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Post 50: How to win a major oboe and/or clarinet audition!

There was a guy that I heard about a while back that was known for his ultimate care and maintenance of his automobiles.  This guy loved cars more than anything.  He worked his whole career being very frugal and never owned a flashy, awesome, eye-popping, supercar-like most people until he retired.  He saved up his whole life so that when he retired, he could “live the dream!”  So now in his retirement, he has fulfilled one of his life passions, buying and maintaining his dream cars. This guy spends his days cleaning under the hood, hand polishing the exterior to a high gloss shine. His cars are cars of fantasy, cars you would see on the cover of Automobile magazine, cars that make everyone’s heads turn.  Matter of fact, his cars do make people’s heads turn because when he frequents the local car show, there is always a crowd around his car, no matter which car he brings!  But then one day after all the preparation of cleaning and polishing, he was in route to the next show and he ran out of gas.  Can you imagine?  After all the hours of love and care, in preparing his beautiful car for the next show, he forgot one crucial thing and he fell short.

Have you ever tried so hard to do something and no matter what you do, you just simply fall short?  As a professional musician or aspiring professional musician, there are countless things that you must do to prepare yourself for that lifestyle.  If you are aspiring to be a professional symphony musician, collegiate professor or even a member of a smaller group like a professional quintet, at some point you will have to audition.  You will have to show up and be the best that you have ever been in that one moment in time.  Not only must you be the best that you have ever been, you must be the best out of all candidates that are applying for this same position.

To be the best of the best, you will have a daily practice routine, which usually includes some type of warm-up, scales, musical excerpts or simply playing your favorite tune to remind yourself why you are doing all this in the first place.  Most of you have spent hours with your teachers and/or professors doing these very things.  You have worked all of your scales and excerpts and even completed harmonic analysis’s of the music so that you can learn how to make an appropriate musical phrase.  You all have probably heard this one too, “If you can’t make music while playing your scales, how can you expect to make music playing, well anything?”

Just like the gentleman with his awesome car, you will spend hours polishing and cleaning your technique.  You will be extremely proud of your work and the results you have gotten from the hours of polishing.  You possibly have even played mock auditions in front of family and friends, colleagues and teachers as one more layer of preparation for the big day, Audition Day!  But, just like the car guy, have you forgotten to fill up with gas?  Without enough gas, you will not make it to the audition or through the audition.

The other day we had one of our professional oboist clients come in for a quick adjustment.  He said he was about to fly across the country for one of the top principle oboe positions in the United States.  Knowing this client I can say, I know he has polished and cleaned his technique and the music he plays!  He is easily one of the top players in the country, even at his young age.  This particular day, this client wasn’t cleaning and polishing, he was filling up with gas!

One of the most overlooked aspects of preparing for major auditions is not having routine maintenance.  Oboes and clarinets are comprised of many pieces and parts and these parts do wear out.  These are a few examples of common maintenance issues that can keep you from reaching your career goals:


  • Pads change and stop covering tone holes.  When this happens note response goes out the window, especially as you play lower notes.  Note resonance is less than ideal which can effect tuning and overall timbre of your oboe.
  • Keys become loose on the instrument which makes the pad accuracy less than reliable.
  • Tone holes become clogged from the constant cycle of playing and swabbing.  This can lead to water build up in tone holes and tuning issues.
  • Corks wear out and the mechanism becomes noisy and/or the joints become loose.


When you do not maintain your instrument, all of the hours of practice, cleaning and polishing can leave you stranded, literally without a job.  So if you are playing the audition circuit and haven’t considered maintenance as part of your audition plan, I would highly recommend a visit to the repair shop.  If you are planning on auditioning soon, make plans to visit the repair shop sooner than later.  And as you go through your musical life, instrument maintenance should be part of your regular practice routine.  How can you be the best of the best when your equipment is not the best it should be?

Many blessings to you as you pursue your life to the fullest.


Jason Onks

Post 49: Dr. Dan Ross

Recently Arkansas State University produced the video below about my former oboe professor Dr. Dan Ross.  This video reminded me of what a huge impact Dr. Ross has had on my life and has prompted me to share a few thoughts with you.

