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Carving out a space for reed making

A state-of-the art reed-making room for single- and double-reed instrumentalists

In one of the concert halls at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the stage is quiet in anticipation of a soaring melody from one of the world's future star musicians. It's that special moment when the years of training, study and dedication coalesce into a single point of beauty.

If the musician is an oboist or bassoonist, a parallel world of craftsmanship and mastery accompanies that unique artistic moment -- a world that is rooted in woodworking tools, wood shavings and razor-sharp knives that were designed centuries ago.

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A student at work in the Sirucek and Sharrow Reed Room.
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Reed-making, the art that produces tiny, delicate mouthpieces that are inserted into the top of instruments, is part and parcel of the daily life of every oboist and bassoonist in the world. It is not unusual for a double-reed performer to spend as much time splitting, cutting, gouging and carving tiny tubes of cane for their instruments as they do practicing them.

For many years, the location to work hour upon hour on crafting reeds in the Jacobs School has been a small room on the first floor of the Music Annex (otherwise known as "the Round Building"). As much as students became accustomed to working there, one could almost imagine the reed room as a closet for cleaning tools, an afterthought as the building architects considered the need for faculty studios, rehearsal halls and student practice rooms. With the limitations of the room, the woodwind faculty have long felt that a new room would be needed, one that could accommodate the large number of young double- and single-reed instrumentalists studying at the school.

With the ongoing revitalization of the IU Jacobs School of Music, oboe and bassoon professors, coupled with clarinet professors -- who also consider the trimming and refinement of their single reeds paramount to a great performance -- recently approached the Jacobs administration with the idea of converting a larger space in the annex into a new state-of-the-art reed room.

"It was something that we felt was essential to the artistic and technical advancement of our students," said Linda Strommen, professor of oboe, who joined the faculty in 2002, "and we are grateful that Dean Richards and Executive Associate Dean O'Brien offered support for the endeavor."

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Beth and John Drewes with Jacobs Professors Linda Strommen and William Ludwig.
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As it turns out, long-time supporters of the Jacobs School of Music were also at the ready for such a project. Beth and John Drewes are alumni of the Jacobs School and returned to the Bloomington area after nearly 40-year careers in Wisconsin and Florida. Their interest in supporting woodwind performance at the Jacobs School was sparked when they realized that Strommen was someone they had mentored decades ago.

"It was wonderful to reconnect with Linda," said John Drewes, "and to witness the impact her teaching was having on the next generation of oboists. When she approached us with the idea of a new reed room, we realized that this would be an opportunity for us to step forward and return something to the school we love. It was a project that would provide long-range support and significant benefits to the reed students."

Working closely with Jacobs School Facilities Coordinator Denver Wrightsman, a new state-of-the-art reed room was built on the second floor of the Music Annex, in a location previously used for storage. With as many as 15 spacious work stations, a repair desk, cutting equipment, and ease of access, students in the Jacobs School now have a professionally designed facility. Named for Jerry Sirucek and Leonard Sharrow, legendary oboe and bassoon teachers who taught for decades in the Jacobs School, the room provides single- and double-reed majors the very best possible facility for their art.

"The Drewes have made it possible for our students to work in an environment conducive to quality reed-making for the first time in our history," said Gwyn Richards, Dean of the IU Jacobs School of Music. "We are most grateful to them for their help in providing an environment that promotes excellence and achievement."

"It's really a transformational space," said Strommen. "Just as an inspiring concert hall brings out the best in you as a performer, the new room enables these talented musicians to excel as reed makers. We anticipate that this facility will make a difference to their evolving professional lives."

In addition to the generous support from Beth and John Drewes, an additional anonymous donor was able to support the creation of the new Sirucek and Sharrow Reed Room, which was dedicated on Sept. 21, 2008.

The next time you attend an orchestral concert, watch how many times the oboist will quickly shave off a tiny part of his or her reed.