40 Reeds, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera

Whew! We just finished our 5-week run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Kennedy Center. Playing one show 40 times was a first for me, and necessitated some different approaches. I have to give credit to our conductor, Jerry Steichen, who has been traveling with the show since October. He retained interest through changing up some of the conducting while maintaining consistency. The traveling cast was also wonderful, and nobody would ever guess they had performed the show close to 300 times by the time our run ended. One of the biggest challenges of playing so many shows was not burning through my reeds. I rotate using my reeds, and it became especially important on this show. I threw an extra challenge in of using a different reed for each performance. Here are the 40 reeds in all their glory:

I’m a big proponent of rotating reeds and many people have asked me about my strategies and reasoning. The more we play a reed, the more worn out it gets. If we play a reed multiple days in a row, it has not had the time to fully dry out and recover from the previous playing session and thus shortens its life span.

There are few rules for reeds that I try to follow:

  1. Never ever play the same reed two days in a row.
  2. Try to wait at least a week before playing a reed again; a month is preferable
  3. Go down the line in your reed case/box. If a reed isn’t playing how you’d like, mark it, take it out of your box, and work on it later. If it cannot be improved, it doesn’t deserve a spot in your case.
  4. Reeds are built for response and intonation. Tone is the result of those two, not a reed-making criterion.
  5. If you have one or two reeds in your box that you gravitate towards or feel dependent on, you don’t have enough good reeds.


Rotating reeds allows each one to feel fresh when you soak them up and they last drastically longer (months or a year, rather than days). It also allows you to avoid reed slumps (typically brought on by a bad batch of cane) by slowly incorporating new reeds into the rotation. As long as your rate of new reeds exceeds your reed retirement rate, you’ll always have a good stockpile. The larger your stockpile, the less frequently you’ll play each reed, and the longer they’ll last. With this strategy, I feel like I actually have to make less reeds than I did before.

What are your reed strategies??

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