Raw footage for "Chicago Slices," a television series about life in Chicagoland. In this video, Skip Blumberg interviews Ray Still, retiring oboist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who discusses his career, plays some pieces, and demonstrates the art of reed-making.
00:00Copy video clip URL Outside the home of oboist Ray Still, the camera records roses in bloom in the archway leading to his house.
02:15Copy video clip URL On the porch, Still explains that he practices outside sometimes to simulate playing at Ravinia, because the reeds react differently under different conditions.
03:30Copy video clip URL Still shows off the extensive garden in his yard, which he says his wife is responsible for tending. He sits on the bench given to him and his wife as a gift from their children on their 50th wedding anniversary, noting that he has lived in this house for 38 years, playing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 40 years, and will be retiring this year.
05:35Copy video clip URL Still demonstrates how the oboe and the reed work, describing the different types of oboe and reeds. He invites videomaker Skip Blumberg to get a shot of the flowers, proudly showing off the roses and hydrangeas in the garden.
10:00Copy video clip URL Still and Blumberg go in the house, where Still shows Blumberg a plant that grows in France, where they make the reeds out of cane. He says that much of the terminology having to do with oboes comes from French. He pulls out an old oboe that comes from the Beethoven era, around 1820, and compares it to the modern oboe. He also displays a personal letter from Fritz Reiner, the great conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), which he says he “treasures greatly.”
14:30Copy video clip URL Blowing into a tube, Still plays the oboe, and demonstrates the different pressures needed to make various sounds.
17:50Copy video clip URL Still shows a poster of a benefit that he organized in 1982 to support nuclear disarmament and speaks briefly about the movement. He shows artwork of Lester Young and Billie Holiday, citing them as two of his greatest inspirations in music. He also shows LP records of Brahms’ violin concerto, which the CSO will soon play. Still puts on the second movement for Blumberg, saying it is the “granddaddy of all oboe solos,” lasting about three minutes. He points out that the recording is of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1954 and he is actually the one playing the oboe solo on the recording.
23:08Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Still what it’s like to listen to himself as a young professional. Still answers that most people believe that as people age, their playing gets worse, but he believes that his playing has improved over the years. He says that he’s retiring to do more of his “own things” but that he will continue to play the instrument on his own after his time with the CSO is over. He plays a recording that his son made on the piano, and plays along with it.
27:00Copy video clip URL Still stops playing and demonstrates the technology of digital audio tape used to record his son’s piece, and then cleans out his instrument with a rag and a piece of cigarette rolling paper, which he uses to dry out the hole. He then talks about the reed, holding it up to the light and discussing its composition. He then demonstrates how he makes the reed, claiming that you cannot buy reeds of this quality in the store.
32:05Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks if it is an emotional or technical experience for Still to play. Still responds by saying that it is indeed emotional, comparing it to an actor in a Shakespearean performance. He calls Brahms the most “noble of all composers,” and talks about the meaning of musical expression without words.
35:45Copy video clip URL Still plays the Brahms piece with along with the tape once again.
38:12Copy video clip URL His son James walks in the room and Blumberg introduces himself. They go over to a desk, where they demonstrate the process of splitting the cane and forming it into a reed.
45:35Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks whether the oboe gets the recognition it deserves. Still points out that the oboe is actually referred to as the “prima donna” of the orchestra because it was the first solo instrument added to an orchestra, dating back to Bach. Still explains that he plans to keep teaching at Northwestern, traveling the country, conducting, recording, and writing a book about the oboe.
47:40Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks if Still continues to find ways to “break through” the instrument in new ways. Still compliments Blumberg on his questions, saying that he does in fact keep growing in his skill. Still makes a comparison to Michael Jordan, saying that any person who wants to master his craft must keep moving and not remain static. He emphasizes the importance of challenging oneself and how teaching helps him continue that process.
49:40Copy video clip URL Still discusses the reed once again, noting that the reed can withhold only three liters of air in a minute, demonstrating by playing without a breath for a solid minute. He says that it is like self hypnosis to overcome the body’s natural tendency to breathe every few seconds. He says that pearl divers risked brain damage by doing this, and laughs, joking that oboe players have a reputation for being brain damaged, as well. He tells the story of playing a Shostakovich 7th symphony with Bernstein, in which he played a three minute solo with only two breaths. Still attributes this feat to the body’s amazing resiliency and adaptability to whatever you demand of it. He explains that he does rapid breathing at times in order to prepare his body for the phrasing he uses in his playing.
56:32Copy video clip URL Still says that he has four children and six grandchildren, then goes back to the tape machine to play the piece one more time.
01:01:42Copy video clip URL Back at the desk, Still demonstrates the shaping of a reed and begins tying it to the oboe. The interview is continued on a subsequent tape.
01:02:46Copy video clip URL End of tape.