Students and paying gigs

Sometimes I get phone calls from people hoping to hire my students for gigs. I’m delighted when I can pass a professional opportunity on to a hardworking, high-achieving student, but often these calls are troubling.

Obviously, the callers want students because they assume students will work cheaply. Lots of college students work for not much money, as restaurant waitstaff, custodians, babysitters, and so forth. Those jobs don’t pay much because they are (ostensibly) “unskilled” labor. But “musician” is very much a skilled job.

The Symphonic Wind Ensemble is the premier wind/percussion ensemble in the School of Music.  This highly select, 40-member ensemble represents the finest wind and percussion instrumentalists on campus. The ensemble will perform at this year's Penn State President's Concert at the Strathmore Music Center near Washington, D.C. The President's Concert, a joint production of the Penn State President's Office, the School of Music, and the Alumni Association, has been held at major concert venues including Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Last year's concert was held in Carnegie Hall.
photo, Penn State

Not long ago I was hired to play lead alto saxophone for a gig backing up a singer, and the contractor asked if I had a couple of students who could play in the section. Then he asked what I thought would be fair to pay them. I told him immediately that he was hiring them to do a professional service, and should pay them as professionals. Happily, he saw my point and agreed to those terms.

I suppose some hiring parties assume that students will be cheaper than non-students because they are not as skilled, and therefore can’t negotiate higher fees. (This may or may not be the case—I’ve certainly played gigs with “professionals” who would be far outclassed by undergraduate music students.) Sometimes they want to compensate for hiring less-skilled musicians by planning extensive rehearsals. In most cases, I think they would better spend that same money hiring skilled players to sight-read.

Musicians, enrolled students or not, are specialized, skilled professionals, and should be treated (and compensated) as such.

Teaching multiple instruments: IDRS 2016 presentation

Lecture notes from a presentation on teaching multiple instruments, especially double reeds in a higher education setting, from the 2016 International Double Reed Society conference.

Downloadable version

Teaching Multiple Instruments

Dr. Bret Pimentel, Delta State University

IDRS Conference 2016, Columbus, Georgia

More and more university music teaching positions require wearing several hats, sometimes including teaching multiple instruments. (Oboe plus bassoon is an especially common combination, even though it’s unusual for musicians to play both well.) Teaching multiple instruments is also a potentially valuable skill for instructors at lesson studios in private music schools or in music stores, for instructors in middle or high school band and orchestra programs, and for those establishing private studios from their homes.

Getting hired

  • In many multiple-instrument hiring situations, the expectation is proficiency on one instrument and willingness to fake your way teaching the other(s). Any actual training or background on secondary instruments immediately sets you apart. Strongly consider taking at least a few lessons on a secondary instrument—this shows seriousness about the multiple-instrument thing, even if it doesn’t make you a virtuoso.
  • Having access to books (or websites) isn’t a substitute. Neither is “knowing a guy” who you can “ask questions.” Though those are usable resources, they aren’t convincing to hiring committees because they don’t demonstrate any actual effort prior to submitting your application.
  • Be honest but positive with yourself and with hiring committees about your ability and/or enthusiasm for teaching multiple instruments. For example:
    • “I play oboe professionally, but I am deeply committed to both instruments and am working to improve my bassoon skills. I have some experience playing bassoon in semi-professional settings.”
    • “Bassoon is really my thing, but I took oboe lessons for a couple of summers during graduate school and am enthusiastic about teaching the double reeds.”
    • “Teaching bassoon would be a brand new challenge for me, and one that I would take seriously.”

Lesson time

  • You won’t have to fix all of your students’ technical issues on day one, but you will have to assign repertoire and studies right away. Spend some serious time browsing other teachers’ syllabi and “suggested repertoire” lists (many are available online!), and start compiling some lists of your own. Are you ready to recommend, for example:
    • some remedial etudes and an easy solo for an incoming freshman?
    • an hour’s worth of varied and challenging-but-doable repertoire for a junior entering a competition?
    • a solid program for a senior recital that can double as serious graduate school audition repertoire?
    • Baroque pieces?
    • pieces with extended techniques?
    • chamber pieces with strings?
    • concerti with concert band?
    • and so on…
  • You will, of course, have to address technical issues at some point. Be advised that your students know when you’re making things up. But it can be a great experience to spend a few minutes researching a question together, or calling a colleague or mentor on speakerphone for advice.
  • Both you and the student can learn a lot when you dare to get an instrument out and try some things together. Your students know it’s not your main instrument, and appreciate seeing you step out of your comfort zone. Consider giving them a chance to teach you something—teaching is a skill they should be learning anyway.

