Review: Duos for Doublers by Gene Kaplan

I was pleased to hear from woodwind player and composer Gene Kaplan, who sent me a copy of his new duets books, Duos for Doublers. These, as far as I know, are a one-of-a-kind set of duets for two woodwind doublers, with the first part including flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone, and the second part including flute, clarinet, and tenor saxophone. The instruments are used in various combinations, with each player playing at least two instruments on each duet (with one exception, where the second part is tenor-only on one of the duets).


The style and the difficulty level of the duets varies. They are probably not suitable for those just starting out on their doubles (yet), as they do not shy away from bugaboos like the flute’s third octave, the clarinet break, and the saxophone’s below-the-staff notes.

I think a real benefit of these is that they do require quick instrument switches in real time and without losing your place (something that’s much easier to “fudge” with, say, solo etudes), in the company of someone who presumably will be understanding if you need to back up and try again. These duets would be great for getting together with another woodwind doubler for a little friendly challenge.

I’m on record as saying that saxophone-flute-clarinet-“only” doubling is a somewhat dated approach, and that modern doublers need to take the double reeds seriously, as well as auxiliary instruments in each woodwind family, plus probably some “world” woodwinds. These duets are still useful for working one commonly-used subset of those skills. (Gene is a double reed player himself, and acknowledges that he didn’t include them here in order to make these duets playable for more woodwind doublers.)

The set costs $30 at the time of this review (shipped free in the continental US). They are self-published, with paper covers and a clear plastic sheet over the front. The plastic comb binding is exactly what is needed for a book of sheet music to lay flat and stay open (something that some large sheet music publishers get wrong).

There are a couple of issues with layout that make these a little bit of a hassle to play, but which also probably provide just the kind of training that aspiring woodwind doublers need for real-life gig situations. The first is (some) impractical page turns, sometimes in places where the only option is to photocopy a page or to drop out for a couple of bars. Some happen during short rests, and some of those also coincide with an instrument change. The second issue is that each of the books includes only one part. My preference for duet playing is one book with both parts on the page, score-style. (This can also potentially mitigate the page turn problem, if you have four hands available instead of two.)

Here’s a quick video demo of “Acapulco Nights” by me and my less-handsome twin brother.

I’ve added these to my list of compositions for multiple-woodwind instrumentalists. Let me know if there’s anything else on your radar that should be included.

Get Duos for Doublers from Gene Kaplan’s website.


New multiple woodwinds commission: Sy Brandon

Sy Brandon

I am pleased to announce a newly-commissioned piece in progress, for multiple woodwinds soloist and piano, being composed by Sy Brandon. Dr. Brandon is Professor Emeritus of Music at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and an active, prolific composer. He also blogs about his composition process at Composing Insights. The commission is made possible by a Co-op Press Commission Assistance Grant.

I was delighted a few years ago to have a fascinating new piece, seventy times seven, written by Dan Bradshaw, which was a blast to perform but required some instruments I don’t own (baritone saxophone and B-flat contrabass clarinet) and some fairly sophisticated electronics operated in live performance by the composer. I fear that, because of the complications involved (did I mention the composer now lives in Hawaii?) I may never get to perform it again.

In my application for the Co-op Press grant, I made the case that even though there are a small handful of pieces for woodwind doublers, few of them are very portable—most require a large ensemble, hard-to-find instruments, or electronics, or otherwise have logistical barriers to performance. I think there is demand among the doubling community for pieces that showcase multiple-woodwind skill and that can be programmed on a recital with reasonable ease.

I’ll be posting updates here, and Dr. Brandon has already started documenting his work on the piece over at Composing Insights. He has posted the first movement, for flute and piano, and is asking for comments, so surf on over and take a look.

Free woodwind sheet music on the IMSLP

IMSLP logoThe Internet Music Score Library Project is an online library of public-domain sheet music. Most of the available music is in PDF format and can be freely downloaded. The files are uploaded by users, mostly scanned from published sheet music that falls into the public domain. This means mostly compositions that are old enough to be public domain, in published editions that are also old enough to be public domain.

