Santy Runyon Discusses Reeds
A Collection of Four Letters by Santy Runyon
Just a Few Experiences with Materials, Design and Methods of Manufacture
I played drums for silent pictures, before “talkies” came out. I started at the age of eight. Bill Ludwig, of the Selmer Co., and I are the only “trap drummers” left. That’s what Bill told me the last time I saw him. When a bird appeared on the silent screen, it was the job of the drummer to blow a little bird whistle. You had to have a train whistle when an old coal operated train appeared. A cow moo, you would blow when the farmer was milking the cow. A big sheet of tin with a handle on it would sound like thunder—you would shake it when rain appeared on the screen. Pull the trigger on a cap pistol when the cowboy would shoot an Indian. Couldn’t get fired cause my ol’ man owned the show. This was in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, a small town in Osage Indian Territory. I did this until “talkies” came out.
When I was ten, my father bought me a C Melody Sax. It was used and it came with one reed. It played pretty good, and I learned to play two tunes on it in two days. I had already played Vibes for a couple of years, so I did know a little about music.
I was very enthused about Sax and played it a lot, so you can imagine what happened to that one reed. This town was 45 miles from Tulsa–so I was out of luck for a reed. Radio was invented just a couple of years before. The front panel was made of hard rubber, and my dad had broken it and the hard rubber panel was in pieces. Our picture machine operator saw my plight so he whittled out a hard rubber reed–patterned it after the worn out cane reed. He and I fooled with it until we got it to play pretty good. I played that reed for almost nine months, until I got a chance to go to Jenkins Music Store in Tulsa. I bought six # 2 1/2 reeds. Every one was different. One was so hard I couldn’t play it–one so soft it was almost useless. I had to rework every one of those reeds. That is still going on today. You buy five reeds and they are all different, no matter what brand you select.
I have said this many times–I played lead alto and principle flute in the Chicago Theatre Orchestra for eleven years (1931-1942). Playing 5 to 7 shows a day plus three early morning rehearsals a week, you had better have some chops, and you had better keep ’em up. Reed management was my means of keeping the embouchure in shape.