the bed & guide are machined perfectly straight & true to one another.

I used this gouger successfully for 10 years, until Mr. Brenner passed away and left me his own gougers in his will. The ‘Casimer Gouger’ needs a good cleaning – sitting in a drawer unused for 20 years hasn’t done much for it cosmetically, but I’ll clean her & bring her back to life. I’ll bet it works as it did 30 years ago.

I suspect I may have the only machine of this lineage. Anyone know of another?

a rare oboe gouging machine

17 07 2006

When Engelbert Brenner passed away in 1986, his family made me the recipient of his entire “musical estate”. I own and cherish Mr Brenner’s Loree oboe & English horn which he played daily in the New York Philharmonic. These instruments are probably about 50 years old, but still play beautifully – especially the English horn. It is truly magical.

I also own, and use, all of Brenner’s reed making tools. There are hand-crafted knives, scores of mandrels, shaper tips, files, plaques, bocals, and calipers. I remember some of the word-of-mouth stories behind some of this equipment. I remember names like Wally Bhosys & A. Wales made some of these tools for him, but the piece of equipment that really stands out as being unique are the oboe & English horn gouging machines. They look like no other gougers I have ever seen. These gougers are made of (I guess) nickel, stand on their own little ornate legs, and are of significant weight. These gougers were hand-made for Brenner by none other than Mitch Miller’s father, who was a machinist. Mitch Miller, known for “Sing Along With Mitch” from the 50s was a classically-trained musician – an oboist, and reportedly a good one. I do not know how many gouging machines he made, or when they were manufactured. If anyone has any information about Mr. Miller’s gougers, I’d love to learn more.

oboe gouger