It was only about a week since the whirlwind Blade show in Atlanta, and I was already on the road again – this time for a couple of Reed Knife Sharpening Seminars. The first one was at Northwestern University’s Summer Session for Oboe, hosted by Robert Morgan (who is also the purveyor of Chicago Reed Company, and inventor of the W.R.I.S.T.). The second, which is written up in another post, was at one of the Bocal Majority and Operation O.B.O.E. Camps in Austin, Texas, hosted by Jennifer Auerbach.
Once again, the travel Gods were on my side – although I think they were cutting it close! A typhoon had just passed through Taiwan and Hong Kong hours before I was scheduled to leave. The plane was a little late getting into Hong Kong, and I literally had to run across from one wing of the airport to the other, and my fate rested in whether or not my suitcase would make it to the plane in time. Luckily it made it with only minutes to spare!
I arrived to lovely summer weather in Chicago and headed to the Evanston campus of Northwestern University, which is a beautiful campus on the lake loaded with a wonderful variety of architecture. I made my way to the Music Admin Building and quickly found the exhibit room, where I bumped into a few familiar faces, including Shawna Lake of Oboe Chicago, Heidi Brann of HB Reeds, and Carlos Coelho of Carlos Oboe . In fact, we were the only exhibitors, as this was a more intimate setting with about 20 attendees for the 3 day camp.
After lunch, while Carlos gave a class on basic oboe care and maintenance, I was able to catch up with Heidi and Shawna, who I haven’t seen since last year’s IDRS conference. We had a stimulating discussion that covered a lot of the “business talk” that we don’t normally get to do at the conferences, with each of us throwing out ideas for the others. Of course, we talked while I sharpened up Heidi’s Jende Reed Knife.
When it came time to sharpen Shawna’s Jende Reed Knife, I had my work cut out for me… Somehow the bevel had grown into a 50+ degree angle on the back side. The good news was the front face of the knife was very much intact. It took a little effort, but I finally got that bevel back under control, and sharpened up to a brand new 15K edge.
After the exhibits shut down for the day, Robert took me back to his lovely 1920’s two-family style home where he and his wife treated me to BBQ Seattle Salmon, BBQ vegetables, fried sweet potatoes, and some nice white wine. It was delectable! But before we could relax too much, we headed back to the university to attend John Henes’s first of two Alexander Technique classes.
John worked with the students one by one, having them play as he made them aware of what their bodies were doing while they played. With a few simple changes in body stature or distribution of their weight, the sound quality and volume of each student noticeably improved. It was every bit as informative to simply watch and listen to John work his magic with the Alexander Technique as it would be to participate, and it is really a must-do for people from all walks of life.
Saturday started off with a meticulously fresh brewed cup of coffee (great food is the standard in the Morgan home!) as Robert and I discussed some ideas for reed knives over a breakfast of eggs, muffins and fresh fruit with Greek yogurt. Afterward, Robert’s wonderful wife Sandy – an accomplished flutist and amazing cook – took me downtown to the farmer’s market. There was also an arts and crafts festival taking place that was taking up several blocks of downtown Evanston. It was still a little early, but as we walked through the street toward the market, we stumbled upon the very knowledgeable Ms. Rachel, who was setting up a stand called Poetic Earth, which specializes in amazing leather bags and leather bound journals that must be seen (and smelled!) to be believed. They tan their own hides using environmentally-friendly methods and engrave and emboss them by hand – some with amazingly intricate designs. They also make their own journal paper from cotton. I bought a small leather bound pocket journal, and I already feel more important!
We got to the farmer’s market, and the first thing I saw was Joseph Schmidt of To The Point Onsite Sharpening Service busy sharpening one of the plenty of knives he needed to sharpen. I slowly circled while I observed him in action, and then struck up a friendly conversation with him. It was clear he knew what he was doing, starting with his water cooled Tormek and finishing with his paper wheel setup. While I’m not a huge fan of the paper wheels myself (but that’s another issue, entirely), there was no question that Joseph was getting excellent results and was well trained on the system. His overall technique of sharpening left me feeling all warm inside that the Evanston farmer’s market was truly in good hands!
After a few minutes of me invading Joseph’s personal space to check out his equipment, I caught back up with Sandy as she continued making her rounds, buying all kinds of amazingly fresh vegetables and fruits – much of which would show up in that night’s dinner – and we headed over to the university (that was why I was there, don’t forget!).
