Teaching multiple instruments: IDRS 2016 presentation

Lecture notes from a presentation on teaching multiple instruments, especially double reeds in a higher education setting, from the 2016 International Double Reed Society conference.

Downloadable version

Teaching Multiple Instruments

Dr. Bret Pimentel, Delta State University

IDRS Conference 2016, Columbus, Georgia

More and more university music teaching positions require wearing several hats, sometimes including teaching multiple instruments. (Oboe plus bassoon is an especially common combination, even though it’s unusual for musicians to play both well.) Teaching multiple instruments is also a potentially valuable skill for instructors at lesson studios in private music schools or in music stores, for instructors in middle or high school band and orchestra programs, and for those establishing private studios from their homes.

Getting hired

  • In many multiple-instrument hiring situations, the expectation is proficiency on one instrument and willingness to fake your way teaching the other(s). Any actual training or background on secondary instruments immediately sets you apart. Strongly consider taking at least a few lessons on a secondary instrument—this shows seriousness about the multiple-instrument thing, even if it doesn’t make you a virtuoso.
  • Having access to books (or websites) isn’t a substitute. Neither is “knowing a guy” who you can “ask questions.” Though those are usable resources, they aren’t convincing to hiring committees because they don’t demonstrate any actual effort prior to submitting your application.
  • Be honest but positive with yourself and with hiring committees about your ability and/or enthusiasm for teaching multiple instruments. For example:
    • “I play oboe professionally, but I am deeply committed to both instruments and am working to improve my bassoon skills. I have some experience playing bassoon in semi-professional settings.”
    • “Bassoon is really my thing, but I took oboe lessons for a couple of summers during graduate school and am enthusiastic about teaching the double reeds.”
    • “Teaching bassoon would be a brand new challenge for me, and one that I would take seriously.”

Lesson time

  • You won’t have to fix all of your students’ technical issues on day one, but you will have to assign repertoire and studies right away. Spend some serious time browsing other teachers’ syllabi and “suggested repertoire” lists (many are available online!), and start compiling some lists of your own. Are you ready to recommend, for example:
    • some remedial etudes and an easy solo for an incoming freshman?
    • an hour’s worth of varied and challenging-but-doable repertoire for a junior entering a competition?
    • a solid program for a senior recital that can double as serious graduate school audition repertoire?
    • Baroque pieces?
    • pieces with extended techniques?
    • chamber pieces with strings?
    • concerti with concert band?
    • and so on…
  • You will, of course, have to address technical issues at some point. Be advised that your students know when you’re making things up. But it can be a great experience to spend a few minutes researching a question together, or calling a colleague or mentor on speakerphone for advice.
  • Both you and the student can learn a lot when you dare to get an instrument out and try some things together. Your students know it’s not your main instrument, and appreciate seeing you step out of your comfort zone. Consider giving them a chance to teach you something—teaching is a skill they should be learning anyway.

Managing resources

  • Institutional resources like money, time, and space are often allocated per faculty member, not per instrument taught. As appropriate, consider making a case for the following (for example):
    • Funding for your oboe studio plus funding for your bassoon studio. Per-faculty funding can be unfair to students, who won’t benefit from purchases made for the other studio.
    • Additional prep time built into your schedule to accommodate the logistics of multiple studios.
    • Studio space and storage space suitable for several studios’ worth of instruments, sheet music, reed desks, etc.
  • If you are a single-instrumentalist teaching multiple instruments, consider forming partnerships with others in the same situation. Visit each other’s schools once or twice a year, maybe more often if the travel is short. Be each other’s consultants, guest artists, masterclass teachers, reed sources.
  • Consider which aspects of running a studio you can streamline to accommodate multiple instruments without multiplying your workload. For example:
    • Use your university’s LMS features, perhaps to combine all of your applied students into one “course,” instead of having to communicate separately to each instrument group.
    • If permissible and appropriate, rotate or combine things like studio classes and chamber group coachings.
    • Repurpose, say, oboe sight-reading excerpts as saxophone excerpts, or vice-versa. (Doesn’t work as well between oboe and bassoon. Clefs, you know.)

