A handy “panflute flowchart” from toothpastefordinner.com.
I’ve been practicing the Telemann recorder suite this summer, and I had been meaning to write a recorder-related post. I thought I might mention this video of Masato Honda, a Japanese woodwind doubler and fusion/smooth jazz artist, but Gandalfe at The Bis Key Chronicles beat me to the punch today with this post featuring another video, of Mr. Honda’s really nice saxophone playing.
I’ve struggled a little with what to call myself as a player of several woodwind instruments. “Woodwind doubler” seems like the most accepted nomenclature, but “doubler” seems a little inapt for someone who plays more than two instruments (my flute teacher calls me a “five-aler”).
Most woodwind players would be surprised if you asked them whether the material from which their instrument is made affects its sound. Certainly!—most would reply. An inexpensive nickel-plated flute has a tone lacking in character and brilliance, but a fine silver flute sounds, well, silvery! It has a tone that sparkles, that sings, that carries to the back of the concert hall. The most discriminating flutists might opt for the more luxuriant timbres of white, yellow, or rose gold, or even the rare and weighty quality of platinum.
And any self-respecting oboist or clarinetist would refuse to even consider an instrument made of lifeless black plastic. Only the finest aged African blackwood can provide the dark, rich, woody tone that a true artist requires. Bassoonists likewise insist upon bassoons made from the best maple, and preferably treated with a secret-formula varnish, which, like that of the famous Stradivarius violins, is rumored to impart a special vividness and resonance to the instrument’s sound.
And fine saxophones, though most often made from brass and lacquered in a gold color, can be special-ordered in silver or even gold plate, which, saxophonists just know, bestow a unique sonic personality. Some saxophonists are willing to pay a premium for certain hard-to-find French instruments made in the decade following World War II, which are reported to be made from melted-down artillery shell casings, and to have a correspondingly powerful quality of tone.
The information on this page is intended for beginning and intermediate players, including woodwind doublers who already play another instrument. Here are some rules of thumb:
The woodwind section of the symphony orchestra has long held a place of preeminence. Woodwind historian Anthony Baines gushes: “…the woodwind [section] is a small cluster of musicians in whom the greatest virtuosity in the symphony or opera orchestra is concentrated. It is the orchestra’s principal solo section… They are stars because composers for over two hundred years have made them so…”1 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart certainly made stars of the woodwinds—in fact, he may have been the most important link between the string-heavy ensembles of the early symphonies and the lush, varied sounds of the post-Beethoven orchestra.
Nathan Broder points out that Haydn and a multitude of lesser figures made contributions during this same period. However, when comparing Haydn and Mozart:
Of the two, Mozart was the more progressive. Younger, more impressionable, more sensitive to contemporary music, and possessed of a wider knowledge of it because of his travels, it was he who, after having learned much from the symphonies of Haydn, took the lead and reached the pinnacle of pre-Beethoven instrumentation. It was he in whose work were combined all the progressive tendencies of the various outstanding composers of the time, and whose symphonies present a summing-up of orchestral advancement in the latter half of the eighteenth century.2
Crazy for You is a Broadway-style stage musical by Ken Ludwig. The show, which premiered in 1992, uses songs written by George and Ira Gershwin for musicals in the 1930’s. In January and February, 2003, the Brigham Young University Department of Theatre and Media Arts and School of Music produced the show.
Synthesis, BYU’s award-winning jazz ensemble directed by Dr. Ray Smith, filled the role of pit orchestra. The five-member Synthesis saxophone section became an orchestral woodwind section, with a combined arsenal of over twenty instruments. The practice of “doubling,” or playing more than one instrument, is common in theater orchestra woodwind sections. A woodwind doubler may be expected to play instruments from all five woodwind families (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone) in a single show!
The woodwind parts in Crazy for You provide an excellent case study for the challenges facing the woodwind doubler. The show requires five woodwind players. The first woodwind part calls for flute and piccolo, clarinet, and soprano and alto saxophones. The musician playing this part is the primary flute, piccolo, and soprano saxophone soloist, as well as the lead saxophonist in saxophone ensemble passages. Special considerations include extensive use of the extreme high ranges of the flute and piccolo, as well as trills in less-common keys and in the high register; and jazz inflections, including pitch bends, in the saxophone parts.