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Paul Laubin, 88, Dies; Master of Making Oboes the Old-Fashioned Way

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Paul Laubin, a revered oboe maker who was one of the few remaining woodwinds to build his instruments by hand – he made so few a year that customers might have to wait a decade to play one – died on March 1st in his Workshop in Peekskill, NY He was 88 years old.

His wife, Meredith Laubin, said that Mr Laubin collapsed in his workshop during the day and that the police found his body that night. He lived in Mahopac, NY

In the world of oboes, his partisans believe, there is Mr. Oubos oboes and then there is everything else.

He was in his early twenties when he started making oboes with his father Alfred, who founded A. Laubin Inc. and built his first oboe in 1931. Paul took over the business when his father died in 1976. His son Alex started working by his side in 2003.

Oboists in major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra have played Mr. Laubin’s instruments and appreciated their dark, rich tone.

“There’s something that hits a chord deep within your body when you play a Laubin,” said Sherry Sylar, the New York Philharmonic’s principal associate oboist. “It’s a resonance that no other oboe has. It rings in your body. You get addicted to making a sound like this and nothing else will. “

In a dusty workshop near the Hudson River, lined with machines built as early as 1881, Mr. Laubin made his oboes and cor anglais with almost religious precision. He wore an apron and puffed a pipe as he bored and turned the grenadilla and rosewood from which his instruments were made. (The pipe also served as a test device: Mr. Laubin blew smoke through the joints of the instrument to detect air leaks.)

His father taught him techniques that go back centuries. Over the decades and when instrument makers decided to use computer-aided design and factory automation, Paul Laubin resisted change. For him, if it took 10 years to build a good oboe, so be it.

“What’s the rush?” He said in a 1991 interview with the New York Times, “I don’t want my name to appear here that I didn’t make, check, and play myself.”

Mr Laubin stored the blocks of his rare hardwoods outdoors for years so they could get used to extreme weather conditions and become more resistant to the cracks that are of great importance to woodwind players. After drilling a hole that would become the drilling of the instrument, it sometimes took another year for the piece of wood to dry out.

Mr. Laubin, who was a professional oboist as a young man, played every oboe he worked on looking for imperfections. “Every key is a fight,” he told News 12 Westchester in 2012.

When a Laubin oboe was finally finished, its unveiling was cause for celebration. A customer came into the Peekskill workshop with a bottle of champagne, and as he played his first notes, Mr. Laubin raised a toast.

Paul Edward Laubin was born on December 14, 1932 in Hartford, Connecticut. His father, oboist and music teacher, started making oboes because he was dissatisfied with the quality of the instruments available. He built the first Laubin oboe as an experiment and melted down his wife’s cutlery to make his keys. Paul’s mother, Lillian (Ely de Breton) Laubin, was a housewife.

As a boy, Paul was enchanted by the instruments his father made, but Alfred initially didn’t want his son to make music. Paul harassed him again and again; When he was thirteen, his father reluctantly gave him an oboe, a reed, and a finger table, and Paul taught himself to play.

Mr. Laubin studied auto mechanics and music at Louisiana State University in the 1950s. It wasn’t long before his yearning for performance overwhelmed him and he got a place in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Soon after, he finally joined the family business and began building oboes with his father in the garage of their home in Scarsdale, NY

In 1958 they moved their workshop to a clarinet factory in Long Island City, Queens, and for a time the company was producing (relatively speaking) 100 instruments a year.

Mr. Laubin married the flautist Meredith Van Lynip in 1966. In 1988 he moved the company to its current location in Peekskill. Over time, his team got smaller, as did his production.

In the 1990s, A. Laubin Inc. produced around 22 instruments a year. By 2005 the average had dropped to 15. Over time, the scarcity of the Laubin oboes only added to their legend. The company has rarely advertised and relied on word of mouth. A grenadilla oboe costs $ 13,200. a rosewood, $ 14,000.

In addition to his wife and son, a daughter, Michelle, survives; a sister, Vanette Arone; a brother, Carl; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Laubin was aware that selling so few instruments each year, no matter how exquisite, did not necessarily make financial sense. “I made the decision to follow my father even though I knew I would never get rich,” he told The Times in 1989.

The company’s fate is now undetermined. Alex Laubin served as office manager and helped with some aspects of production, but didn’t learn the entire process. He often asked his father to modernize their business – to no avail.

“Nobody sits down and puts down keys,” said Meredith Laubin. “It doesn’t turn out that there is always an oboe joint. This is all automated now, just like robots build cars. But Paul didn’t advocate any of these things. For him there was no cheating on the family recipe. “

However, Mr. Laubin knew that the old ways would come to an end. He found it harder to ignore the reality of an ancient world craftsman in the modern age.

“Paul had to have part of his dream, namely to be able to work with his son,” said Ms. Laubin. “But the other part of his dream, since he knew his work would continue the way he did things, he knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

Nevertheless, he stuck to the tradition until the end. On the day of his death, the beginnings of the Laubin oboe No. 2,600 lay on his desk.

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Robert Dunfee