Sometimes in your life you get to encounter some extremely unique and inspirational people.  For me one of those people happened to be my first collegiate oboe teacher, Dr. Dan Ross.  When I entered college at Arkansas State University as an oboe performance major, I had only been playing oboe for approximately 2 years, some would say “holding an oboe” for 2 years.  Most oboists that declare oboe performance as their major have been playing 6, 7 or more years by the time they get to college.  Most oboists have had significant playing experience through oboe lessons, school band/orchestra, county honors, all-state, summer music camps, etc., but not me!  I was raw!  Although I did have very supportive parents that signed me up for oboe lessons right away during my junior year of high school, I ultimately didn’t have any experience playing oboe compared to my freshman counterparts.  So needless to say, my abilities as an oboist auditioning for college were not spectacular.  My options for college with regards to oboe were limited.  But just as my parents and high school band director supported me and thought I had promise pursuing the oboe, so did Dr. Ross!

The rest is history!  Not only did Dr. Ross sculpt me into an oboist by playing G. Parès Scales and Barrett Method with a metronome for 2 years solid, Dr. Ross was the catalyst for what I do today as an oboe repair specialist.  Dr. Ross is not only an oboe professor but the inventor/designer/builder of the Ross gouging machine.  The gouging machine is an integral part of an oboists life when it comes to making their own reeds.  The gouging machine in concept is fairly simple.  However, the gouging machine in conceptualization is a whole different beast!  Dr. Ross loves the oboe!  Dr. Ross loves playing the oboe, and Dr. Ross loves making oboe playing easier for whomever he can help. Through Dr. Ross’s love of the oboe and his passion for excellence, I was inspired over and over while studying with him and continue to be all these years later.

There are so many things that I learned from Dr. Ross like how to play with a metronome, how to drink my coffee black, how to be diligent in my day to day studies/practice and the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid!  One of the most important things I learned, although I didn’t think so at the time, was how to shut up and do something without actually knowing how to do it, aka, figure things out on your own!  Now as an oboe repair specialist, I have to figure things out every day.  No repair is exactly alike, and you cannot read a manual to help you figure it out!

During the video, Dr. Ross described the conversation when his oncologist told him he had only 1-2 years left to live.  Dr. Ross says, “Boy, it’s been a quick trip!  But my next thought was ‘that’s OK I’m still the luckiest person in the world ’cause I’ve got to do in life exactly what I love to do the most.’  Not many people can say that.”

I have to say that I am also the luckiest person in the world to have had the opportunity to study with and come to know Dr. Dan Ross.  He is always upbeat and the passion that he exudes is hard to shake off.  If you don’t know Dr. Ross or if you have had the same honor that I have, I know you will be inspired as you watch and listen to him in the video below.  I encourage you to share this video and send Dr. Ross a short message just as I have done.  You can read more about Dr. Ross and get his contact info here:

Post 48: What is an annual cleaning/set-up at Onks Woodwind?

“The mechanisms of an oboe and English horn are so complicated!” So who of you out there can agree with that statement? OK, I thought so. BTW, I also raised my hand. They are indeed complicated for many reasons. Oboes have many keys that interact with each other all at the same time. Oboes have many adjusting screws throughout the mechanism that connects one key to another. Oboes have joints that connect together with connecting bridge keys. All of the keys on an oboe are held in place with steel rods and/or pivot screws and said keys have to be “tight” on those rods/pivot screws to operate consistently. These few items all have to do with the mechanism, but there is so much more: tone holes, corks, springs, pads, octave vents, tenon connections, screws, rods, mechanism key oil, etc. As with any musical instrument, all of the parts must be in working order to make you, the player, happy, but as you can see, the oboe has many pieces and parts and can be very complicated.

