Teaching multiple instruments in higher education

My academic credentials in multiple woodwind instruments have served me well so far: I was fortunate to be one among my graduating class who did get a college teaching job right out of school, and it’s a job that happens to be an excellent fit. Part of the reason it’s a great fit is because teaching multiple instruments is what I want to do, at least at this point; sometimes others assume that I’ve taken a multiple-woodwinds job as a stepping stone to something else, but that isn’t the case.

While I thoroughly enjoy the variety in my day (I’m teaching oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone), there are some additional things worth considering if you take on multiple instruments in a collegiate teaching career. For example:

  • Resources allocated per faculty member sometimes get spread extra thin. When I arrived at my new job, I was given a little bit of funding for library acquisitions in my area. If I were teaching a single instrument, my current and future students would have benefited from all that money being spent on items directly relevant to them. Instead, I was able to get only a few items related to each instrument. My students, through no fault of their own, got fewer applicable new library resources.
  • Time also gets spread thin. We recently hosted a high school honor band on our campus as a recruiting event. At one point the visiting students were sent to masterclasses with the professors on their instrument, so I got all the reed players. It’s certainly not impossible to run a worthwhile masterclass in that situation, but the circumstances do complicate things a bit. The same problem exists with studio classes for my college students.
  • Some of the work multiplies. When we hold our ensemble auditions, I select audition excerpts and sightreading material for four instruments instead of one. When it’s time to submit textbook orders to the bookstore, I submit separate requests for each instrument’s separate batch of course numbers.
  • It is common for applied music professors to attend their professional organizations’ conferences annually, and to seek out officer positions in those organizations as a way to enhance their tenure portfolios. I would love to attend the annual conferences of the International Double Reed Society, the International Clarinet Association, and the North American Saxophone Alliance each year, but my limited travel funding and the potential time away from my teaching make this unrealistic. And since I don’t attend any one conference every year, it’s difficult to get taken seriously as an officer candidate.
Photo, Trevor Hempfling Photography
Photo, Trevor Hempfling Photography

Not that I am complaining—I am grateful every day that I get to do what I love for a living, and most of these problems can be mitigated with a little effort and creativity. But I think they are worth knowing about if you see yourself headed for a career in college music teaching.

 

Interview: Jay Mason, saxophone and woodwind artist

One of the cool people I’ve come in contact with through this blog is Jay Mason, a very busy southern California woodwind player. If you’re a fan of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (and you should be), you have heard Jay’s baritone anchoring the saxophone section. You may have also heard him on film scores (like the recent Monsters University), on television (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, for one), in the theater (numerous productions around southern California), on high-profile recording projects (Patti Austin, Barry Manilow, Chick Corea…), and backing up a wide variety of marquee acts in concert (Barry White, Kenny Rogers, Michael Bolton, Bob Hope, and many more). He also teaches at Cal State Long Beach and Concordia University – Irvine. Jay was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions about his work.

Jay Mason and friends
Jay Mason and friends

BP: What do you do for a living?

JM: A combination of playing saxophones and woodwinds in recording and live situations, and music education.

What education (formal or otherwise) and experience prepared you for the work you do?

I was very fortunate to have several great young players in my high school bands, both jazz and concert band, who have gone on to successful careers in music. The choir director there started a music theory class during my junior year, which was very thorough and inclusive of many styles, which really helped me to understand how music works, not just how to play. In college, quite a few of the professors either were or had been involved in studio and live work, and working with them, talking shop, etc. helped me to understand what I needed to do if I wanted to become part of that scene. In terms of experience, the opportunity to double on flute and clarinet, as well as all of the different types of saxophones, came along in college in a variety of situations in and outside of school: musicals, different ensembles, saxophone quartets, you name it. After college, I performed at Disneyland for quite a while, which put me into a huge variety of situations, playing everything from piccolo to bass saxophone, often having to read new material or learn new parts quickly, and make it happen day in and day out, no matter the weather, the crowd, or my mood and health.

What is a typical work week like for you? Continue reading “Interview: Jay Mason, saxophone and woodwind artist”

What I’ve learned in my first three years as a college professor

I’m still at what I hope is the beginning of a long career, with lots of things left to learn. But here are a few little things I’ve picked up along the way so far (three and a half years, actually), and that I thought might be worth sharing.

red pen
Photo, cellar_door_films

Getting hired for a job in academia is about being the right match. I applied to a lot of jobs during the final year of my doctoral studies. A few seemed like good matches on paper, but for a number of others I thought I could perhaps offer something better than what was listed in the requirements. For example, I applied for quite a few single-woodwind jobs, and tried to emphasize in my cover letters and CVs that I could potentially take on responsibilities with additional instruments. I got virtually no response to those applications. The jobs that I got interviews for were specifically multiple-woodwinds jobs.

