Favorite blog posts, September 2017

Each of these fine woodwind bloggers has been featured here repeatedly, so be sure to subscribe to their RSS feeds and/or social media streams. And get in touch to let me know who else I should be following! (You, maybe?)

Preventing accidents with pencil marks

photo, S. Parker

After some recent windy weather I saw someone in my neighborhood cutting up some fallen tree branches with a chainsaw. He wore jeans and sneakers and handled the saw with something less than familiarity.

Later, I saw a professional tree removal crew working at a similar task. They operated their chainsaws expertly and with confidence, and wore helmets, eye and ear protection, and heavy protective clothing.

I thought the amateur might really be the one in need of safety gear. But the professionals showed up equipped to do the job right, do it promptly, and do it without mishaps. Continue reading “Preventing accidents with pencil marks”

Jazz recital videos, August 2017

This year I played all jazz at my Delta State University faculty recital. Program and some selected videos are below.

I’m very much a part-time jazz player, so it was fun to spend the summer trying to get my chops in shape to play tunes in a variety of styles on a variety of instruments. This was my new record for number of instruments on a recital: flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon (electric bassoon), soprano/alto/tenor saxophones, and EWI, 9 in all. I’ve written previously about the challenges of improvising on multiple instruments, which I suspect might be surprising to non-doublers or non-improvisers.

An additional challenge is that I live in a small town in an isolated area, so I had to bring in some rhythm section players from out of town and rehearsal time was extremely limited. Enjoy the videos warts and all.

I have previously done some things with bassoon and electronics, but I took that to a new level this time around with a Little Jake pickup and a few new effects pedals. This was lots of fun and I’m already brainstorming how I can use the Little Jake with some other instruments.

The pedalboard setup I used for electric bassoon and EWI

Program

 

Naming the low E-flat (contrabass? contra-alto?) clarinet

Every so often I hear from people about what I call the E-flat contrabass clarinet (or “contrabass clarinet in E-flat), such as in my woodwind doubling in musicals list or in my woodwind methods book. Some prefer the term “contra-alto” or even “contralto,” but I find “contrabass” to be the most accurate and useful description of the instrument.

(One disadvantage of this terminology is always having to specify the key to differentiate it from the larger contrabass in B-flat.)

First, let’s dispense with “contralto,” which describes a low female voice, typically in an opera setting. That misses the mark by a wide margin for an instrument whose range dips considerably lower than the lowest male voices.

The use of “contra-alto” (with or without hyphen) seems to be based on the questionable idea that the prefix “contra-” means “an octave below.” My best guess is that this is a back-formation from the names of some other instruments, such as the contrabassoon (which happens to be pitched an octave lower than the bassoon). In any case, following this logic leads to the term “contra-alto” clarinet because it is pitched an octave below the alto clarinet (an instrument whose waning popularity makes it a questionable choice for a frame of reference). This logic then produces “contrabass” for the B-flat instrument, as it is pitched an octave below the bass clarinet.

Various music dictionaries that I have at hand agree that the prefix “contra-” means “lower than,” but do not specify an octave lower, and most use contralto voice as an example. (If you have a counterexample from a published, music-oriented reference, I am interested to hear about it.) Based on this, “contra-alto” seems inapt—a contra-alto/contralto instrument should be just lower than the alto, and higher than tenor or bass.

Problematically, of the three major current manufacturers, Buffet-Crampon and Leblanc list “contra alto” clarinets on their websites, and Selmer uses “contralto.”

Here are some published usages of various names, listed from oldest to newest. Send me others if you know of any. It does seem to me that “contra-alto” becomes more common in the last quarter of the twentieth century, a trend that I consider undesirable (cf. “flautist”).

Reference Nomenclature used Notes
Waln, George E. “The Clarinet Choir.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. 2: 43. Article originally published 1955. E♭ contrabass
Ayres, Thomas A. “Arranging for the Clarinet Choir.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1957. E♭ contrabass
Cailliet, Lucien. “Cailliet Discusses the Contras.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Letter originally published 1961. E♭ contra-alto clarinet
Hullfish, William R., and Jack Allen. “Examining a Versatile Instrument.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Letter originally published 1963. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Weerts, Richard K. “The Clarinet Choir of Yesterday and Today.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Letter originally published 1963. E♭ contra-alto clarinet Weerts uses “contra-alto” in this letter, but “contrabass” in subsequent articles listed here.
Abramson, Armand R. “A Better Use of the Clarinet Choir.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1964. Contrabass clarinet The author does not specifically name the E-flat instrument, but refers to the “contrabass members of the clarinet family” (in the plural).
Weerts, Richard K. “Clarinet Choir Music.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1964. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Weerts, Richard K. “The Contrabass Clarinet in the Modern Symphonic Band.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1964. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Rohner, Traugott. “The Bass and Contra-bass Clairnets are Misnamed.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1957. “So-called contrabass in E♭” The author makes a case that the instrument would be better called an E♭ bass clarinet (and the bass clarinet would be better called a baritone clarinet).
Lawrence, Morris Jr. “The E♭ Contrabass Clarinet.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Letter originally published 1966. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Small, Terrence. “The Contra-Clarinets.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1968. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Weerts, Richard K. “The Clarinet Choir as a Functional Ensemble.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1969. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Rendall, F. Geoffrey. The Clarinet: Some Notes Upon Its History and Construction. 3d ed. Edited by Philip Bate. Instruments of the Orchestra. London: E. Benn, 1971. Contrabasset-horn in E flat The author clarifies that this does refer to the instrument in question here.
Harmon, John M. “The Contra Clarinets: New Possibilities.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1978. E♭ contra-alto clarinet
Heim, Norman. “The Clarinet Choir Phenomenon.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1979. E♭ contra-alto clarinet
Donald E. McCathren. “Teaching and Playing the ‘Other Clarinets.'” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1983. E♭ contrabass clarinet
Heim, Norman. “The Clarinet Choir.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1992. Article originally published 1985. E♭ contra-alto clarinet
Baines, Anthony. Woodwind Instruments and Their History. New York: Dover, 1991. Contrabass in E♭
Baines, Anthony. “Contrabass clarinet.” In The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. E♭ contrabass
Jones, Brian D. “The E♭ Contra-alto Clarinet: Misunderstood and Overlooked.” Woodwind Anthology: A Compendium of Woodwind Articles from The Instrumentalist. Northfield, Illinois: Instrumentalist, 1999. Article originally published 1998. E♭ contra-alto clarinet
Pino, David. The Clarinet and Clarinet Playing. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998. E♭ contrabass The author allows that it is “sometimes called the ‘contra-alto’ clarinet.”
Page, Janet K., K. A. Gourlay, Roger Blench, and Nicholas Shackleton. “Clarinet.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan, 2001. Contrabass clarinet, E♭
Sadie, Stanley, and J. Tyrrell, eds. “Contrabass clarinet.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan, 2001. Contrabass clarinet in E♭
Randel, Don Michael, ed. “Clarinet.” The Harvard Dictionary of Music. 4th ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2003. Contra alto clarinet in E♭
Payne, Tim. “The Contrabass Clarinets.” In The Versatile Clarinet, edited by Roger Heaton. New York: Routledge, 2006. E♭ contrabass