Review and blindfold test: Légère Signature Series clarinet reeds

A few months ago, I posted about plastic reeds, and reported some of what I had read on another woodwind blog about the Légère Signature Series and Forestone clarinet reeds.

For reasons unknown to me, the post from which I originally quoted has been removed, but there are similar thoughts expressed in a more recent post.

Anyway, I got a kind offer from someone at Légère to send me a few samples.* They asked about my current cane reed preference, and sent three reeds in different strengths close to what I currently use.

Goodies via Canadian mail

Continue reading “Review and blindfold test: Légère Signature Series clarinet reeds”

Doubling-specific skills vs. instrument-specific skills

I don’t think a woodwind player really learns the skill of “doubling” so much as he or she learns the skill of flute playing, plus the skill of saxophone playing, and so forth. 99% of being a good doubler is being a good flutist and a good saxophonist and whatever.

There are only a few aspects of woodwind doubling that are unique to multi-instrumentalists. These are:

  • The physical act of switching instruments. This becomes an issue in Broadway-type situations when instrument changes sometimes need to happen very quickly. It’s worth practicing these little bits of choreography until they can be done as quickly, quietly, and safely as possible. Tips: own good, sturdy stands, and keep your instruments laid out in a consistent way.
  • The mental effort of switching instruments. Years of developing a fine clarinet embouchure can go right out the window when making a quick change from tenor saxophone. The problem isn’t with your lips, it’s with your focus. As you switch instruments, shift gears mentally, too. Tips: warm up thoroughly on each instrument before the rehearsal or gig, and take a brief (sometimes very brief) moment of meditation as you physically change instruments, so that you are 100% in clarinetist mode by the time the reed hits your lip.
  • The guts to play an instrument that isn’t your best one. Even if your secondary instruments are quite strong, it can be unnerving to perform on one instrument when you know you can do better on a different one. Courage! You’ll be that much more experienced when the next gig rolls around. Tips: be aware of your body—is your nervousness affecting your posture? Breath support? Hand relaxation? If so, simply recognizing the physical symptoms can be enough to relieve them. Focus on musical things that you may be able to bring to the table despite technical deficiencies, like blend or phrasing.

Practice hard!

Dear 2000

I’ve been reading the “Dear 1999” blogging project started by the guys over at The project, which launched last month, was to have musician-bloggers answer this question:

If you could go back to 1999 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

I enjoyed the responses, including one from clarinetist Marion Harrington.

Although I was (*ahem*) not invited to participate, I’ve been thinking about the last ten years of my life and what brought me to where I am now. Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a number of emails from musicians who are about the age I was ten years ago, who are interested in pursuing graduate school in multiple woodwinds, and so I’ve been in advice-giving mode already.

Since I missed posting at the end of 2009 anyway, I figure I can go ahead and change the format a little, as I think I’ve got more than one piece of advice for 2000 me.

Most of the “Dear 1999” bloggers are pursuing careers as performers, which I consider to be an important part of what I do, but my newly-begun main gig is as a university music professor. I am fortunate to be doing pretty much exactly what I love and what I’ve been aiming for for the past ten years, although sometimes it was hard to tell if I was headed in the right direction.

So here’s my advice, 2000 Bret: Continue reading “Dear 2000”

Required recordings, spring 2010

As I explained back in August, I’m having my university students purchase a required recording every semester.

The purpose of this, of course, is to help the students develop good aural concepts of tone, phrasing, expression, vibrato, ensemble, and so forth. To try to learn to play an instrument well without a solid aural concept is like trying to learn a foreign language from a textbook. You might pick up a few things, but you’ll be sunk unless you get to really hear—over and over—how the words and phrases sound.

I’m discovering that it’s a challenge to make the recording selections meet all the criteria I’d like. For example, I would like for each one to:

  • Be by a major soloist, preferably living
  • Contain very standard literature that my students should know, without too many repeats from previous selections
  • Contrast with last semester’s selection (for example, if last semester’s recording was music with piano, I tried to pick a concerto recording this time around)
  • If at all possible, contribute to a sense of diversity

The last one has been a challenge. So far my two-semester tally, selecting recordings for four different instruments, is six white men and two white women. I’d like to improve on that in the future, though I do think that, ultimately, what comes through the earphones is more central to this project than the colors or genders represented on the CD covers. I’ve got a few ideas for future selections and welcome additional suggestions.

Here are this semester’s selections: Continue reading “Required recordings, spring 2010”