December links digest

I try not to just dump lists of links very often, but here are a few fun items that didn’t warrant their own full posts:

From WindWorks Design: Wind controller in a pit orchestra

Photo, mabel.sound

“Gertjan” at the WindWorks Design blog posted some interesting comments about using a wind controller in a local production of Seussical the Musical. Gertjan (I wasn’t able to positively identify him from the WindWorks website, but maybe he will find his way here and let us know who he is) played saxophones in the show as well, and used the wind controller to cover a number of wind and non-wind instrument parts.

Although it gives me a little indigestion to see a wind controller substituting for woodwinds that might otherwise have been played by a doubler, I do think there is application for wind controllers in orchestra pits. Keyboard-driven synthesizers are ubiquitous in recent shows (or are sometimes used to replace other instruments, especially a string section), and, in some cases, a wind synth might be even better suited to certain kinds of synthesizer parts. Gertjan mentions some synthy sounds like “vocal doo,” “scary voices,” and “ghostly shimmering breathy sound,” all of which strike me as likely to be very effective with a wind synthesizer’s breath control. Some others, like “harp” and “tinkle bell” seem like they might be more intuitively assigned to a keyboard. Continue reading “From WindWorks Design: Wind controller in a pit orchestra”

Multiple woodwinds commission, sixth movement (multiple woodwinds or piccolo)

Photo, vpickering

Dr. Sy Brandon has posted his work on the sixth and final movement of the Divertissement for multiple woodwinds soloist and piano.

In some early communication, Dr. Brandon suggested that this movement, the “Galop,” be written for piccolo. I was happy with this idea, and even dusted off my piccolo to start getting my chops in shape. But by the next day he had hit on a new idea that I liked even better: using the sixth movement to bring back each of the five previously-featured instruments in one tour-de-force finale.

While I was pleased to have this piece include a chance to show off my skills at switching instruments on the fly, I did think that this might limit the number of doublers who could perform the piece. I like the idea of a piece custom-tailored to my specific skill set, but, on the other hand, I would like to see the piece become a significant addition to the limited repertoire for woodwind doublers.

The problem, of course, is that a “doubler” might play any combination of instruments, and a piece for five specific instruments does drastically narrow the field of capable performers. My initial hope was that the piece might be adaptable to individual doublers’ abilities, either by selectively omitting movements or by providing alternate instrumentations.

Dr. Brandon, unsurprisingly, was two steps ahead of me. He has announced two different versions of the sixth movement: one version is for piccolo, and the other is for doubler playing flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone—the instruments used individually in the preceding movements—plus a brief surprise appearance by the piccolo at the very end. Continue reading “Multiple woodwinds commission, sixth movement (multiple woodwinds or piccolo)”

Conrad Asklund on finding woodwind doublers

Photo, davekellam

From a blog post by musical director Conrad Asklund back in 2006:

How do you find woodwind players that can each double on 4-5 instruments?

You can’t—assuming you do not have a budget to hire session players (which really, only session or union players are going to be able to pull off all those doubles professionally) and are not near a major city with access to players like this.

Hey Conrad, call me!

Read the whole thing

Farewell: James Moody

Woodwind doubler and jazz great James Moody passed away today. James Moody was known for his saxophone (especially tenor) and flute playing. You can read the obituary from the San Diego Union-Tribune, but, if you’re like me, you might rather just watch this. I love the weirdly humorous but deeply respectful intro by none other than Dizzy Gillespie.

Multiple woodwinds commission, fifth movement (oboe)

Sy Brandon has shared his work on the fifth movement of Divertissement, the newly-commissioned piece for multiple woodwinds soloist with piano. This movement, “Romanza,” features the oboe, and completes the total count of five woodwind instruments. Dr. Brandon has indicated that there are six movements planned, and I know he has been toying with the idea of the sixth movement involving switching between instruments.

It has been really interesting to see this piece take shape, and I hope you are keeping track of what he is doing over at Composing Insights. He makes his process very transparent, and, with each post, solicits comments from his readers about the compositions in progress. I have left some comments and gotten some insightful responses, and have even seen some of my suggestions incorporated into his revisions. I know he would welcome additional comments, especially from skilled doublers who might be interested in studying and/or performing this piece when it is completed. Go take a look, and add something to the conversation.

Introducing the Fingering diagram builder

I’m pleased to present something I’ve been working on, on and off, for a while now. I’m pretty excited about it, and I hope you will check it out and let me know what you think.

This project developed from my own need to quickly and easily create fingering diagrams for the woodwind instruments that I play and teach. Frequently I find myself scribbling saxophone altissimo fingerings onto a scrap of paper during a private lesson, cutting-and-pasting at the photocopier to put together simplified charts for a woodwind methods class, or penciling cryptic markings into musical scores to remind myself which pinky finger to use.

And so, I’m pleased to introduce the Fingering diagram builder. I hope you’ll take it for a spin. Continue reading “Introducing the Fingering diagram builder”

Fingering chart for an imaginary woodwind

My woodwind methods class just took their last exam of the semester. During the past few weeks we have dealt with some of the issues of alternate fingerings—which clarinet pinky keys to use when, which oboe F fingering, and so on. My guess is that most of these students, who are in training to be future public school band directors, won’t retain many of the specifics that we have discussed, but I would like for them to have the skills to glance at a musical passage and a corresponding fingering chart and make some good decisions about which fingerings to have their students use.

So I wrote some test questions with a fingering chart for a theoretical woodwind instrument and a brief “musical passage.” I’ll reveal my answers and some of the students’ answers below, but take a shot at it yourself first. You can click the fingering chart for a closer look.

Here is part of a fingering chart for an imaginary woodwind instrument, and a musical passage. Answer the following questions (2 points each).

  1. In measure 1, which C-sharp fingering would be the best?
  2. What fingering issue(s) might you encounter if you used the other fingering?
  3. In measure 2, which C-sharp fingering would be the best?
  4. What fingering issue(s) might you encounter if you used the other fingering?
  5. Based on your general knowledge of woodwind instruments and the fingerings provided so far, what notes are likely to be produced by the following fingerings?

Continue reading “Fingering chart for an imaginary woodwind”

Multiple woodwinds commission, fourth movement (clarinet)

Sy Brandon has posted his work on the fourth movement of Divertissement, the new piece for multiple woodwinds soloist. The movement, “Marche” for clarinet and piano, is energetic and full of humor. You can take a peek at the score and hear a (synthesized) recording.