Sitting one behind the other at the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, two woodwinds joined tempos and exchanged vows. Andrea Banke, the company’s principal oboist, recently married Scott Charles Oakes, the principal bassoonist.
Often unrecognized by the audience, these classic instruments are frequently the recipient of many endearing comments. The bassoon, sometimes referred to as the clown of the orchestra, can belt out extraordinary and comical tones. The oboe, on the other hand, known for its bleating sounds, commands the orchestra with its fine pitch.
Both the oboe and the bassoon use double-reeds. These reeds often are handmade by the musician and difficult to produce — taking hours of an oboe and bassoonist’s time.
And here lies the argument, and the comradery, with the Banke/Oakes couple.
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Oakes said that his reeds are more difficult to form; Banke disagreed.
“We think bassoons have a much easier time,” Banke said.
Oakes disagreed: “Bassoon reeds are much more difficult to construct because ours are easier to mess up because of the complex construction.”
They admitted that although they both spend hours whittling and reconstructing little pieces of cane to place in their instrument’s mouthpiece, this task is a solitary one.
“It’s definitely not a date-night activity,” Banke said, smiling.
Along with hours of daily rehearsal, this oboist and bassoonist are both woodwind instructors at Wichita State University and members of the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet.
“We really understand each other’s neuroses,” Banke said. She referred to the couple’s performance schedule — working nights and weekends, countless hours of practice, reed making and listening to music.
The music director and conductor for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Hege, said woodwind players in general have to really listen to one another while blending with each other.
“That’s good fodder for a good marriage,” said Hege, a former oboist. “Because of their both being double reeds, they would share an immediate empathy.”
Banke calls it “double, double, double” — double reed, double professor, double musician.
A few years ago, the orchestra needed a bassoonist — quickly. Banke was asked to help in the search. One evening, she was performing in Kansas City with an accomplished clarinetist — Gregory Oakes.
“He told me he had a brother that played bassoon,” Banke said, admitting she was both skeptical and suspicious. But after speaking with Scott Oakes and listening to his tapes, the committee decided to hire him. Banke and Oakes became “instant” friends. So much so, that when they announced their marriage plans, no one was surprised.
The couple feels fortunate to not only work in the same orchestra, but to teach at the same school, often teaching oboists and bassoonists simultaneously — focusing on the woodwind solos. These works include Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” where the elderly grandfather is represented by the bassoon and the flittering duck, the oboe.
“We teach these pieces to our students because it’s so important that the oboists and bassoonists talk to each other,” Oakes said. Banke agreed. Often, Oakes and Banke finish each other’s sentences.
During concerts, Banke first tunes the orchestra with her oboe’s “A”; then she leads the woodwinds. To her, during a concert, Oakes is just a bassoonist that sits directly behind her — she hears him, but she does not see him.
Oakes, on the other hand, must watch his wife for cues.
“I will always be watching whatever she is doing to understand the phrase,” Oakes said. “I can’t help but see her as a person and not just a sound.”
Both Banke and Oakes are accomplished musicians and spend hours fine-tuning their craft.
“They are terrific performers and teachers,” said Jay Decker, retired associate conductor of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and retired director of strings at Wichita State University. “They are outstanding musicians.”
The symphony admires Banke enough to spotlight her in a special solo performance at a concert in its upcoming season. Banke is the featured musician for the March 2013 Mozart and Mahler concert where she will play Mozart’s oboe concerto.
Banke came to the symphony via the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and Oakes was at the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Both are classically trained musicians with their master’s degrees in music.
“Nobody gets me except another double-reed,” Banke said with a laugh and a wink. “I think it was our shared wit and sarcasm that got us together.”