Preparing for a multiple woodwinds recital

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For over a decade, all of my solo recital performances have been on multiple woodwind instruments. Last month I performed (twice) a recital program with pieces played on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and three saxophones. Here are some of the things I do to prepare.


  • Practice the physical changes. I opened my program with an oboe piece, and followed that with a flute piece with a delicate entrance. As the recital approached, I made sure to follow each oboe practice session by practicing that flute entrance, to be sure I could do it under those conditions. Something that didn’t work very well: after the oboe, flute, and bassoon pieces, my hands and jaw tended to be a little tense for clarinet playing. If I were preparing this recital again, I would bump the clarinet to the end of my practice sessions to work on playing relaxed even when fatigued.
  • Practice the mental changes. If I can put myself into the right place mentally for the instrument I’m about to play, my physical technique seems to fall into place. Sometimes I will do some rotating warmups—play, for instance, some scales on one instrument, and then immediately play them on another, and another. That gives me a chance to practice shifting mental gears. Once I have my program order set, I also make liberal use of Post-it Notes to give myself reminders between pieces: “take a moment to relax embouchure,” “keep breath support strong in low register,” “clear moisture from octave vent.”
  • Make thorough checklists. With seven instruments on my most recent recital, I surely would have forgotten something—a bassoon seat strap, a case of clarinet reeds, a piece of sheet music. I made a detailed list and used it to set up for a dress rehearsal. Sure enough, there were a few things that hadn’t made it onto the list, and I was able to retrieve those items and add them to the list before the first public performance. When I traveled a few hours for another performance, I was confident that I had everything I needed.
  • Use good stands. Good ones are sturdy and make it easy to set down or pick up an instrument without fuss. Since I played flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon on the first half without leaving the stage, having some good stands kept things moving smoothly and let me stay focused.
  • Do thorough warmups. As the performance approaches, it’s tempting to practice in panic mode, and skip over things like warmups. I always play much better if I do my warmups faithfully all the way up to the day of the performance. I find that if I warm up slowly and thoroughly on each instrument before the performance (this might take a few hours with multiple instruments! I usually do it in the morning), then I’m able to switch between them more easily.

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