How do you find woodwind players that can each double on 4-5 instruments?
You can’t—assuming you do not have a budget to hire session players (which really, only session or union players are going to be able to pull off all those doubles professionally) and are not near a major city with access to players like this.
A few years back, I started compiling a little list of Broadway-style shows and their woodwind books—the printed parts the woodwind players use in the orchestra pits. It has since grown wildly out of control to over 900 shows and has firmly cemented itself as the most popular thing on this website. Many of my visitors—from top Broadway musicians to community theater weekend warriors—contribute to the list by sending in information from the trenches.
Over the last few months, I’ve hosted two versions of the list, and solicited feedback about the newer version versus the classic edition. Thanks to all of you who took the time to test drive the new version and submit some comments.
The feedback showed an overwhelming preference for the new version, which as of today is replacing the old one. It adds some extra functionality, most notably a search bar, and will also load faster for most users. It includes links to search for soundtrack albums for each show on iTunes and Amazon—I hope that this will be a convenience for some users and not an undue hassle to others; it provides a revenue stream which, while pitifully tiny, nevertheless helps to keep this website going.
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.
The Theater Development Fund‘s Stages blog has a nice little story on Seymour “Red” Press, a veteran Broadway woodwind doubler and contractor and an alumnus of Benny Goodman’s band.
The cast of Chicago changes frequently, but if you listen to the orchestra behind the actors, then you’ll hear the same man night after night.
Woodwinds player Seymour “Red” Press has been in the orchestra of the long-running Broadway revival since it opened in 1996, and that’s just part of a career that spans over fifty years and 100 shows. He’s played everything from Pippin to Meet Me in St. Louis to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, not to mention the original production of Chicago.
I got an interesting question by email last week. I’m reprinting the message here, followed by the suggestions I sent in return (I’ve edited a bit).
I’m doing my first arrangement for a musical, which will be an amateur production.
I’m going to be hiring players from amateur/student orchestras (university), or simply people who play well enough to take on the parts. I don’t think at this time I will be able to have more than 3 wind players.
One wind player has advised (from their experience as a musician) not to expect a player at this level to be able to play both a single and double reed instrument. Is it common for this to be the case, in your own experience? Is there any doubling of a mix of certain double and single-reeds instruments that’s even commonplace amongst ‘amateur’ players?
Do you have any recommendations of how to group the players, in terms of if I only have 3 available, and they are ‘amateur’ (but still ‘good’) level?
I had a look at the reed books on this site, but had to bear in mind that when putting on professional productions, you’re more likely to find players who can switch between a wider range of instruments. Any tips you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for stopping by my website and for taking the time to write. This is a great question with, I’m afraid, no great answers.
Woodwind doublers, like most commodities, are most easily found in larger cities, but can also pop up in odd places. Depending on where you are located, you may have more or fewer (or none) at your disposal. The best solution, when possible, is to line up your musicians in advance, and write for their strengths. Shows on Broadway are sometimes written this way.
Assuming that you can’t do that, you may have to hedge your bets somewhat. You might, for example, do something like this:
In this case, the parts could be played by a flutist, a clarinetist, and a bassoonist. The optional parts could be notated on ossia lines for the “primary” instruments, or omitted according to your instructions. All of these books include clarinet writing, but you would want to put the important solos and the lead clarinet parts in book 2; likewise the Reed 2 flute parts would be harmony parts to Reed 1’s lead. Continue reading “Advice on writing for doublers”→
EDIT: I originally had an embedded video here, of a CBS news interview with Broadway woodwind doubler Dan Willis. It appears the video is no longer available. You can read a text summary here, at least for the time being. Below is a picture I stole from their website.
The most popular thing on my website is the Woodwind doubling in Broadway musicals page, which brings in visitors from around the world. I’ve even been lucky enough to hear occasionally from major woodwind doublers who are working on Broadway.
I’ve been really enjoying these videos of John Miller. Mr. Miller (not to be confused with the eminent bassoonist) does much of the contracting of the musicians who play in Broadway shows. In these videos, he is addressing a group of his fellow bass players, but everything he has to say is highly applicable to woodwind players and anyone else who wants to make money playing their instrument(s).
Crazy for You is a Broadway-style stage musical by Ken Ludwig. The show, which premiered in 1992, uses songs written by George and Ira Gershwin for musicals in the 1930’s. In January and February, 2003, the Brigham Young University Department of Theatre and Media Arts and School of Music produced the show.
Synthesis, BYU’s award-winning jazz ensemble directed by Dr. Ray Smith, filled the role of pit orchestra. The five-member Synthesis saxophone section became an orchestral woodwind section, with a combined arsenal of over twenty instruments. The practice of “doubling,” or playing more than one instrument, is common in theater orchestra woodwind sections. A woodwind doubler may be expected to play instruments from all five woodwind families (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone) in a single show!
The woodwind parts in Crazy for You provide an excellent case study for the challenges facing the woodwind doubler. The show requires five woodwind players. The first woodwind part calls for flute and piccolo, clarinet, and soprano and alto saxophones. The musician playing this part is the primary flute, piccolo, and soprano saxophone soloist, as well as the lead saxophonist in saxophone ensemble passages. Special considerations include extensive use of the extreme high ranges of the flute and piccolo, as well as trills in less-common keys and in the high register; and jazz inflections, including pitch bends, in the saxophone parts. Continue reading “Woodwind doubling in musical theater orchestras: Taking the insanity out of Crazy for You”→