Staying sharp (figuratively)

  • Join an organization. Attend conferences. Read the journal. Summer camps (that welcome or at least tolerate adults) are great, too.
    • For oboe-plus-bassoon teachers, IDRS is perfect! Be sure to attend recitals and masterclasses for your secondary teaching instrument, and familiarize yourself with equipment and repertoire options in the vendor exhibits.
  • Build your library of recordings, pedagogical materials, and experiences related to your secondary teaching instrument(s). If it suits your goals, budget toward buying or upgrading your secondary instruments and investing in your further education.
  • Be smart, informed, and conscientious about learning what pedagogical techniques, ideas, etc. you can share between instruments and what you can’t.
  • If you are at even an intermediate performing level on a secondary instrument, strongly consider playing it on your faculty recitals (one short, easy piece?). Keep yourself challenged to improve.
  • Shameless plug: Keep an eye on bretpimentel.com for blog posts and other resources related to playing and teaching multiple woodwind instruments, and the fundamental techniques that those instruments share.

Long-term career planning

  • Is teaching multiple instruments an end goal for you, or just a way to get that first teaching job that will be a stepping stone to something that fits you better? Hint: either is okay, and it’s also okay to change your mind.
  • If you need to meet certain expectations for tenure, annual reviews, etc., be smart about how your multiple-instrument duties affect this. For example:
    • If leadership in professional organizations is important, you may need to attend your major instrument’s conference every year, instead of bouncing from conference to conference.
    • Understand student recruitment expectations—will you need to keep your studios balanced in a certain way, or is it acceptable if, say, recruiting for your main instrument is more successful?

Report: 2016 International Double Reed Society conference

I had a blast at the 2016 International Double Reed Society conference, hosted by Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. As I have said before, the IDRS puts on an outstanding conference, maybe my favorite of the various woodwind conferences I attend. Very well organized, with lots of outstanding talent, varied events, and presences from all the top makers and dealers of double reed instruments and gear.

A few personal highlights:

  • Excellent evening concerts, some with chamber music and some with orchestra. Too many great performances to do justice to them all, but a couple that stood out in my mind were the premiere of Alan Elkins’s double oboe concerto with Elizabeth Koch Tiscione and Kathryn Greenbank, and Cary Ebli‘s performance of his own edition of the Donizetti Concertino for English horn.

    Elizabeth Koch Tiscione and Kathryn Greenbank
  • Too many recitals to count. I liked, among others, Joey Salvalaggio‘s “When Giant Babies Attack,” Paul Hanson‘s always-astonishing solo bassoon with electronics, the Paradise Winds reed quintet, Benjamin Coelho with Andrew Parker, Eric Stomberg with Barry Stees, and Mark Ostoich with Alyssa Morris and Petrea Warneck playing Morris’s new and outstanding trio for two oboes and English horn.

    Paul Hanson sound check, with appropriate reaction from conference volunteer
  • Some very interesting lectures and presentations. A few favorites were Mark Eubanks‘s on bassoon reed tuning, Jamie Sampson‘s on her methodical research into bassoon multiphonics, and Janet Grice‘s on adapting Brazilian choros to double reed instruments.
  • I gave a presentation on teaching multiple instruments. You can check out my handout/lecture notes if you like.
  • I got to meet or reconnect with lots of cool people, including some who, to my delight and surprise, introduced themselves as “fans” of this blog or of my other online stuff. I’m always happy to connect with nice people who find my stuff useful or interesting in some way.
  • And I did come home with a, uh, souvenir:Paul Hanson sound check, with appropriate reaction from student volunteer

Report: International Clarinet Association “ClarinetFest” 2014

I got to attend this year’s International Clarinet Association conference (“ClarinetFest”) on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge.

