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?

How much space do we have? Haha! Life on the road has its ups and downs; I like to refer to it as living in a bubble, slightly outside of reality. Facebook and smartphones help a lot to keep in touch with family and friends. The average age of a non-equity cast tends to be around 23, and there are usually cliques that happen, sometimes a bit high school like, other times just small groups with similar interests who hang around together a lot. The pit and the crew tend to average slightly older than the cast, maybe around 30-35 years old? On a personal note, I take meds for bipolar and ADHD and was recently diagnosed with HFA (high functioning autism), so I tend to be somewhat awkward in certain social situations, so the road life can be a bit more difficult for me at times, but I have been managing for six and a half years so far.

Does “non-equity” mean non-union?

Yes, but equity is the actors’ union; so a non-equity tour is lower-level, typical doesn’t play a lot of A-list cities, and doesn’t stay long. You also get paid less and have to share hotel rooms, etc.

How is touring different from playing local gigs?

Well for one, I don’t have to work at a restaurant and take the weekends off, losing $120 a night to drive 60 miles round-trip to a $70 gig. But it also stinks sometimes when you’re off for a day or two around Christmas, New Year’s or Easter, but can’t take those great gigs back at home.

Is there a pecking order on the tour, and where does the orchestra fit in? Do the musicians pretty much hang together, or are there typically friendships with the cast, crew, and other tour personnel?

The crew travel separately and don’t hang with the rest of the company all that often (though some do); the cast and orchestra also tend to hang within their respective groups, but but intermingling also happens, especially for birthdays and such.

What’s a typical day like?

Depends on the day; if we’re on a week sit-down, Monday is usually traveling, Tuesday we have company meeting 2 hours and 15 minutes before the show and sound check 2 hours before; the rest of the week is free except for shows. Sometimes the cast will have understudy rehearsals, but we don’t play for those. If we have multiple cities in a week, we usually travel by bus and leave in time to get us to the hotel around 1½-2 hours before company meeting; depending on the length of the travel, we have to stop for a 20-minute restroom break every two hours and have an hour lunch.

What’s your schedule like over the course of a year? Vacations? Holidays?

The schedules (itineraries/routes) vary a lot from show to show, but non-equity tour schedules are generally kind of like the school year: mid-September to late May or early June. Sometimes we have Christmas week off, or at least a day or two. There are no vacations other than layoffs where there are simply no shows scheduled; for most of these we are flown home with no pay (but we can file for unemployment).

Do you get tired of playing the same show over and over? How do you cope? How do you stay “sharp?”

That’s tough; I played The Producers 489 times and have played Beauty and the Beast so far around 680; luckily both of those shows were well written and orchestrated, and are fun to play. I admit that in some tutti sections, my mind will wander a little; sometimes I’ll look around the audience or the theater, other times I’m thinking of what’s going on after the show or my finances. But I always have at least 95% of myself engaged.

What happens if you or one of your orchestra colleagues gets sick or otherwise can’t go on?

Most of the time we simply have to make it work. I actually had to leave in the middle of a show once because I was violently ill; I also had a terrible bout of bronchitis a couple of years ago and we managed to find a local sub who audited and took over for a couple of shows while I went to the hospital; but for the most part, unless it’s serious, we have to play.

Do you find time and space to practice on the road? What are you currently working on?

I am the bad musician who doesn’t practice much on the road (shoot me!). I am planning on changing this, especially since I will be subbing on the Reed 1 books of Aladdin and Hairspray this summer (right after we get home from tour, actually), as well as switching books on the next leg of tour after playing my current book for two and a half years; this will be a nice change up, but I’m a little bummed as it comes just as I’m receiving my new oboe.

How do you deal with reeds on the road? Do you make your own? Do you notice a lot of change in your reeds from location to location?

I, unfortunately, was not blessed with the skills of a fine carpenter that oboists are supposed to have. I have a reedmaker in southern California who sends me small batches of reeds about once a month, and I keep most them, pulling out different ones for different altitudes, climates, temperatures, etc. It generally works. For my single reeds I have been playing on Légères since they first came out, and they are getting better and better all the time. No one has ever noticed, other than the players sitting next to me who can see them.

What advice do you have for musicians who might like to do this job?

See a therapist quickly! Just kidding. The truth of the matter is that the newer shows are being written for smaller and smaller orchestras and some companies are using virtual orchestra machines (bleh!), but be persistent; try to send your resume and .MP3s of your playing to musical director friends and other friends who play your instrument and are doing what you’d like to do; also try to get a hold of reed players in New York City, Los Angeles, and touring shows, and ask if you might sit in the pit.

Do have any favorite doubling tips (or general woodwind-playing tips)?

Hmm… for oboe, generally dip the reeds then lay them out; only leave them in the water if you are in an extremely dry climate like Utah or Arizona. Take the double reeds off the instruments and resoak them whenever you can so they stay wet, and also swab out at regular intervals (I have my swabbing practically choreographed). As for flute, the vibration from playing any reed instrument before playing flute tends to slightly “numb” the center of the lip, thus messing with the correct flute embouchure, so practice going from sax or clarinet to flute a LOT; I try to buzz my lips a bit (turning away from the mic) between these changes, if possible.

Do you have have any career tips that aren’t specifically about woodwind playing?

Be friendly and go with the flow… life on the road can be challenging, but it’s easier when you have friends around you, and often times you will make friends for life from your tours.

What instruments are in your arsenal?

I play:

  • Buffet Festival Greenline B-flat clarinet (Fobes and Grabner mpcs, Backun barrel and bell)
  • older LeBlanc E-flat and A clarinets
  • older Rigoutat Symphonie model oboe
  • 1927 Loree English horn
  • Tom Hiniker cocobolo oboe (arriving any day now!)
  • Muramatsu DS model flute (standard and Straubinger headjoints)
  • Woodwind model grenadilla piccolo with synthetic headjoint by Eldred Spell
  • Pearl silver-plated alto flute (curved & straight headjoints)
  • Cannonball curved soprano sax
  • old 1940’s Conn straight silver soprano sax
  • old Buescher alto sax
  • Yamaha 62 tenor sax (rubber and metal Otto Link mouthpieces refaced by John Reilly)
  • several nice wooden recorders (garklein, sopranino, soprano, alto, and tenor)
  • Susato chromatic set of pennywhistles (low D to high G)

To hear Terry play, check the Beauty and the Beast tour schedule and buy tickets for a show near you. Thanks, Terry!


3 responses to “Interview: Woodwind road warrior Terry Halvorson”

  1. Nice! Cool article.

  2. Linda Krantz Avatar
    Linda Krantz

    Great article Terry – learned a few things about you that I didn’t know!

  3. April Cook Avatar
    April Cook

    This was really cool to see a glimpse into this career. My sister plays the clarinet, and I think she would love to have a career like this. I can’t imagine playing the same music 680 times! I think I would need more change than that to keep me interested. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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