Favorite blog posts, August 2015

Finding information for the Woodwind Doubling in Musicals list

I continue to be amazed by all the interest in and support for my Woodwind Doubling in Musicals list. I hear frequently from musicians who have information to contribute or who just want to say hello or thanks. It’s pretty great.

Over ten years ago(!) when I started putting the list together, I spent a good deal of time and effort compiling data. I don’t do that very much anymore, partly because I have already picked over the most obvious sources, partly because I want to focus more time on teaching and playing music, and partly because I get better information when I get emails from woodwind players down in the orchestra pits with the reed books in front of them.

So these days my role in the list’s upkeep is basically that of editor, data-entry monkey, and mostly-benevolent dictator, and I count on you cool people to send me what you know. In the interest of encouraging and facilitating that, I’m going to dump here (in alphabetical order) some potential resources for gathering information. Maybe some of you know of other sources that you would like to share in the comments section. (I’ll selectively edit them into this post.) Enjoy!

Woodwind Doubling in Musicals

Show publishers, rental companies, etc.

Sometimes these websites list woodwind doublings. You might find that information under something like “orchestration,” or under something like “rental materials.” The information is often vague and has errors, but it’s a start. (Also, keep in mind that I do want submissions for shows that have no reed books, since a verified lack of reed parts can be useful to doublers.)

Information on specific productions

Sometimes in sources like this you can find the orchestra personnel, sometimes with their instruments listed. Or you may be able to use this information to, say, Google the orchestra members and possibly get in touch through a personal website or social media account. Please be super considerate and respectful of people’s time and privacy.

Miscellaneous

  • Google and social media sites. Sometimes people post information from productions, photos of program pages, etc. Sometimes musicians put a brag list on their personal websites of what shows they have played. Or, sometimes you can find out something like a musical director’s name, get in touch, and ask for information (maybe the doubling information itself, or maybe a connection to the woodwind players). Again, be incredibly sensitive about hitting up strangers on the internet.
  • Musical Theatre Reed Book Orchestrations – I believe this one actually precedes my list, though I didn’t discover it until mine was already online. I don’t think it has been updated in a number of years.

Have information to submit? Check out the contribution guidelines and send it along. Thanks, you’re awesome.

Reasons to choose an instrument

School is starting soon, and some kids will be picking out the instrument that they will play in the school band. If you know someone in this situation and they are interested in a woodwind instrument—flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, or saxophone—here are some factors that might come under consideration.

photo, Herald Post
photo, Herald Post

Bad reasons to choose an instrument

  • Gender. Some outdated attitudes and pedagogical materials suggest, for example, that the flute is particularly suited to girls.
  • Facial anatomy. Some outdated or ill-informed ideas exist, for example, that certain sizes or shapes of lips are better suited to certain instruments. For woodwinds, this is not an actual issue, except perhaps in cases of significantly unusual morphology.
  • Physical size or hand/finger size. This is not a significant issue for middle school or larger kids with any of the typical beginning band woodwinds, unless they are very significantly smaller than average, or perhaps significantly larger than an average adult.
  • Blowing “strength” or “lung capacity.” Anyone with normal respiratory function has the “strength” and “capacity” to play any of the woodwinds.
  • Success in “aptitude” testing. Some educators like to give some kind of test or trial to see which instruments individual students will be good at. These tests are, at best, mildly entertaining experiments in beginners’ luck.
  • Previous experience. For someone who is switching to a new instrument (or adding one), there is generally no reason to be concerned about any specific combination of instruments, and perceived similarities are not necessarily an advantage.

A sad-but-true reason to choose an instrument

  • Expense. Unfortunately, woodwind instruments can be expensive to purchase, equip, and maintain, and some of them more so than others. It’s wise to be aware of the costs up front. (Generally speaking, beginner-model woodwinds go from least to most expensive in this order, assuming equivalent quality: flute or clarinet, saxophone, oboe, bassoon.)

The best reason to choose an instrument

  • Motivation. A beginner’s interest in playing a certain instrument is the best predictor of enjoyment and success, and, whenever possible, should be the primary deciding factor.

Good luck!

Review: Duos for Doublers by Gene Kaplan

I was pleased to hear from woodwind player and composer Gene Kaplan, who sent me a copy of his new duets books, Duos for Doublers. These, as far as I know, are a one-of-a-kind set of duets for two woodwind doublers, with the first part including flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone, and the second part including flute, clarinet, and tenor saxophone. The instruments are used in various combinations, with each player playing at least two instruments on each duet (with one exception, where the second part is tenor-only on one of the duets).

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The style and the difficulty level of the duets varies. They are probably not suitable for those just starting out on their doubles (yet), as they do not shy away from bugaboos like the flute’s third octave, the clarinet break, and the saxophone’s below-the-staff notes.

I think a real benefit of these is that they do require quick instrument switches in real time and without losing your place (something that’s much easier to “fudge” with, say, solo etudes), in the company of someone who presumably will be understanding if you need to back up and try again. These duets would be great for getting together with another woodwind doubler for a little friendly challenge.

I’m on record as saying that saxophone-flute-clarinet-“only” doubling is a somewhat dated approach, and that modern doublers need to take the double reeds seriously, as well as auxiliary instruments in each woodwind family, plus probably some “world” woodwinds. These duets are still useful for working one commonly-used subset of those skills. (Gene is a double reed player himself, and acknowledges that he didn’t include them here in order to make these duets playable for more woodwind doublers.)

The set costs $30 at the time of this review (shipped free in the continental US). They are self-published, with paper covers and a clear plastic sheet over the front. The plastic comb binding is exactly what is needed for a book of sheet music to lay flat and stay open (something that some large sheet music publishers get wrong).

There are a couple of issues with layout that make these a little bit of a hassle to play, but which also probably provide just the kind of training that aspiring woodwind doublers need for real-life gig situations. The first is (some) impractical page turns, sometimes in places where the only option is to photocopy a page or to drop out for a couple of bars. Some happen during short rests, and some of those also coincide with an instrument change. The second issue is that each of the books includes only one part. My preference for duet playing is one book with both parts on the page, score-style. (This can also potentially mitigate the page turn problem, if you have four hands available instead of two.)

Here’s a quick video demo of “Acapulco Nights” by me and my less-handsome twin brother.

I’ve added these to my list of compositions for multiple-woodwind instrumentalists. Let me know if there’s anything else on your radar that should be included.

Get Duos for Doublers from Gene Kaplan’s website.