How to convince me not to play your newly-composed piece

person writing on the sheet music

My inbox runneth over with invitations to buy and perform composers’ new pieces. I’d like to play new works, but some composers make it harder for me to accept their invitations. Here’s how:

  • Failure of fit. If I’m clearly just on your email-blast list of 3,000 clarinetists, there’s a fair chance your new piece doesn’t have any special appeal for me. But if it scratches one of my particular performance itches (like pieces for multiple-woodwinds soloist, woodwind instrument with live electronics, or “world” woodwinds) then a more limited mailing or a brief personal note will definitely catch my eye.
  • No reference material. If I have to guess what the piece is like from a title or a description, I probably won’t invest the money or time to give it a closer look. Give me a perusal score or recording, and preferably both. Recordings that are mediocre or computer-generated are acceptable—I just need a strong hint about what the music is like, not your fully-realized vision. And watermarked or even partial scores work, too. If I can’t find the reference materials on your website, I’ll assume they are not available, and probably won’t email you to ask.
  • Too restrictive. These days my recital performances are for a relatively small in-person audience and a larger online audience. If you’re uncomfortable with me putting a video on YouTube, I’m less interested in putting time and effort into it.
  • Logistics too costly. Pieces with extreme difficulty, large or unusual ensembles, complicated staging, rare instruments, etc. present real, practical obstacles to performance. The piece has to be compelling enough for me to decide to spend limited resources (time, money, called-in favors) on it. Some flexibility, such as piano reductions, optional cuts, or adaptable instrumentation, can convince me to try the piece in a lower-cost situation first, and then maybe like it enough to keep it in mind for the rare concerto opportunity later.

Let’s work together and get some new works performed!

Review: NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Alto Saxophone, Vol. 1

I don’t typically do reviews of new sheet music publications unless they have a specific woodwind-doubling focus, but I’m making an exception here because I think this is a project that is especially useful and has potential to change the landscape of “classical” saxophone repertoire (and other instruments, too).

I have a repertoire problem. My file cabinet is full of wonderful, important music that is written almost exclusively by dead white men. I would like to change that—to perform and teach music representing a greater diversity of composers, and particularly living composers.

But it’s hard to escape the inertia of the “standard repertoire.” And sorting through mountains of new pieces by composers I haven’t heard of (yet), to find the best ones, the ones at the right difficultly level for my students, and so forth, could cost me thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. It’s daunting, and so I fall back on the same pieces I’ve taught over and over.

NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Alto Saxophone, Vol. 1 is an elegant solution. For the price of a standard-repertoire concerto, it contains 16 works composed (or at least revised) within the last 20 years. The composers (listed on NewMusicShelf’s website) are diverse and distinguished. Many are young.

The collection is curated by Alan Theisen, a composer and saxophonist well-positioned to accomplish this task due to his interests and connections in the world of new music. (One of his own compositions is included in the anthology.)

For me as a performer and educator, this anthology helps solve several problems: the pieces are thoughtfully selected for quality and variety, the publication is very affordable, and its presence in my studio is a strong step toward currency and representation in concert saxophone music. All are for solo alto saxophone or saxophone and piano, so the performance logistics are simple (no large/unusual ensembles, electronics, or other potential barriers). The pieces are playable by undergraduate-level students (but, as Theisen points out in his introduction, “absolutely suitable” for more advanced players as well). It’s an easy, cheap, and practical way to grow my performing and teaching repertoire. (This is an unsolicited review of a copy I purchased myself.)

A couple of small complaints: the saxophone and piano parts are “perfect bound” (like a paperback book) and thus don’t lay flat on a music stand. NewMusicShelf indicates on their website that this is to facilitate library shelving (and points out that, hey, you can disassemble and re-bind it yourself if you want), but I’d rather see a more performer-oriented solution. And the books contain a web link promising composer headshots and program notes, but the link is currently broken and I couldn’t locate the content on the website. Still, a very worthwhile purchase.

The “Volume 1” label is hopefully indicative of more to come. A flute volume appears to be in the works, and calls-for-scores for clarinet, bassoon, and some other instruments are currently open. Collections for voice and for viola are already available. Kudos to NewMusicShelf and Alan Theisen for this extremely valuable aid for teachers and performers.

NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Alto Saxophone, Vol. 1

Updated: Music for woodwind doublers

As of February 2020, I’ve made some substantial updates to my catalog of music written for players of multiple woodwind instruments: Music for woodwind doublers

There are a few pieces I have listed as currently being researched, mostly cases where I am awaiting responses from composers. And I now have a special section for pieces that, unfortunately, I believe to be unavailable. If you have any leads on these pieces, or can offer any other additions or corrections, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.

When I take a step back and look at the list, it’s surprisingly robust. There are works by composers and musicians of the stature of Samuel Adler, Georges Barrère, Irwin Bazelon, Thomas Filas, Clare Fischer, Ralph Hermann, Bernard Hoffer, and Claude T. Smith. There are an encouraging number of pieces written in the 21st century. (I also have a new commission in the works, which I’ll hopefully be able to share details about sometime in the next few months.)

A fair number of the pieces have significant obstacles to performing, such as a need for an orchestra or concert band, or electronics, or less-common instruments. But there are a good number that are performable with just woodwind soloist or with woodwind soloist and piano, and some are flexible about instrumentation.

I must imagine for a lot of composers the prospect of writing a multiple-woodwinds piece is something of a hard sell. There’s a very limited number of musicians capable of performing multiple-woodwinds works, and not every doubler plays all the same instruments. If you are interested in playing these kinds of pieces, I hope you will find composers to work with, and let me know so I can add new pieces to my list.

Music for woodwind doublers

Review: Duets for the ‘Double-Reed Doubler’ by Gene Kaplan

A few years ago I reviewed Gene Kaplan’s Duos for Doublers, a set of duets for woodwind doublers playing flute, clarinet, and saxophone. I was pleased to hear from Gene again recently about his new Duets for the ‘Double-Reed Doubler.’ It contains seven duets in a variety of styles, with one doubler playing oboe, clarinet, and alto saxophone, and the other playing clarinet, bassoon, and tenor saxophone. (No flute in either part.)

The books (a set of two, one for each player) are neat and easy to read, with well-placed page turns and spiral binding. Like the Duos for Doublers, this set currently costs $30.

I’m pleased to see more materials making their way into the world that address the growing pressure on woodwind doublers to be skilled double reed players. The idea of “doubling” meaning just flute, clarinet, and saxophone is increasingly a thing of the past. Working on doubling in a chamber music setting, like these duets, is a useful way to improve your skills as a soloist-level player of multiple instruments.

Here’s a demo of one of the duets, called “Machinations:”

I wouldn’t call these duets easy, exactly, but they aren’t overwhelming for doublers with a little background in each instrument. All the instruments stay mostly in their lower and middle registers. The oboe rarely ventures outside the staff, and the bassoon stays squarely in bass-clef range. There are some fast switches (catch me trying to play bassoon with the tenor in my lap in the demo video), some tricky navigation of the clarinet’s throat-to-clarion break, some articulated low notes in the saxophones, and other real but not unusual challenges.

These duets are a fun an interesting challenge if you have a doubler friend to practice with. Head over to Gene’s website to get your copy.

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.

Read more

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.

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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.