The conference started on a sad note, as a car accident claimed the lives of two clarinetists on their way to represent Baylor University, and injured two others. In their memory, many of the conference attendees wore ribbons in Baylor green during the week. Many of the conference events began with a moment of silence.


The conference was, as always, packed with events, sometimes with three or four venues active at the same time, starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Sunday afternoon. The first few days were unseasonably cool and pleasant, but the Louisiana heat and humidity came back in time for the weekend.

I went to more recitals than I can remember or do justice to here, with outstanding and varied performances by clarinetists from around the world. Many of the recitals were listed as “lagniappe” programs, featuring several soloists or groups each playing a work or two. (For more details, try the ClarinetFest blog, which has many reports on individual events.)

I also attended a number of lectures and workshops, opting mostly for those related to movement and health (an area I would like to improve in my teaching), but also a few based on the 2014 theme of “The Clarinetist as Entrepreneur.” Another particular highlight was a panel discussion featuring Stanley and Naomi Drucker, Lawrence Sobol, and Larry Combs telling stories from their careers. And I gave a presentation on woodwind doubling in the 21st century (more details in another blog post).

L-R: Stanley Drucker, Naomi Drucker, Lawrence Sobol, Larry Combs.

The exhibit halls were filled with the sounds of clarinetists trying out new instruments and accessories. I picked up a few items, at least one of which I hope to review here soon.

I participated in a clarinet choir made up of around 50 clarinet professors, which was a nice chance to meet some colleagues.

Each of the evening concerts was a highlight. Wednesday’s program was clarinet works with a chamber orchestra, Thursday featured jazz clarinetists, Friday was chamber music featuring the clarinet, and Saturday was concerti with a full orchestra.

Clarinetists (L-R) Gregory Agid, Harry Skoler, Felix Peikli, and Evan Christopher performing with the ClarinetFest rhythm section at the Thursday night jazz concert.

As expected, ClarinetFest 2014 was an excellent and inspiring experience, but also exhausting. It would be okay with me if in the future some of the evening concerts got trimmed a little for length—3+ hours is a lot of clarinet when it follows a full day of recitals and masterclasses, and the next day starts bright and early.

ClarinetFest 2015 will be held next July in Madrid, Spain.

Report: NNFA Conference, Southeastern Region, 2014

I’m back from the outstanding NNFA regional conference, where I spent the week rubbing shoulders (or should I say noses?) with over 700 very fine musicians from the Southeastern US.

I gave a brief presentation on my Fingering Diagram Builder and its potential applications to the instrument’s pedagogy. I think that’s an interesting problem, considering, well, you know, and I fielded some questions on the topic and got some excellent input.

Photo, Pierre-Alain Dorange
Photo, Pierre-Alain Dorange

But mostly I was there to learn, and learn I did. I attended workshops on vibrato, Baroque ornamentation, nasal hygiene, and building a private studio. I also audited several masterclasses, and, of course, attended fabulous evening concerts. Thursday was “jazz night” at a downtown club, and I worked up the nerve to take a few choruses on “Donna Lee” during the open jam portion. Of course, I usually play jazz on saxophone, so this was definitely outside my comfort zone!

The vendor exhibits were a conference hotspot, as usual, and I must have tried several dozen instruments. The usual makers and retailers were there, but I was also very surprised to see Conn-Selmer; they are apparently entering the market in a big way, and held a fancy reception to celebrate their new line. I tried a few and I think they have a solid intermediate-level “horn” which should do pretty well if they price it reasonably.

I hadn’t planned to buy an instrument, but I fell in love with this model from Trophy and ended up bringing it home. The one pictured has a red finish, but as I am fairly conservative about my instruments’ appearance I picked out a classy purple. I find that the purple has an appealing depth of tone but doesn’t lose anything in terms of response.

I hope to see some of you at the national conference next year in Des Moines. Last year’s national had attendance of almost 4,000 and some really incredible concert headliners. Join the National Nose Flute Association

The few, the proud, the woodwind doublers

I’m back from the the excellent Region VI conference of the North American Saxophone Alliance. I went to soak up some good saxophone playing and to deliver what is becoming more or less my standard spiel on woodwind doubling.