Every week we have oboes come in with only “one thing wrong,” or “it plays well, but can you just check it over.” When our clients say these phrases, we tell them we will check it out and let them know our thoughts and recommendations. It isn’t that our clients are completely oblivious to the issues their oboe is having, it’s just that they have gotten accustomed to it over time and the parts of the oboe have worn down over time. This is very similar to cars and car repairs. If you drive your car very much, you will need to have maintenance on the brake system and eventually the pads will need to be replaced. The same thing is true with oboes. The longer you play your oboe, the harder you press the keys, the more the pads in those keys will wear out. Also, all of the connecting corks will wear through causing mechanisms to become loud and adjustments unstable. Because the oboe mechanism is so complicated, it makes the task of “fixing just one thing” very difficult. If your low notes are not responding like you prefer, it very well could be due to a pad or pads leaking on the upper joint of the oboe. Spring tensions could be wrong causing certain keys to not operate properly, etc

Due to this complexity, we recommend you have a full comprehensive cleaning/set-up in our shop at least once a year. So I know by this point you are asking, “What is included in this full comprehensive cleaning/set-up?” At Onks Woodwind Specialists we:

* Completely disassemble the instrument.
* Check tenon connections for stability, which is more than just checking the tenon corks.
* But we do check the tenon corks also 🙂
* Check all key bumper corks and adjustment corks. We usually change all of the adjustment corks on oboes vs. just changing one cork here and there because we have found it makes the overall feel of the mechanism more even and stable. Plus with all of the keys off the oboe, it’s a no-brainer! Takes only a couple minutes and makes the mechanism feel great!
* Clean all hinge tubes and pivot sockets.
* Clean all rods and pivots.
* Clean all post holes and facings.
* Clean all tone holes and oboe body with an enzyme cleaner to break down saliva build-up.
* Wash body and oil, if wood.
* Wash and clean keys.
* Before reassembling, we test wooden instruments to make sure the wood seals. This is especially important if the instrument has crack history. If the wood doesn’t seal we remedy that before reinstalling any keys.
* Reassemble the mechanism one key at a time checking each pad for optimal coverage. If the pad is leaking we level the pad. If the pad cannot be leveled, we replace the pad and if the key is too loose, we fit the key.
* As we are reinstalling keys, all springs are regulated to have proper tensions, which is critical for the complicated oboe mechanism.
* As more keys are added and pads checked, the regulations are also added.
* All rods and pivot screws are oiled with a heavy weight synthetic oil.
* Reassemble all three joints of the oboe, regulate the joints together and perform our first of many play tests.

As you can see the annual cleaning at Onks Woodwind is thoroughly comprehensive. And honestly, these items are only the highlights. There are many other small details that as oboists we pay attention to and can “feel” as we playtest the oboe. We have found over the years that when our clients have a thorough cleaning/set-up at Onks Woodwind, they magically do not have emergencies between annual visits!

If you are an oboist that simply wants their oboe to work and not have to worry when it’s going to malfunction “the next time,” we would be honored to serve you with our comprehensive annual cleaning/set-up.


Post 47: Remove, Clean and Re-install Oboe Octave Vents

Here in the professional oboe repair shop, we are frequently asked about cleaning and sealing octave vents.  The standard questions are: How often should I clean the octave vents?  What’s the best way to clean octave vents?  Should I seal octave vents?  How do I seal octave vents?

To answer how often, it really depends.  I know, I know, you’re saying, “Thanks a lot for the great advice, Jason!”  It really does depend on how often you play, how much you swab/feather out your oboe, and the environment in which you play.  At a minimum, we recommend having your octave vents cleaned once a year.  This would also go hand-in-hand with a full service for your entire oboe.  Oboes have complicated, temperamental mechanisms and should receive a full service once a year.  See our articles post 3 “Maintain on a yearly basis” and post 4 “Maintain on a yearly basis, Part 2.”  However, if you are a professional oboist playing 6-8 hours a day or more, it may be necessary for you to clean your octave vents several times a year, before your next annual full service.  

No matter your age or level of playing, it may be necessary for you to clean your octave vents at some point in the future.  I feel it is especially important for you to have this knowledge if you are a studio teacher, either at your residence or a university setting.

Previously we posted blog post 33, Should you seal your octave vents?  You may also find this article helpful when trying to answer questions about octave vents.

To help assist you with this necessary task of removing, cleaning and sealing octave vents, we created a couple of videos and posted them on our YouTube channel:



Post 46: Definition of #Onksd