Multiple woodwinds commission, third movement (bassoon)

I’m excited about the progress on Divertissement, the new piece for multiple woodwinds by Sy Brandon. He has posted his work on the third movement, the clever Valse for bassoon and piano.

I’ve submitted a comment at his blog regarding some matters of tessitura. Dr. Brandon keeps comments under tight moderation, so my remarks may not be available yet.

A brief thought about new music for saxophone

Here’s a comment I made by email to Sy Brandon, regarding the saxophone movement of Divertissement, the new multiple woodwinds piece he is writing for me.

So much contemporary saxophone music is bombastic and grating—I always make sure I bring some aspirin when I attend the saxophone conferences. But the saxophone has such wonderful lyrical qualities, and I’m pleased that the saxophone got assigned to play something pretty in this piece.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the saxophone’s expansive palette of tone colors, and will happily flutter-tongue or play multiphonics or whatever. But it’s nice to play a melody once in a while.

Multiple woodwinds commission, second movement (saxophone)

Composer Sy Brandon has posted his work on the second of six movements of Divertissement, the new work for multiple woodwinds soloist. The movement, “Nocturne,” is for alto saxophone and piano. You can check out a synthesized recording and preview the score (using the Sibelius Scorch browser plugin). Go check it out and leave your comments.

Time required for instrument switches

Photo, mbshane

I got some questions by email yesterday from Sy Brandon, about the multiple woodwinds piece (Divertissement) he is writing funded by my Co-op Press Commission Assistance Grant. He is considering a movement that involves switching between instruments, and wanted to know about some of the technical details. Here are my answers:

Keeping reeds wet is a minor hassle but quite doable, especially for a movement that’s only a few minutes long.

Time required for switching instruments is an interesting question. Short answer: anything shorter than about five seconds is risky.

A slightly shorter switch might be possible with something like saxophone to flute or clarinet, since you can just let the saxophone hang from its neckstrap. And switches among flute and clarinet and, to a lesser extent, oboe (due to its fragile reed) are reasonably fast because there aren’t any straps to unhook and you can pick one up while you’re setting the other down. Bassoon is more difficult—it uses either a seat strap or a somewhat awkward harness, and definitely requires both hands to pick it up or put it down. Continue reading “Time required for instrument switches”

New multiple woodwinds commission: Sy Brandon


Sy Brandon

I am pleased to announce a newly-commissioned piece in progress, for multiple woodwinds soloist and piano, being composed by Sy Brandon. Dr. Brandon is Professor Emeritus of Music at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and an active, prolific composer. He also blogs about his composition process at Composing Insights. The commission is made possible by a Co-op Press Commission Assistance Grant.

I was delighted a few years ago to have a fascinating new piece, seventy times seven, written by Dan Bradshaw, which was a blast to perform but required some instruments I don’t own (baritone saxophone and B-flat contrabass clarinet) and some fairly sophisticated electronics operated in live performance by the composer. I fear that, because of the complications involved (did I mention the composer now lives in Hawaii?) I may never get to perform it again.

In my application for the Co-op Press grant, I made the case that even though there are a small handful of pieces for woodwind doublers, few of them are very portable—most require a large ensemble, hard-to-find instruments, or electronics, or otherwise have logistical barriers to performance. I think there is demand among the doubling community for pieces that showcase multiple-woodwind skill and that can be programmed on a recital with reasonable ease.

I’ll be posting updates here, and Dr. Brandon has already started documenting his work on the piece over at Composing Insights. He has posted the first movement, for flute and piano, and is asking for comments, so surf on over and take a look.

Seven habits of highly effective beginners

Photo, Michael @ NW Lens

A few weeks ago I wrote about seven habits I’ve observed in my most successful university music students. The popularity of that article has been gratifying—to my surprise, it even briefly displaced my list of woodwind doublings from Broadway shows as the most popular thing on this site.

What I wrote was about university music students—students who, generally, have at least a half-dozen years of playing experience behind them, and who are planning to  pursue a career in music. But I think it’s also worth considering the musical beginner (child or adult). Students who get a good start with their instrument have a better chance at success, no matter their goals.

Here are some habits that are characteristic of successful beginners, plus a bonus tip for woodwind doublers:

  1. Get a teacher. This is the best money you can spend or your (or your child’s) new musical pursuits. And the sooner the better—don’t assume that you need to struggle on your own for a while before a teacher will take you on as a student. A good teacher can guide you through purchasing or renting your instrument, teach you good playing and practicing habits, troubleshoot problems, and model excellent playing. And you may be able to get good instruction cheaper than you think. Contact a teacher of reputation in your area and find out what they charge, and, if it’s more than you can spend, ask if they can recommend one of their top students as a beginning teacher. I’m a university music professor, and I charge more than some beginners would be willing or able to pay, but I’m pleased to recommend my advanced students who are anxious for some teaching experience, who work cheap, and who will teach you the same things I’m teaching them.
  2. Get good advice on equipment purchases. See habit #1 for the best solution to this. Be extremely wary of advice from mail-order catalogs, internet message boards, eBay sellers, and commissioned music store salespeople who don’t play your instrument. My beginning woodwind students who start with inferior or poorly-adjusted gear often develop poor playing habits in an attempt to compensate for the instrument’s/mouthpiece’s/reeds’ shortcomings, and are far more likely to get frustrated and quit. You don’t need a fancy car to learn how to drive, but you do need working brakes, steering, and signal lights. Continue reading “Seven habits of highly effective beginners”