Woodwind doubling and the “main” instrument

July 22, 2014

I identify very much as a woodwind player: as far as I’m concerned, if it’s a woodwind, it’s part of what I do. But when I introduce myself to someone that way, I am frequently asked, “But which one is your main instrument?”

I am hesitant to give a straightforward response to this. To identify a “main” instrument feels like an admission of failure. I work hard to play all of my instruments at a high enough level to be qualified for whatever gig you were thinking of hiring me for—if I pick just one, are you going to write me off as a possibility for the others?

photo, Neil Moralee
photo, Neil Moralee

Do I genuinely play all of my instruments at the very same ability level? Of course not. It would take some strange kind of balancing act to keep them perfectly equal all the time. I do have a woodwind that I played for a decade before getting serious about any of the others, the one I earned a bachelor’s degree in performance with (my graduate degrees are “multiple woodwinds” degrees). To some extent, that one still is my comfort zone, though that gap is very slowly closing.

Not all woodwind doublers feel the same way about it, nor should they, necessarily. There are lots of ways to be successful and fulfilled as a woodwind player. But my own goal is to play them all well enough that I could convincingly claim any of them as a “main” instrument. My favorite compliment is when, after hearing me play several instruments, someone still asks which is my main one. Sometimes I receive that compliment, and sometimes I don’t.