Favorite blog posts, January 2017

The flute bloggers have been busy this month.

Low reed stand showdown: K&M vs. Hercules

I’ve had a König & Meyer bassoon/bass clarinet stand for years now, and recently picked up the Hercules version and tried it out on some gigs. I was hoping to form a strong opinion and make a nice clear recommendation here between the two. But the bottom line is that both are really quite usable.

left: Hercules; right: K&M

The exact model of K&M stand that I have doesn’t seem to be in production anymore. There is a newer one with a black finish (nice for onstage use) and slightly different hardware. I would be interested to hear if anyone is aware of any significant difference between the older and newer models.

The big question of course is stability. I spent some time knocking both of these around to see what it would take to tip them over, and based on that non-scientific approach they seemed about equal. (No instruments were harmed.)

I don’t have any concerns about either stand scratching my instruments. The K&M has a rubbery cup for the bottom of the instrument to sit in, and a felt-covered brace at the top. The Hercules has a harder (but not hard) plastic cup and a foam-covered brace.

The K&M’s large, soft, and somewhat grippy cup is a nice feature for quick instrument switches. The Hercules’s I wouldn’t trust quite as much—I would need an extra moment to be sure the instrument is secure. The Hercules has room to add a couple of additional instrument pegs, which is a nice feature for doublers.

Note also that the Hercules’s cup can be rotated 180° from the way I have it oriented, if desired. It is mounted on a leg that is adjustable, which I suppose you could use to change the angle of the instrument on the stand. I like it at full extension for maximum stability at the base.

For quick switches, I like to be able to play bass clarinet with its peg still in the stand if needed. Both stands accommodate this without any trouble.

Upper braces on both stands are height-adjustable to about the same height. At around full extension the braces are out of the way of keys on the bassoon’s long joint (the bell key is on the side where the braces don’t touch it). Neither quite adjusts as high as I would like for a low C bass clarinet (with the peg extended a little), so unfortunately for me the left index A and A-flat keys rest against the brace.

Both stands fold up, but neither is tiny. The Hercules is more portable if you remove the cup, but that means fussing with a wing nut and then having one extra piece to carry around (or lose).

The Hercules does win on price, at about 60% of what the K&M costs.

Overall, I guess I lean toward the Hercules a little for bass clarinet, mostly because I could add, say, pegs for B-flat and E-flat clarinets and be ready for a utility clarinet gig. And I like the K&M slightly better for bassoon because its larger, softer cup makes a better target during a quick instrument switch. If you’re still torn, the Hercules’s lower price point may be a good tiebreaker.

Staying challenged

I teach a small woodwind studio at a small university. That means that sometimes especially talented and hardworking students find they don’t have a lot of competition for ensemble placements, awards, and other things. Here’s what I suggest to students in that position, who want to stay motivated and challenged but have bumped up against the ceiling in terms of those typical measures of achievement.

photo, Brad.K
  • Find inspiration (and some friendly competition) at conferences, festivals, or “clarinet days” (or whatever). Surround yourself by like-minded achievers. Going to a national/international conference can be expensive and disruptive to your semester, but is probably worth it if you can make it work. If not, consider regional events that happen within a few hours’ drive and often over a weekend.
  • Listen to music every day. Spend a few hours scouring a store, library, or online music service for players and repertoire for you instrument that you aren’t familiar with. Cue them up into a playlist so you can listen for five minutes while you get situated in a practice room or walk between classes. Form opinions about them. Next level: add to this some daily listening of music not for your instrument, something completely unfamiliar. Think outside the Western world, too.
  • Record yourself often. Listen back and take notes (the note-taking is important). What do you find embarrassing or unsatisfactory about it? Ask your teacher and see what other resources you can find for ideas on fixing the problem. Keep adding to your list of things to improve, and re-prioritizing as you do improve them.
  • Seek out opportunities that take you outside your comfort zone. Consider entering a competition or taking an audition (even one you know you won’t win), starting a chamber group, tackling repertoire that scares you, joining a rock band, or something else that musicians you admire do, but that seems a little scary and hard.
  • Think about the things you are doing that you feel you have maxed out—maybe you’re first chair in all your ensembles, you’re getting straight As in your lessons, you have won the top scholarship. Now ask yourself: what would it take to really surprise everybody at the next audition, lesson, etc.? What would set a new standard? What would people still be talking about years from now? What would multiply your achievement by two, or ten?

Have other ideas? Please share in the comments section.

Musicians should embrace carry-on baggage fees

People are outraged over an airline’s announcement that its cheapest fares will no longer cover carry-on baggage. (This isn’t the first time that airlines have charged fees for carry-on bags.)

My experience flying with musical instruments as carry-ons has been stressful at best. This passage from an economics textbook rings true to me:

photo, Bradley Gordon

The battle begins in the gate where air travelers elbow their way to the front of the line to board the aircraft as soon as possible in order to grab an overhead bin. Once on the aircraft, the real fight begins. Some passengers with seats in the rear of the plane toss their bags into the front compartments to be sure they get a spot. People with oversized bags cram them into the narrow bins, pushing the bags, coats, and hats of passengers with correctly sized luggage into the corners. People ask for help from the flight attendants but their pleas are ignored. The flight attendants say they are too short staffed to handle passenger disagreements concerning bags. Losers are left standing with their “homeless” bags. …

Are people just selfish and rude? Most economists say no, they are just responding to the absence of market incentives. The overhead bins are a commons. It’s Dodge City. Nobody “owns” the space in the overhead bins. People can’t trust strangers to act with cooperation or courtesy. The result is “warfare.”

Things could be different. Creating an overhead bin market would bring out the best of people. Here is how. Most of today’s airlines charge people extra to check a bag and offer the overhead bins for “free.” It should be just the reverse.

Nobody likes paying more. But a carry-on fee is a small percentage of an airline ticket. And for most musicians it’s a small price to pay for better access (maybe even guaranteed access!) to the overhead storage. Is it worth the price of a box of reeds or two to know my saxophone will arrive in one piece? Or the price of a pound or two of cane to ensure that my bassoon reaches its destination? I think so.