Take your instruments apart

I highly recommend taking your instruments apart.

Here’s why:

  • There’s no better way to understand the workings of a mechanical device like a woodwind instrument than to take it apart and put it back together again. They’re your tools. You should understand how they work.
  • Take ownership of your instrument’s maintenance. Discover problems that need a repair tech’s attention BEFORE they affect your playing at an inopportune time. Or, even better, use your newfound confidence with a screwdriver to fix minor problems yourself, and consider learning how to change a pad, or at least a cork.
  • Keep your instrument sparkling. With your horn in pieces, you can easily get into the nooks and crannies to remove dust and gunk. Your instrument will shine like new, your mechanisms will move smoothly and quietly, and you’ll feel good about treating your precious horn with such loving care.

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Fact and fiction in woodwind teaching

A former teacher, who, I hasten to point out, I respect and admire greatly, once asked me in a lesson to “spin the air.”

I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he meant.

I tried a few things that I thought maybe the teacher had in mind, but none of them was right. I asked for clarification.

He said, “It’s like this,” and he blew a puff of air while twirling his finger around (presumably to indicate spinning).

Surely he didn’t mean literally to cause the air, somehow, to leave my lips in some kind of spiral. I confessed my confusion and asked if he would be kind enough to demonstrate spinning the air versus not spinning the air. He obliged.

I couldn’t detect any difference.

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My doubling bag

Today I found myself in the embarrassing situation of arriving at a rehearsal, contrabassoon in tow, without a single contrabassoon reed. Luckily the problem was easily solved—the reeds were literally just a few moments away, and I didn’t miss a note of rehearsal.

The problem, of course, is that the contra is a university-owned instrument, used by several student bassoonists, and so I don’t like to leave my reeds in the case. I just keep them in my bassoon case, with my bassoon reeds, and usually this works out fine since it’s rare that I go anywhere with the contra unless I have my bassoon along, too. But on the rare occasion that it happens, like today, I can easily forget to bring the reeds with me.

A number of years ago, when I started to get really serious about the doubling thing, I decided I needed a bag in which to keep my non-instrument-specific stuff. For example, in prior years as a dedicated alto saxophonist, I kept my accessories in my saxophone case: a metronome, a tube of cork grease, and so forth. When my instrument cases began to multiply, I found myself sometimes without an accessory that I needed. Buying more tubes of cork grease isn’t a big deal, but multiple metronomes can turn into real money for a college student. So I invested in a cheap messenger-type bag.

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Recital 11/3/2008

I perform my final doctoral recital on Monday. It is my third recital on my “major” instruments (flute, oboe, and saxophone); I also performed one “minor” recital (clarinet and bassoon). The major/minor instruments are somewhat arbitrary, since I’m trying to play them all equally well.

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Auditioning for a multiple woodwinds degree program

I had an exchange by email with someone today, that I thought might be of use to all you hordes of prospective multiple woodwinds majors out there.

Hi Mr. Pimentel,
My name is Mike ________ from _______ University, and I am an aspiring doubler. I have been doing some looking around at graduate schools and programs, and I have found there still are a few programs that still offer doubling. What I have not found are the requirements or guidelines for auditions. I was wondering how an audition for a doubling program would go. What kind of things should I prepare? Do I audition on all the instruments? Thanks for your insight.
Mike

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University woodwinds job postings, 10/12/08

I would have mixed feelings about taking a teaching job outside the US, but I would definitely willing to fly out for an interview for this one. Maybe for a couple of weeks?

  • The College of the Bahamas – “…play and teach woodwind instruments and teach a variety of music courses. The ideal candidate will have a strong commitment to teaching undergraduate students; evidence of excellence in teaching and creative/innovative pedagogies; knowledge of current trends in pedagogy; skills in programme and course development and implementation; and a commitment to research.” See the listing

Breath support

Quick: define “breath support.”

I fear that to many woodwind players (or wind players in general, and maybe singers too) breath support is something mysterious. I have often had teachers stress to me the importance of breath support, but I can’t remember ever having one explain clearly what it is.

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Doublers in the news: Douglas Owens

A nice mention of my buddy and colleague Douglas Owens in the Durango, Colorado Telegraph. Photo, too. Doug was my fellow DMA student in multiple woodwinds at the University of Georgia, and has gone on to a new job at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

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Brass doubling?

I have now successfully completed both my written and oral comprehensive exams, and am one large step closer to finishing a doctorate in multiple woodwinds performance.

In the oral exam, one of my professors asked why woodwind doubling is a well-recognized musical specialty, but doubling on brass instruments is not.  The question was an odd one, especially since brass instruments fall precisely outside my area of expertise. I didn’t have a good answer, except that brass players seem to be particularly protective of their embouchures, and presumably don’t want to risk ruining them by switching instruments. (That seemed to be satisfactory for purposes of the exam.)

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