As I arrived at the exhibit area and started preparing for my reed knife sharpening seminar, Shawna’s table was abuzz with people trying out her extensive, yet personalized selection of oboes and English horns. She really took the time and focused all her attention on each person who was playing, and had a genuine interest in finding that perfect instrumental match for her customers. Heidi was hard at work making her reeds – which are catching on with oboists like wildfire – with a huge smile, thanks to a freshly sharpened knife. I remember meeting Heidi a couple of years ago at her first IDRS convention as an exhibitor, and she has really grown her business since then. People like Shawna and Heidi really make our little double reed society such a wonderful place!
Just after lunch, double reed repairman extraordinaire Paul Kober arrived. Paul has been a repairman for over 20 years, and has apprenticed at both Howarth of London (in Worthing) and with Fox. Oboe Chicago uses his services exclusively – that’s how good he is! He set up and quickly started tackling some oboes.
FINALLY, it was time for my seminar! We decided to move it into the exhibit area, where everyone crammed into the room. People know I usually take one or two reed knives from the group to demonstrate my sharpening methods, so they were all waiting with eager eyes and reed knives in hand.
I gave my seminar, complete with a hollow ground and a single bevel knife demonstration, a power point slide show, and even live microscope pictures. Much to my surprise, no one seemed to glaze over, and I only cracked one bad joke about bacon – although there were a few references to Shawna’s reed knife in there, too…
Afterward, Robert, Shawna and I went back home for dinner, which was BBQ white sea bass with some kind of amazing sauce Sandy conjured up, sautéed mushrooms, string beans, and scallions, as well as a fresh tomato, cucumber, basil and mozzarella salad. Rosé and red wines were flowing, as was the wonderful dinner conversation that strengthened our tight bonds even more.
Once again, before we could get too comfortable, we needed to head out to catch the second of John Henes’s Alexander Technique class, which was a continuation of the previous evening’s class, thus giving John the chance to work with all the attendees. He’s truly a knowledgeable and gifted man and it was really a learning experience for all of us.
Sunday morning started off with another perfectly crafted cup of coffee, and Sandy whipped up a mouthwatering spinach and mushroom frittata, topped with some parmesan cheese. We also had a mixed bowl of the fresh blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches and cantaloupe from the farmer’s market. I was truly being spoiled!
After saying my goodbyes to Sandy, Robert and I headed out to the university where he was scheduled to give his reed making class. I still had some sharpening to do, so I headed to the exhibit area to get some work done.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. Heidi, Shawna, Paul and I were able to talk shop, and we naturally conspired how to take over the double reed world
As if this leg of the trip couldn’t get any better, I went to meet and stay with Chuck, a friend from the Keeping Sharp Forum. Chuck is also quite the foodie, and the knifie, and even straight razorie guy!
We got to his beautiful home in the Chicago suburbs, and walked into the very homely aroma of beef stew that was simmering on the stove. We quickly got down to business – vodka tonics and we started to prepare the vegetables for the evening’s meal. Chuck and I split up the veggies, and chose from several very well sharpened knives. When Chuck says he’s got a zoo at his house, he isn’t lying – there were children appearing and disappearing everywhere.
Chuck made the guacamole dip and started the BBQ, which would cook up 3 flank steaks that were doused in marinade. Next up were the margaritas, which made me feel like I was back in Mexico! Dinner ended up being steak fajitas with sautéed onions and peppers, guacamole, sour cream, and some cheese. I did indulge, and probably had a fajita or two too many…
After dinner, we headed down to the man-cave to do some serious sharpening. I brought Chuck back his Robeson razors, one of which needed to be honed up again, so we hooked up the microscope and started honing away on his Chosera Edge Pro stones. We simultaneously played with a couple of kitchen knives on the Kalamazoo, too! Midway through the fun, Jake, Chuck’s son (aka, the Marine), showed up with a friend and showed off a couple of guns from Chuck’s collection. As most of us on the forum know, Jake recently safely returned from an 8month tour at a FOB in Afghanistan. It was a pleasure to finally meet him, shake his hand, and to thank him face to face. (There is no intended political comment here, just an honest appreciation for someone who risked his life for his country)
After Chuck successfully honed up his Robeson (it was now 1am!) he headed off to bed, while Jake showed me some pictures of his experience in Afghanistan. We ended up talking up a storm about all kinds of good things until 3:30am.
7am arrived pretty fast… I woke up to the smell of some freshly brewed coffee, and Chuck made an amazing frittata (what is it with the frittatas?) with peppers, onions and some cottage cheese, and a side of spicy sausage. I was beginning to wonder if I was on a knife sharpening tour or a gastronomical tour!
All too quickly, it was time to start heading out to the airport. Chuck and I had a wonderful knife-free conversation, discussing such “ordinary” things as education and parenting, showing how our hobbies can make friends out of us all.
Next up is the Operation O.B.O.E. and the Bocal Majority’s Sharpening seminar.