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Interview with Marsha Taylor

by Scott Hirsch

 WQ: What is your background in relation to the Baroque oboe?

Taylor: Well, of course it would be the modern oboe to begin with. I attended California Institute of the Arts in the early seventies. There was strong Baroque program at Cal Arts in chamber music mainly because of the oboe teacher, Allan Vogel, who was and is currently there.

We had various master classes and the one that had the most impact on me was when Frans Brueggen came to lecture and coach ensembles. He opened the door to the fact that trio sonatas were much more than simple little pieces when one tries to put their mind into that actual time period. There are at least two more interviews involved with explaining this in greater detail!

During this time the original instrument craze really started to take hold. I, like many other musicians, ordered a copy of a Baroque oboe and busily started to try and play the thing. I struggled for several years but eventually gave up on that particular oboe. I won't mention the name of the maker.

I ended up staining that instrument as it had been of unstained boxwood and had gotten gray with fingerprints over time. That was the precursor to my oboe making career!

WQ: Was that when you started making instruments?

Taylor: No, then I bought more oboes from another maker who was/is a friend. I would buy his instruments and tune them. At that time, he was making instruments that fit his particular reed style, which wasn't what I was playing, so I reached the point where his oboes wouldn't work for me and I was really very intrigued with other un-copied originals that I thought needed exploring. I decided then to make my own and that was in about 1985.

WQ: What person, book or tool was most helpful in the beginning stages?

Taylor: I think the most helpful of the many people in the beginning was Rod Cameron. He used to have his shop on Gladys Street in San Francisco.

You could go up there just about anytime and he would be in his shop making Baroque flutes. He showed me all kinds of jigs, ideas and basic machining concepts. He's wonderful and has helped many people over the years, though I didn't know that he has made any oboes. But he showed me some of his flute making techniques and we would discuss machining concepts. He is an excellent machinist and flute maker.

And as far as playing Baroque music is concerned, I found that Quantz "On Playing the Flute" and "Interpretation of French Music From 1675-1775" by Betty Bang Mather to be two very helpful books. "How to Run A Lathe" by South Bend Lathe Co. is an excellent book for figuring out the lathe.

Going to museums and looking a 18th Century furniture was helpful in wood turning for me.

WQ: What kind of lathe do you use?

Taylor: I have several lathes. I have a re-conditioned Logan from the 1940's, a new Taiwanese lathe, a woodworking lathe and a mill. The first two are metal lathes.

I use the metal lathe for tool making and boring because it is the most precise. I use the wood lathe for making the turnings and final finishing.

WQ: Do you use a gun drill?

Taylor: No. I make all my boring tools. I even do the hardening of the steel myself.

WQ: What other skills did you already have other than being a musician?

Taylor: Baroque oboe players have to make their own reeds and the staples too. (The staple is a metal cone that the cane is tied onto before it's scraped down). This is because the staple is very crucial in getting the reed to correspond with the bore of the oboe especially for tuning purposes. I learned to do this for plain survival. Bruce Haynes wrote a few great articles which appeared in the IDRS journal that explained how to go about this. Also, I had a background in graphic design. This helped me in taking measurements, laying out plans and to decipher drawings.

WQ: Did you have a lot of rejects when you first started making them?

Taylor: Yes but mainly it's in what kind of staple to make. I learned about silver soldering and eventually I turned tiny conical mandrels on a lathe in order to make these staples. I was then making lots of staples for other people before I started to make my own oboes. These two skills came in handy later for making the keys and the reamers for my oboes.

WQ: What instruments are you currently copying?

Taylor: I make an oboe after Schlegel and another after - Jacob Denner; a Poerschmann oboe d'Amore. I've been thinking about Stanesby Sr. but it's kind of been beaten to death by other oboe makers..

WQ: Which one is your favorite instrument to date?

Taylor: The Poerschmann oboe d'Amore because as far as I know no one in the States has copied it and I like it more that the Eichentopfs that everyone else seems to copy.

WQ: Which woods do you use?

Taylor: Mostly boxwood. I made one out of grenadilla, but it took me three years to finish it as I'm very allergic to the dust. I could only work about half an hour at a time and then I couldn't breathe very well for several days. It's not uncommon for woodworkers to have that reaction.

WQ: Boxwood is not a problem?

Taylor: No, not for me.

WQ: What do you think about boxwood? Does it deserve its reputation?

Taylor: It's a wonderful wood. Yes, I can see why the makers used it. It has a wonderful sound and it's the most rewarding hardwood to turn on the lathe. I also use other woods too because boxwood isn't nearly as plentiful now as it was in the 18th Century. I make my prototype oboes out of less expensive wood to get an idea of the instrument in the very beginning. I also use other tone woods indigenous to the Northwest (U.S.), such as Mountain Mahogany, Pacific Yew Wood, and Myrtlewood.

WQ: If you make an instrument out of maple say, as opposed to boxwood, you can tell the difference?

Taylor: You can tell the difference as a player, possibly the listener can hear a difference.

WQ: Is there any reason why you think makers should limit themselves to certain woods?

I don't think there is any reason at all. There are many hardwoods available to use. I am sort of excluded from the Rosewood family because of my allergy.

WQ: What about traditional woods? Are they important?

Taylor: It's important. The old makers didn't just use boxwood. They used grenadilla and the fruit woods such as plum, pear, apple and they even used strange woods like cedar! Maybe that particular maker was having insect problems....

WQ: You think we could assume the early makers would have used Northwestern woods if they could of?

Oh sure. They used what was available to them.

WQ: What was the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the beginning?

Taylor: Mainly drilling a straight pilot hole. I step drill and just work up in size.

WQ: Any plans for the future?

Taylor: I'm now making quite a few Classical oboes, a Delusse copy and I think I might try some of the more obscure early Dutch Baroque makers, a 392 Hz pitched oboe because I need one for myself.

WQ: So, you don't do this to get rich?

Taylor: I don't think any makers are going to get rich.

For a first time maker, they should make an instrument that they wanted to have --that would be good reason in itself. The money part is up to them.

Oboe making for me has been very challenging and interesting. Over the years I have met many encouraging and helpful people from all over the world who are themselves builders of Baroque bassoons to tracker organs. All in all, this has been a very positive and enlightening adventure!

Copyright 1993 | ISSN 1070-2512 | The Woodwind Quarterly -- for author.