This time I gave away half of the handouts I brought with me. That’s a dramatic improvement over some of my earlier presentations. Unfortunately, it’s not because attendance has gone up, but because I no longer find it realistically necessary to bring extras “just in case.”

photo, Benson Kua
photo, Benson Kua

As usual, my presentation was scheduled first thing in the morning, in a distant corner of the conference venue, and conflicting with a masterclass by one of the conference’s most admired performers. But, also as usual, the stalwart few who came were there early and already bubbling over with questions. Some were people I had previously been in touch with through this blog. And, as usual, they were all extremely attentive, and many of them went out of their way throughout the day to offer gratitude and compliments.

I really don’t blame the conference hosts or attendees (of this conference or any of the various others) for giving a woodwind doubling presentation relatively low billing. Woodwind doubling is a niche topic. Most of the conference-goers are probably better served by attending a good masterclass on their instrument. Plus, it works out well to give these presentations to small but enthusiastic groups, with lots of opportunity for questions and discussion. I preach to the (woodwind) choir.


Report: John Mack Oboe Camp, 2012

You know you are at oboe camp when the rules include “no crowing reeds before 7:30 a.m.”

I’m back from the John Mack Oboe Camp, held every June at the Wildacres Retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. The camp has been an institution for over 30 years, and has been carried on by Mr. Mack’s students since his passing in 2006.

The JMOC is a a week of intensive oboe study. Most of the 60 or so attendees were motivated undergraduate and graduate oboe students, plus a handful of us in the “30+” category and a smattering of talented teenagers. There is an application but no audition; ability levels ranged from enthusiastic amateur to professional.

It’s possible to enroll as an auditor, but most attendees participated in masterclasses, performing a Barret or Ferling etude and an orchestral excerpt over the course of the week and getting coaching from the camp’s distinguished faculty (I got to do Barret melody no. 40 and the second movement of the Brahms violin concerto, with coaching from Martin Hebert and Linda Strommen).

A typical day included morning masterclasses, afternoon workshops or free time, evening masterclasses, and late night snacking and socializing. Other events included a faculty recital, ad-hoc chamber music rehearsals, free oboe adjustments and repairs by John Symer, shopping in the RDG Woodwinds mini-store, a mass oboe choir, and reed evaluation/advice sessions with the faculty.

The spirit of John Mack was very much present during the week, with the faculty (all Mack protégés) making a point to share wisdom and stories from their studies with him: “As ‘our teacher’ would say…” Having the camp taught by all Mack students gave a nice continuity and unity of message to the masterclasses.

The week wasn’t all business, though—Wildacres is a paradise with gorgeous mountain vistas, fresh air, deliciously mild summer weather, comfortable lodges, and outdoor activities. It’s also a haven for the arts, that hosts many arts-related camps every year (including several woodwind-related ones). Every space at Wildacres is filled with sculpture, paintings, photography, poetry, and other evidence of the inspiration generations of visitors have found there. There are instructional spaces and a nice little auditorium. The dining hall serves three hearty family-style meals a day, with vegetarian options and other special accommodations available. Internet access and cellular service are spotty at best, but Wildacres spins this as a feature: unplug, relax, and enjoy the here and now.

I found my fellow campers to be happy, relaxed, supportive, and friendly. The makeshift “reed room” in the main lodge was usually packed, with more experienced reedmakers happy to offer advice.

The JMOC is a surprisingly good value, as tuition costs less than a week’s hotel stay, but includes lodging, meals, and extensive educational opportunities.

Highly recommended!

NFA 2011: Woodwind doublers roundtable discussion

Here I am at the far left saying something brilliant and witty. Tereasa Payne, Shelley Collins, David Weiss, and Jim Walker look on in wonder and delight.

