Peter Hilliard on contracting woodwind doublers

July 31, 2010

Photo, danifeb

Peter Hilliard has a nice blog, Music Directing the School Musical. It doesn’t offer any information about who Peter Hilliard is (presumably this guy), not even contact information*. But he does seem to know a thing or two about putting on a musical, and, in a recent post, offers some advice about hiring musicians. Here’s a little of what he has to say about hiring woodwind players—I do suggest reading the whole thing.

The actual numbers (Reed I, Reed II, etc.) vary widely from show to show, but if you look through your books, you’ll see the following is generally true:

There is a book (usually Reed I) that looks like this: Flute and Piccolo normally, sometimes Clarinet, Soprano and/or Alto Sax. Normally this book is very flute heavy. In old shows, sometimes it’s only flute, with no doubling. Hire somebody with a good flute embouchure, not a clarinet or sax player who plays flute with an airy tone. Have the guy who dabbles on flute play the book with all the second or 3rd flute parts. For some reason, the alto flute got really popular from the 70s through the 80s, but beware. 1) you’ll never hear it. 2) You’ll never find one! I swear, I called every instrument rental house in Philadelphia and South Jersey for a show recently and nobody had one. 3) your player will pass out from too little oxygen to the brain.

I can’t say that I’ve ever had a musical director volunteer to round up instruments for me—I need to work for this guy! By the way, keep that alto flute embouchure focused to avoid passing out, and make sure you’re playing right into the mic so the sound crew has something to work with.

There is a book (Reed II or III) that is very clarinet and alto sax heavy. Sometimes this book has the alto sax lead parts. A quick check will see whether these alto parts are playing the melody of the sax section. It makes sense to give this part to your best sax player who also happens to play clarinet.

This of course depends on the show—even jazz-heavy shows often have a very serious lead clarinet book. If so, you may regret hiring a saxophonist to do a clarinetist’s job. For many shows this can be a crucial chair to fill; you may discover that you really need someone with excellent “legit” clarinet chops and a great lead alto style.

See the original post for Peter’s thoughts on the oboe book and the low reeds book, with which I generally agree.

As you begin to use reed players, listen carefully and make note of what they do well and what they don’t do well, and mark it down so you can know what book to hire them for next show. Believe me, they’d rather sound good. Give them what they do best.

Absolutely. Hiring someone for a reed book isn’t as simple as looking for the words “woodwind doubler” on their business card. You’ll need to match the book to the player.

Update 8/1/2010: I’ve heard from Peter, and he’s a nice guy. He’s also a church music minister, music director, composer, pianist, and dad in Philadelphia, PA. Thanks for stopping by, Peter!

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