This is a fantastic resource for finding older editions of woodwind solo pieces, chamber music, and orchestral parts. Continue reading “Free woodwind sheet music on the IMSLP”

Free download: New orchestration of the Creston saxophone sonata

Italian pianist Marco Ciccone has done a new orchestral transcription of the Paul Creston saxophone sonata. I haven’t heard it, but I got email from Mr. Ciccone about it and thought I would pass the word along.

The score and parts (you have to provide your own saxophone part) are available here in PDF format, presumably for a limited time, as the arrangement is slated to be published soon. [Update: looks like this is no longer available.] According to the “warning” document, there are some restrictions on performances made with the free parts, but in any case it seems worthwhile to download the score and check it out. Instrumentation is eight woodwinds, five brass, two percussion, strings, and, of course, alto saxophone solo.

Recommended: Jeanjean “Vade-Mecum” du Clarinettiste

Lately I’ve been doing some clarinet work out of the Jeanjean Vade-Mecum. The title page translates charmingly to:

“Vade-Mecum” of the Clarinet-player



render the fingers and tongue rapidly supple

But this is what really sold me:


The aim of these 6 standard-studies (combining the essential parts generally contained in several exercise books) is to prepare instrumentalists in a very short space of time (about 1/2 hour) when, due to their occupations, they are not able to devote the time necessary for developed exercises and must nevertheless be ready to execute difficult passages, from the standpoint of lips, tongue and fingers.

The movements to which these Studies oblige the clarinet-player to submit will rapidly overcome those imperfections, the diminution or the passing weakness that might result from either fatigue or irregularity of technical work.

“…not able to devote the time necessary … and must nevertheless be ready to execute difficult passages…” This, in a nutshell, is the quandary of the woodwind doubler. Continue reading “Recommended: Jeanjean “Vade-Mecum” du Clarinettiste”

Essential woodwind literature

I’m spending the summer studying for my doctoral comprehensive exams. One major component of the exams will be woodwind literature, so I’ve been trying to narrow down lists of really essential pieces. It has been an interesting challenge to select a list long enough to have depth and short enough to be manageable (I’ve was shooting for around 100 pieces total – I’m a little over).

I wanted the list to be a balance of a lot of different things: commonly-taught and commonly-performed literature, pieces of historical import, pieces representing style periods from Baroque to the 21st century, pieces covering a range of difficulty levels, and so forth.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

A troublemaker in the octet: A hermeneutical approach to Beethoven’s op. 103


In the opening “Allegro” movement of his Wind Octet in E-flat major, Op. 103, Beethoven perpetrates a bit of mischief at the expense of the listener—and the analyst. In this paper, we will examine some analytical puzzles of this movement, then attempt to solve them by exploring a possible hermeneutical interpretation and applying Schenkerian techniques.

The hermeneutical narrative that we will attempt to apply here represents only one possible interpretation, but it is useful because it provides an accessible context for dealing with problematic elements (we will deal with an oddly recurring melodic motive, some unexpected harmonic turns, and a formal deformation). The Schenkerian techniques are effective here for identifying and explicating the essential harmonic motion.

A motivic troublemaker

Troublemaker motive
"Troublemaker" motive

The first riddle of the Allegro is a trill-like motive (example 1) that dominates the opening of the movement. It appears in the first oboe, repeated in each of the first four measures. We will investigate a possible hermeneutic role of this motive: the impish troublemaker. (The troublemaker motive remains closely associated with the first oboe, though the first oboe also plays a part as a fully cooperative member of the ensemble. The oboe isn’t the troublemaker; the motive itself gets the blame.) Continue reading “A troublemaker in the octet: A hermeneutical approach to Beethoven’s op. 103”

Choosing instructional materials for beginning saxophone students

Importance of appropriate materials

Choosing the right method books and materials—or choosing not to use them—can be a deciding factor in a beginning saxophone student’s success. A student assigned page after page of boring finger exercises will lose interest quickly, but a student given only “fun” assignments may fall behind in development of sound technique. Continue reading “Choosing instructional materials for beginning saxophone students”