When oboists or bassoonists use the term ‘grollies’, they are referring to the unhygienic spitty build-up that inevitably comes to reside inside each and every double reed. Even if you do manage to clean your teeth every time before playing, there will still be microscopic flecks of your lunch forming a small but growing community on the blades.
Now, you can slow the rate of grolly-growth by flushing out your oboe reeds on a regular basis, as follows: simply fill your mouth with boiled (not boiling!) water and blow it through the cork-end of the staple so the water squirts out through the tip of the reed. You might also try adding a dash of mouthwash to the water before flushing, but it must be a mouthwash that lists alcohol as one of its ingredients. Alcohol is very useful for cleaning things, and in fact, I always soak my reeds in a solution of three-quarters water and one-quarter Listerine (the original, none of your fancy new flavours). And if memory serves, Double Reed News featured an article fairly recently in which a bassoonist describes how he soaks – and I think even stores – his reeds in neat vodka.
(As a point of interest, I learned recently that neat vodka is used to scrub dirt and sweat from theatrical costumes that can’t be washed or dry-cleaned because they’re covered in meltable sequins or suchlike, so there you are – if you really don’t want to drink that nasty budget vodka you bought when you were on your uppers, you can use it to clean the cooker or something.)
Grolly build-up will eventually cause problems for you once the reed gets a bit older: suddenly you’ll find that you’re playing a bit on the sharp side. There is a way you can prolong the life of the reed and restore the pitch, but I should add that this is a ‘make or break’ solution, and there is a chance that you may destroy the reed entirely. It’s worth a try, though. Unless you have only one reed (which you really shouldn’t!), in which case – don’t.
You’ll need to get hold of some hydrogen peroxide solution. You can buy this from most chemists because it has many uses as a mouthwash, gargle, antiseptic, etc. (If you are going to use this stuff as a mouthwash, please please don’t forget to dilute it first, because it is essentially bleach: I flushed out some reeds with it and felt unwell for hours afterwards. It was yucky.) Okay, so dilute the hydrogen peroxide solution with boiled water (four-fifths water, one-fifth hydrogen peroxide solution) and then soak the grollied-up reed for no more than one minute. When the minute’s up, remove the reed from the solution and flush it through thoroughly with boiled water. If you leave any hydrogen peroxide solution inside the reed, the cane will just disintegrate.
If this works – and it will depend very much on how old the reed is and how close it is to its reedy death – then your favourite reed will be revitalised for perhaps just one more concert. Good luck!
(PS. While we’re on the subject of hygiene and cleanliness, it’s good practice to wet the brass part of the staple before tying-on, and then dry it with a clean cloth. This will remove any lurking dust deposits.)