At this year’s NFA conference, I had the very cool opportunity to be part of a discussion panel about woodwind doubling. The panel was organized by Florida flutist and doubler Tereasa Payne, and moderated by my Delta State colleague Shelley Collins. The panel consisted of me, Tereasa, Hollywood studio great Jim Walker, and David Weiss, who is the ethnic flutes soloist for Broadway’s The Lion King. It was an honor to be included in a group of such stature!

We spoke to a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd. At one point Shelley asked for a show of hands by the doublers in the audience, and we were blown away by all the hands that shot up. The audience asked great questions, and many stayed afterward to talk some more. I was delighted to meet several of you personally who read this blog or who have communicated with me by email or on Twitter.

In advance of the panel, Tereasa had prepared some questions for the panelists to think over. I took some notes to organize my thoughts, and I’m providing them here in an edited version. This isn’t a transcript of the live panel, but it should give you an idea of what was talked about, and of my thoughts about some of those topics.

Read more

Report: National Flute Association Convention 2011

This year was my first time attending the National Flute Association‘s annual convention, held this year in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I’ve been to conferences of all the other major woodwind organizations in the US (IDRS, ICA, NASA), and here are some things that I think the NFA did exceptionally well:

  • Organization and planning. From what I could tell, nearly everything ran smoothly and according to plan.
  • Engaging younger players. There were a number of competitions and masterclasses for high school and college students, and a Saturday “Youth Day” for flutists aged 8-13.
  • Engaging non-professional flutists. My sense is that the NFA has a stronger amateur contingent than the other organizations, and that they are working to ensure its future.
  • Appealing to broad musical interests. In my opinion, the NFA is doing a better job than anyone, including NASA, of integrating jazz into their convention in a serious way, and is integrating historical instruments at least as well as the IDRS. Ethnic flutes also got some good representation. Thursday night’s big feature concert was Baroque flute, and Friday’s was world music. Saturday’s concert was more standard concerto fare, but with a strong jazz representation. Kudos to the NFA for acknowledging that there is life beyond conservatory repertoire lists, and to its members for seeming to genuinely embrace and enjoy the varied offerings.

Like the other major woodwind conferences, the NFA’s is packed with so many events that it’s impossible to get to everything you want to attend. Here are a few personal favorites among the things I saw and heard (in no particular order):

Read more

Report: Clarinet Academy of the South 2011

Coaching on the Poulenc Sonata with Dr. McClellan. Photo by John Coppa.

I’m back from the Clarinet Academy of the South, a weeklong series of masterclasses by Robert DiLutis and D. Ray McClellan. The “Academy,” in its inaugural year, was held at the lovely campus of my recent alma mater, the University of Georgia. Dr. McClellan is the clarinet professor at UGA, and a former member of the President’s Own Marine Band. Mr. DiLutis is the clarinet professor at Lousiana State University, and formerly of the Rochester Philharmonic and the Eastman School of Music.

Around two dozen clarinetists attended. Most were college or graduate-school clarinet students, but there were also some professionals and educators. Many were current or former UGA or LSU students, and some were newly-admitted students looking to get a leg up for the fall.

Although the attendees found time to socialize, explore the campus, and try some favorite local eateries, the overall tone of the camp was studious. Each day’s itinerary began with practice time at 8:00 A.M., and finished after three intensive masterclass sessions at 9:00 P.M. Most of the attendees stayed in inexpensive and convenient on-campus housing.

Some highlights of the week included an opening recital by Mr. DiLutis and Dr. McClellan, sessions on reed adjusting and reedmaking by Mr. DiLutis, a class on phrasing by Dr. McClellan, a mock orchestral audition, and sessions dedicated to the Mozart concerto and the Nielsen concerto.

Read more

Handout from Mid-South Flute 2010 lecture: Folk, ethnic, and period flutes for fun and profit

Here is the handout from today’s presentation at the Mid-South Flute Festival at the University of Memphis campus. The audience was small but enthusiastic, asked good questions, and some of them stayed extra long to try out some instruments from my collection.