A highly-qualified and very talented friend of mine was hired for a teaching position. I had opportunity later to speak with one of his new colleagues, who raved about my friend’s lively and outgoing personality. “The other person we interviewed was so boring,” she moaned. I suspect that had I interviewed for that job, I would have been the “boring” one. At some other interview, my friend’s energy and humor might have been seen as frivolous or flippant, and my more muted social style might have won the day.

Since being hired myself, I’ve had several opportunities to serve on committees that have sifted through applicants for other music faculty positions. There are lots of people looking for those jobs, and when the applications start to pile up, anyone who doesn’t meet the specific requirements of the job gets set aside pretty quickly, no matter what other strengths they might bring to the table. Continue reading “What I’ve learned in my first three years as a college professor”

Interview: Woodwind road warrior Terry Halvorson

Terry Halvorson

I’m always pleased to hear from other woodwind players. Terry Halvorson has been a contributor to my Broadway woodwind doubling list for several years, we’ve communicated periodically online, and we even bumped into each other in person at an IDRS conference a few years back. Terry has been working as a musician with touring musical theater productions for a while now, and I  was curious about life on the road. He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions.

BP: What do you do for a living?

TH: I am a woodwind doubler (oboe/English horn, flutes, clarinets, saxophones, recorders, whistles). I am currently 44 years old and have been performing musical theater since I was 14. I have been playing the Reed 2 book (oboe and English horn) with the national tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast since February 2010 and will be continuing, switching to the Reed 3 book (clarinet, bass clarinet, 2nd flute) from late September through May 2013.

How did you get the job?

I was called back in late 2005 by a musical director friend to play a reed book on the tour of Will Rogers Follies, but I had commitments at the time that I couldn’t get out of, so I had to turn it down. However the reed player who was hired gave notice four months into the eight-month contract and I was able to join the tour in the middle, replacing him (my first experience seeing a high D on flute!). Toward the end of this tour, we were in the New York City area when NETworks Presentations (my current company) was holding musician auditions, and I was able to attend; I received a call five weeks later asking me if I would like to play with the national tour of The Producers, and here I still am!

What background (education, other experience, etc.) do you have that prepared you for this job?

Wow, loaded question… well, I have been a major woodwind geek since high school (I arranged my favorite band piece for mixed clarinet sextet when I was 14 years old, and we won a command performance at our regional solo and ensemble festival); I also played oboe, clarinet and bassoon in my local youth symphony in various years. I was, of course, a music major (oboe and clarinet) in college as well, beginning as an education major but switching to performance. I freelanced a LOT, playing mostly reed books 2 and 3.

What’s the best part of the job? What’s the worst part?

Best parts are having a steady paycheck as a performing musician (how many people can say that?) and of course seeing and experiencing all the different places we play; I have played all fifty states and most Canadian provinces. The worst part is probably the lack of freedom to come and go and the strict adherence to a schedule.

What’s it like being on the road? Continue reading “Interview: Woodwind road warrior Terry Halvorson”

Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

I’m pleased to share an interview that I did with Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments. Ryan and I played in college jazz band together, and recently reconnected. He is a really creative and fun soloist with an incredible tenor sound, plus a cool guy with a cool job, not to mention a new dad. Read all the way to the bottom to find a video of Ryan and his Cannonball colleagues (all very tasty players) showing off their chops and their horns. Cannonball is a serious contender in today’s saxophone market, doing some very interesting and innovative things, generating some great buzz, and signing big-name endorsing artists left and right. Ryan was kind enough to answer a few questions about what he does at work. [Full disclosure: I recently bought a new Cannonball tenor with Ryan’s expert help, and it is a seriously awesome horn.]

 

BP: Tell us a little about yourself.

 

RL: I work for Cannonball Musical Instruments. I studied at Brigham Young University where I started in music but ended up graduating with a business degree and a music minor. When I’m not working, I stay busy performing, fixing up old horns, working on my old muscle car, and spending time with my wife and five-month-old daughter.

 

Tell us about your performing background.

 

I had a blast as lead tenor in Synthesis (BYU’s jazz band); I’ve performed with the Utah Symphony and some smaller local groups, recorded for movies and commercials, and recently performed with the Cannonball Band at the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival. Most of that was on tenor sax, but I’ve done my share of doubling on flutes and clarinets in pit orchestras. I currently take my jazz quartet around for local weddings and other events, which I’ve been doing for about a decade now and still enjoy. Especially when food is provided.

 

What is your job title? What do you do at work?