Managing resources

  • Institutional resources like money, time, and space are often allocated per faculty member, not per instrument taught. As appropriate, consider making a case for the following (for example):
    • Funding for your oboe studio plus funding for your bassoon studio. Per-faculty funding can be unfair to students, who won’t benefit from purchases made for the other studio.
    • Additional prep time built into your schedule to accommodate the logistics of multiple studios.
    • Studio space and storage space suitable for several studios’ worth of instruments, sheet music, reed desks, etc.
  • If you are a single-instrumentalist teaching multiple instruments, consider forming partnerships with others in the same situation. Visit each other’s schools once or twice a year, maybe more often if the travel is short. Be each other’s consultants, guest artists, masterclass teachers, reed sources.
  • Consider which aspects of running a studio you can streamline to accommodate multiple instruments without multiplying your workload. For example:
    • Use your university’s LMS features, perhaps to combine all of your applied students into one “course,” instead of having to communicate separately to each instrument group.
    • If permissible and appropriate, rotate or combine things like studio classes and chamber group coachings.
    • Repurpose, say, oboe sight-reading excerpts as saxophone excerpts, or vice-versa. (Doesn’t work as well between oboe and bassoon. Clefs, you know.)

Staying sharp (figuratively)

  • Join an organization. Attend conferences. Read the journal. Summer camps (that welcome or at least tolerate adults) are great, too.
    • For oboe-plus-bassoon teachers, IDRS is perfect! Be sure to attend recitals and masterclasses for your secondary teaching instrument, and familiarize yourself with equipment and repertoire options in the vendor exhibits.
  • Build your library of recordings, pedagogical materials, and experiences related to your secondary teaching instrument(s). If it suits your goals, budget toward buying or upgrading your secondary instruments and investing in your further education.
  • Be smart, informed, and conscientious about learning what pedagogical techniques, ideas, etc. you can share between instruments and what you can’t.
  • If you are at even an intermediate performing level on a secondary instrument, strongly consider playing it on your faculty recitals (one short, easy piece?). Keep yourself challenged to improve.
  • Shameless plug: Keep an eye on bretpimentel.com for blog posts and other resources related to playing and teaching multiple woodwind instruments, and the fundamental techniques that those instruments share.

Long-term career planning

  • Is teaching multiple instruments an end goal for you, or just a way to get that first teaching job that will be a stepping stone to something that fits you better? Hint: either is okay, and it’s also okay to change your mind.
  • If you need to meet certain expectations for tenure, annual reviews, etc., be smart about how your multiple-instrument duties affect this. For example:
    • If leadership in professional organizations is important, you may need to attend your major instrument’s conference every year, instead of bouncing from conference to conference.
    • Understand student recruitment expectations—will you need to keep your studios balanced in a certain way, or is it acceptable if, say, recruiting for your main instrument is more successful?

Report: 2016 International Double Reed Society conference

I had a blast at the 2016 International Double Reed Society conference, hosted by Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. As I have said before, the IDRS puts on an outstanding conference, maybe my favorite of the various woodwind conferences I attend. Very well organized, with lots of outstanding talent, varied events, and presences from all the top makers and dealers of double reed instruments and gear.

A few personal highlights:

  • Excellent evening concerts, some with chamber music and some with orchestra. Too many great performances to do justice to them all, but a couple that stood out in my mind were the premiere of Alan Elkins’s double oboe concerto with Elizabeth Koch Tiscione and Kathryn Greenbank, and Cary Ebli‘s performance of his own edition of the Donizetti Concertino for English horn.

    double-concerto_mini
    Elizabeth Koch Tiscione and Kathryn Greenbank
  • Too many recitals to count. I liked, among others, Joey Salvalaggio‘s “When Giant Babies Attack,” Paul Hanson‘s always-astonishing solo bassoon with electronics, the Paradise Winds reed quintet, Benjamin Coelho with Andrew Parker, Eric Stomberg with Barry Stees, and Mark Ostoich with Alyssa Morris and Petrea Warneck playing Morris’s new and outstanding trio for two oboes and English horn.

    hanson_mini
    Paul Hanson sound check, with appropriate reaction from conference volunteer
  • Some very interesting lectures and presentations. A few favorites were Mark Eubanks‘s on bassoon reed tuning, Jamie Sampson‘s on her methodical research into bassoon multiphonics, and Janet Grice‘s on adapting Brazilian choros to double reed instruments.
  • I gave a presentation on teaching multiple instruments. You can check out my handout/lecture notes if you like.
  • I got to meet or reconnect with lots of cool people, including some who, to my delight and surprise, introduced themselves as “fans” of this blog or of my other online stuff. I’m always happy to connect with nice people who find my stuff useful or interesting in some way.
  • And I did come home with a, uh, souvenir:Paul Hanson sound check, with appropriate reaction from student volunteer