top of page

Tim The Oboist

Carly O'Connor

"Untitled" Nate Arnold

I practiced like crazy, lost hours upon hours of sleep for the audition, and got accepted. One month later I stand eagerly at Iowa State University in Shemann Hall, waiting to be given a chair placement for the Iowa All-State Festival.


I stand outside the audition room torturously listening to the other gifted musicians, and I can’t help but think my acceptance into such a prestigious ensemble was merely a silly fluke. I self-consciously eye my chair placement competition, and my eyes land on what looks like a very approachable guy. So, trying to be the kind, outgoing person that I’m not, I strike up a conversation with a fellow oboist. “Man, isn’t this part super hard?”


He arrogantly shakes his head and lets out a puff of acclaimed prestige. He explains to me how to play it the right way, not neglecting to belittle me in the process. “You have to double tongue the sixteenth notes. It’s impossible to play it well the way you’re trying.”


I look at him, not even attempting to hide the perplexed look on my face. I let out an exasperated “huh?”


As if the degrading air of his personality and condescending voice aren't enough, he proceeds to demonstrate on his oboe reed. He walks around with his head held high, reed in mouth, buzzing on the pieces of cane. He paces back and forth, still buzzing on his reed, sounding like a tortured baby duck. All while absolutely flaunting his talent at my sad assumption that I was, in fact, talented.


After a good two minutes, he stops. And then he doesn’t. He buzzes without his reed, flicking his tongue against his teeth and spitting everywhere. Dang, he really showed me.


His desperate attempts to discount my skills morph into comic relief. For me, at least. I look around the hallway and find, to my enjoyment, that everyone is staring at Tim like he’s a fool. Finally, the man working the center calls my name.

“Good luck,” Tim says with a smirk on his face.

“Thanks,” I say as I give him the fakest of smiles.


I play my chair placement audition to the best of my ability, which is all that matters. But I soon discover, to my dismay that Tim is very, very talented. This whole situation would’ve been a lot more comforting if Tim wasn’t good at the oboe. But of course he didn’t bypass the chance to brag about how this is his third year at All-State—and he’s only a junior.

I sit two chairs down from Tim, sitting next to Jim, who is actually a pretty cool guy.


Anyway, I soon get acquainted with his customary warm-up routine, something no less annoying than Tim himself. He’d take one of his reeds from the forty he holds in his fancy wooden case, and buzzes. He buzzes and buzzes and buzzes, bending the pitch up and down and up and down, painfully reminding me of the day before. Finding it rather humorous, I soon learn to tune it out.


The rest of the rehearsal carries on greatly, and I soak in every minute of it. I assumed after the whole rank establishment I wouldn’t have to associate with Tim, or even acknowledge that he was there. Maybe I was too confident in my playing or maybe I didn’t practice enough; I don’t know. But someone up there must really have it out for me because the oboe gods decided to smite me from above.

At rehearsal, I mind my own business and play what’s on the page. I finally start to get the hard rhythms and notes down in one particular piece, even daring to feel somewhat proud of myself. Apparently to Tim, however, this was unacceptable. A section of the piece involved a division of notes between the oboes which included a—might I stress intentional—dissonance.


Every time this section played, his head would whip over and glare at me so fast I’m surprised he didn’t need to go to the chiropractor by the end of the day. His head whipping and glaring weren’t enough for him though, so he decided to call me out. “You’re playing that note wrong,” he says. “I think you’re playing an A flat.”

I shake my head. “Nah. I have an F sharp.” I’m pretty sure my effort to cover up the irritation in my voice failed. To be fair though, I’m an All-Stater. I know how to read music.

“Oh really? Let me see that.” He rips my music off my stand and stares at it intensely, raising a suspicious eyebrow. The audacity of this kid is unbelievable. He plays it, testing the pitch for himself. “Play it.”

As sassily as I can manage, I play that F sharp. He pulls out his tuner, which he undoubtedly spent a fortune on, making me appreciate the free tuner app I have on my phone. As expected, it reads a perfectly in-tune F sharp.


Tim purses his lips and says, “huh,” which I assume is him admitting defeat. I’ll take what I can get I guess.


It takes every bit of me to not strangle him with the disgusting swab he’s wearing around his neck like a scarf or to kick his backup oboe that’s just sitting there off its stand. I don’t even own one oboe, let alone two. I am tempted to leave rehearsal.

The first person I see when I walk into rehearsal the next day out of the hundreds of other musicians is, of course, Tim. I don’t even have to look at his face to know that it's him. He walks as if he is too good to be walking on the same ground as everyone else. He has his little cup of water for his oboe reeds in his hand, nonchalantly tossing it up in the air.


He glides past me egotistically, tossing his bottle up in the air to catch it. Only this time he misses and the cup hits his own presumptuous face. Tim might be more talented than me, but at least I got a good laugh.

bottom of page