 

It kind of depends on the day … we all wear a lot of hats around here. I play test, inspect, and acoustically customize about half of the saxophones we sell; I’m in charge of the spare parts/repair department; I manage a number of international accounts; I do our social media; I contribute to product and acoustical development and testing; I clean the boys’ bathroom (hey, you asked!); and whatever other projects come up. Things definitely don’t get boring around here.

 

How did you get the job?

Continue reading “Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments”

Doubling fees under fire in Denver

oboe and English horn
Photo, quack.a.duck

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, like so many others, is facing a financial crisis that threatens its ability to continue making music. An opinion piece in Sunday’s Denver Post criticizes the Denver Musicians’ Association (AFM Local 20-623) for its unwillingness to budge on certain elements of its agreement with the orchestra.

The issues here are complex, and I hope that the DMA and the CSO will be able to come to a solution that is fair to all involved and that keeps the music alive. But this point in the authors’ list of complaints caught my eye:

Musicians performing on more than one instrument receive “doubling pay.”

I don’t have the full details of the doubling pay currently available to CSO members (though the amount doesn’t appear to be the issue here—it’s the fact that any doubling pay is offered that seems to offend). But a slightly-outdated agreement between the DMA and the Boulder Philharmonic, summarized below, shows a typical doubling pay structure, and it’s a reasonable guess that the CSO’s is identical or very similar:

  • 25% bonus for first double
  • 10% for each additional double
  • B-flat and A clarinets count as one instrument
  • Alto and tenor saxophones count as one instrument
  • Alto and bass clarinets count as one instrument
  • Piccolo, larger flutes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, and saxophones larger than tenor each count as a double, even when used in common combinations (like flute plus piccolo)
Though I am not currently a union member (due to a dearth of union gigs in my area), I frequently ask for doubling fees when negotiating my pay for gigs. Here’s why doubling fees make sense to me as a woodwind player: Continue reading “Doubling fees under fire in Denver”

Interview: Gene Scholtens, Broadway woodwind doubler

Gene Scholtens

One of the awesome things that has happened since I started my list of reed books in musicals is that great people from all over the world have contacted me to contribute to the list. These contacts are always a pleasure for me personally, and they serve to make the list more accurate, complete, and useful for others.

I have a number of regular contributors who contact me periodically with updates, and until recently the record was nearly twenty individual contributions from one much-appreciated person.

That record was shattered when, a few months ago, I started getting emails from Gene Scholtens. The first email was a small correction for one show, but then the floodgates opened. Gene revealed that he has been playing woodwinds in Broadway orchestras for over thirty years, and has been keeping his own very comprehensive log of who plays which doubles on which shows. Gene’s contributions to my list at the time of this writing number a staggering 72.

As it turns out, Gene is not only a talented musician and a prolific record keeper, but also a very nice, humble, and generous guy, and graciously agreed to talk to me on the phone about his career. Here’s what he had to say. [Note: edited for length.]

 

BP: How many shows have you played?

 

GS: I’ve been playing on Broadway since roughly 1980. The last count was somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-95 shows.

 

Wow. Continue reading “Interview: Gene Scholtens, Broadway woodwind doubler”

Still going strong: Seymour “Red” Press

The Theater Development Fund‘s Stages blog has a nice little story on Seymour “Red” Press, a veteran Broadway woodwind doubler and contractor and an alumnus of Benny Goodman’s band.

The cast of Chicago changes frequently, but if you listen to the orchestra behind the actors, then you’ll hear the same man night after night.

Woodwinds player Seymour “Red” Press has been in the orchestra of the long-running Broadway revival since it opened in 1996, and that’s just part of a career that spans over fifty years and 100 shows. He’s played everything from Pippin to Meet Me in St. Louis to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, not to mention the original production of Chicago.

Read the whole thing here, and see a photo of Mr. Press in his natural habitat.

This thread at the Clarinet BBoard brought the story to my attention, and has some nice comments from some of Mr. Press’s colleagues and admirers.

From The Savvy Musician: military gigs and the saxophonist

Dr. David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician blog is worth checking out for high-quality career tips.

In a recent post, he discusses careers as a military musician. A couple of highlights for the woodwind-inclined:

With the possible exception of saxophonists and euphoniumists, few musicians dream of a military career. Yet this path can provide a dependable income, solid benefits, and varied opportunities.

This no doubt refers to the problem of “classically-trained” saxophonists with shiny new BM degrees and no gigs. Symphony orchestras, if you haven’t noticed, don’t hire full-time saxophonists. Military bands are about the only regular “classical” saxophone performing gig out there.

The best candidates are solid and versatile players who read well and are comfortable with number of styles. Doubling on multiple instruments (i.e. a saxophonist who plays flute and clarinet) is also highly desirable.

Even in military bands, the most employable saxophonists are the ones with doubling skills and stylistic versatility (for saxophonists, read: “jazz/rock chops”).

Read the whole thing