Spelling test for woodwind players and teachers

If you’re a player or teacher of woodwinds, you need to be able to communicate clearly about woodwind playing. I’ve compiled a few of the most frequently-misspelled woodwind-related words from assignments and tests in my various classes. Check it out and see how you do:

Take the spelling test

Divertissement for multiple woodwinds and piano

I got this in the mail this week:

The composer, Dr. Sy Brandon, will be in residence at the Delta State University Department of Music on Monday, Feb. 28. The agenda (forthcoming) will include an open rehearsal of Divertissement (with pianist Kumiko Shimizu) and a Q&A session with Dr. Brandon.

Read more about Divertissement for multiple woodwinds and piano

Required recordings, spring 2011

Once again it’s time for required recordings.

This semester, I’m having my each of my students add a good chamber music recording to their library. The students required to buy these recordings are technically enrolled in applied lessons, which means they study solo repertoire, although I do also coach some of them in chamber music. But even those whose degree requirements don’t specify chamber group participation ought to have at least the most passing of acquaintances with chamber music for their instrument.

For the saxophonists, choosing a format was simple enough—the saxophone quartet is the only significant chamber music setting with saxophones (although I did consider using this recording).

For the other reed players, I considered some options (double reed quartets, clarinet quartets or choirs, bassoon quartets…) but ultimately settled on a wind quintet recording for the clarinetists and double reeders. This may be the only chamber recording I require any of them to buy during the course of their 4-year (well, hopefully 4-year) education—I could possibly choose one more in another couple of years—and I wanted to make it count. The wind quintet tradition is rich and, in woodwind terms, long.

As usual, I was looking for good collections of fairly standard repertoire by exemplary musicians, reasonably priced and readily available. I had to steer clear of some tempting wind quintet choices by outstanding European groups, since I wanted to make sure my students are absorbing American-school ideas about tone. I also gave strong consideration to a great 2-disc set by the Utah Saxophone Quartet (which includes a couple of my former teachers; incidentally, all four members are really excellent doublers and they play some nice clarinet quartets on this recording, too), which I ultimately passed on because it’s not (yet?) available on iTunes and I’m trying to be 21st-century enough not to demand that my students buy physical discs.

So here’s what I finally settled on:

Borealis Wind Quintet, A La Carte: Short Works for Winds

Find it on: Amazon | iTunes

Repertoire: Rota Petite Offrande Musicale, Farkas Hungarian Dances, Beach Pastorale, Schuller Suite, Grainger: Walking Tune, Turrin: Three Summer Dances, Persichetti: Pastoral, Milhaud: La Cheminee du Roi Rene, Briccialdi: Potpourri Fantastico

This album was nominated for a Grammy award in 2006.

New Century Saxophone Quartet: Standards

Find it on: Amazon | iTunes

Repertoire: Singelee Quartet No. 1, Desenclos Quartet, del Borgo Quartet, Mintzer Quartet No. 1, Torke July

Recommending gear for beginners

Photo, sekihan

A beginning instrumentalist needs good equipment. For young woodwind players that means instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, and probably a few other accessories. They aren’t cheap, and the array of options is bewildering. Where can students and their parents turn for solid recommendations?

The ideal situation is for the student to connect with a qualified, conscientious private instructor before making any purchases or signing any rental agreements. In my private teaching experience, this has happened exactly 0% of the time. It’s a nice dream.

For many young beginners, the best counsel they’ve got is the school band director. But what, exactly, do school band directors know about, say, clarinet mouthpieces? I have the greatest respect for school band directors. But I think that scenarios like this probably happen pretty often:

  • A fine, talented, studious young man or woman, who plays, let’s say, the trombone, signs up for the woodwind methods class required for their music education degree.
  • The brilliant and respected professor, who plays, let’s say, the flute, and who is doing his or her level best to teach several instruments in which he or she does not have any specific training, puts in phone calls to some colleagues and picks their brains for their best recommendations for clarinet mouthpieces. Several of them mention one particular model. The professor types up a class handout, listing that specific mouthpiece as an affordable and high-quality option, suitable to most beginners.
  • The young aspiring music educator accepts the handout, studies it, successfully answers a test question about good student clarinet mouthpieces, and files the handout away for future reference.
  • Ten years into the educator’s career, the mouthpiece company merges with another company. Decisions are made by non-clarinetists wearing expensive suits in a well-appointed conference room. The mouthpiece makers are laid off, and mouthpiece production moves to an overseas factory. The mouthpieces look much the same as before and bear the same brand name and model number, but the quality drops significantly, as does the manufacturing cost. The suit-wearing non-clarinetists get large bonuses. Continue reading “Recommending gear for beginners”

Woodwind teaching resources for school band directors (and others)

Photo, Nick Findley

Students in my woodwind methods classes are usually music education majors, planning careers as school band directors. In my class, they get their one-semester crash course in playing and teaching the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. Clearly there’s a lot of information that they will need but which will be easily forgotten—I can’t give a trumpet player three weeks to learn to play the clarinet, and then expect her to remember many fingerings once the playing test is done, the clarinet is returned, and I’ve given her a bassoon contend with.

So I have them prepare a woodwind notebook over the course of the semester, with lecture notes, class handouts, fingering charts, and other things that will hopefully be valuable resources to them in their teaching careers.

One of the things I ask them to include in the notebook is some resources that they have discovered independently. The idea here is to have them find things that they think they will need, and to become acquainted with some good sources for woodwind information along the way. I tell them that information found on the web will only count if I think it’s reliable, and I encourage them to send me links for advance approval.

Usually my classes figure out that I can’t very well reject anything they print from my website, so I usually see a lot of my own stuff appearing in their notebooks. I don’t object to this as long as they choose well, but sometimes they don’t. Last semester’s submissions included my review of the AKAI EWI 4000s, which, of course, is not part of our curriculum, and even some of my links pages, which become considerably less useful on paper, since you can’t click through to the good stuff.

So I figured I might as well share my own selection of posts from this blog that I would encourage future band directors, or other woodwind players or educators, to put in their notebooks: Continue reading “Woodwind teaching resources for school band directors (and others)”