Favorite blog posts, April 2013

I currently have over 400 woodwind-related blogs in my feed reader, and try my best at least to skim the new posts. In the past I’ve occasionally passed along recommendations about some of the blogs that I think are especially good. I’m considering moving toward something like a monthly list of some of my favorite individual posts instead.

Here are some from April (a few from late March sneaked in, too).


Stuff my students say: attendance edition

See also: Stuff my students say (original flavor)

What my students say What my students mean
I’m sick. As you are aware from my prolific and detailed Facebook updates, I was up very late last night making poor health choices, and now wish to be excused from established course or lesson expectations.
I’m not sick. I’m very sick, and by the end of this hour, you will be, too.
I have to go to the registrar/bank/doctor/store, and this is the only time I can do it. For some reason, even though I’m enrolled in your class during this time, I think this is a “time I can do it.”
I have a family/fraternity/church/extracurricular thing that I have to go to. I wish to make choices but not suffer consequences.
I’m going to be honest: I haven’t practiced, so I don’t want to waste your time. I believe that honesty, rather than being seen as a baseline expectation for civilized conversation, should be considered a noble enough gesture to excuse my failure to meet expectations.
Did I miss anything important in class? I think your class is mostly time fillers and stalling, with the few “important” things scattered throughout the semester.
I have something I have to do for another class. My other class is too important to blow off, but yours isn’t.
Don’t worry, I already know the material. Expect me to crash and burn, hard, at the exam/jury.

Follow-up: Hercules woodwind stands

A few months ago I did a review of the Hercules DS538B dual-saxophone stand with flute/clarinet and soprano saxophone pegs.

I had some concerns about the stability of my flute on the flute/clarinet pegs, but got some advice in the comments section that the DS602B peg (sold separately) might be better. In the meantime, I’ve gotten to like other aspects of the stand well enough that I decided I needed a smaller version for one-saxophone gigs, so I recently picked up the DS530BB stand, which holds one alto or tenor saxophone and includes no pegs (though it has sockets to accept up to two). Most of my comments in the previous review apply to the DS530BB, so I’ll just provide a couple of photos:

Despite my poor photography, you can gather that it folds up to just over a foot long.
Despite my poor photography, you can gather that it folds up to just over a foot long.

It also includes a bright yellow drawstring bag, and the string makes it a little easier to carry if you’ve already got your arms full of instruments.

The DS602B “Deluxe” peg, which Hercules indicates is for “French/German Clarinets and Flutes,” is quite good. It works for my clarinets and oboe as well as the standard combination pegs that come with the DS538B, and works much, much better for my flute.

I tried to demonstrate the stability difference between the standard peg and the deluxe peg. You can see it a bit in the photos below, but I think I failed to really capture the improvement in the deluxe peg. Continue reading “Follow-up: Hercules woodwind stands”

Health, wellness, and woodwind doubling

I got an email from a college student taking an Occupational Health and Wellness course. He asked me some questions about health and wellness issues in woodwind doubling, and I tried to answer the best I could.

How do you prepare for the many instrument switches in a musical which require changes of embouchure and hand position/key action adjustments? How do you deal with the physical demands of switches between many instruments?

The best preparation is to develop good, relaxed technique on each instrument independently. I try to practice each instrument carefully and produce the best possible sound on each one.

If I have the luxury of reviewing the part ahead of time, I will often practice the “choreography” for quick instrument switches, and make plenty of pencil marks so that I know ahead of time what switches are coming up. I try to keep a consistent layout of my instrument stands for each show, so that I get used to where each instrument is.

As I am making each switch (even very quick ones) I will try to take a moment to totally relax my facial muscles, hands, etc., and, maybe most importantly, flip a mental switch to oboe mode or clarinet mode or whatever.

Good reliable stands and neckstraps are vital.

Would you say that having to adjust to the action and key pressure of multiple instruments makes you more susceptible to hand/forearm injury than a musician who plays a single instrument?

I’m not an expert, but I would think that playing a single instrument is more dangerous in terms of repetitive motion injuries, etc. If I spend five hours a day practicing (I wish!) then I think I’m better off with more varied physical activities.

Photo, MissTessmacher
Photo, MissTessmacher

Does playing any one instrument create body tension that affects another instrument? (ex. flute might create shoulder tension which affects playing the sax) Continue reading “Health, wellness, and woodwind doubling”

Review: Vandoren “Maestro” score-marking pencils

I am always pleased to hear from companies that want feedback on their products. And as you regular readers know, I try to be as thorough and honest as I can in my reviews. A couple of weeks ago I bumped into a Vandoren representative at a conference, and he offered to let me bring home some samples of a new product line for review. These haven’t shown up on Vandoren’s website or social media yet (though they do seem to have appeared on the Woodwind and Brasswind, a little prematurely!), so as far as I know this is an exclusive scoop. Update: WWBW has pulled the product listing. Update #2: read to the end for details on getting a free sample!

Vandoren has been doing some innovative things lately, and their new line of Maestro score-marking pencils is no exception. These are pencils specifically designed for the needs of the performing musician, and this focus is apparent in every detail. The pencils have a nice heft and balance to them, which the Vandoren rep tells me has to do with the hand-selected juniper wood harvested in the French Var Valley.

Click for larger
Click for larger

The premium erasers are some of the best I’ve used for score erasures—easy on valuable sheet music while removing the most stubborn pencil marks, with almost no smearing. They are currently available only in medium-soft, but my Vandoren source tells me they are “working on a medium-hard eraser, and a hard eraser geared toward professionals.”

But, of course, the real question is: how do they write? I’m happy to report that, when it comes to writing, these pencils have exceeded my expectations in every respect. The “lead” (graphite, actually) is, I understand, a proprietary formula designed for smooth, even writing on a variety of papers. But this is only part of the story.

My Vandoren source tells me that the real “secret” is the collars—the little metal ferrules that hold the erasers in place. While some “researchers” have suggested that the collar has little actual effect on the pencil’s writing characteristics, years of experience accumulated by some of the most respected woodwind players in the world say otherwise. And so I was not at all surprised to find that each collar has its own unique, shall we say, signature. Continue reading “Review: Vandoren “Maestro” score-marking pencils”