I got an interesting email recently. I’ve edited it heavily and fictionalized almost all the details, since I’m using it here without permission, but you’ll get the idea:
I found your web page through a Google search. My company is presenting a themed cruise for classical music lovers departing from Seattle in February, featuring performances by a full symphony orchestra.
I am looking to hire a woodwind doubler to serve as a sort of human insurance policy, should something happen to one of our woodwind players while we are out to sea. I’m wondering if you know anyone in the area who would be interested. We will rehearse in Seattle before departure. Compensation is room and board on the ship and travel to the Hawaiian islands, plus $50 per service to attend all rehearsals, and $100 per concert if called upon to perform. I need someone who can play flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, and the repertoire is standard symphonic fare: Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, etc.
Let me know if there’s anyone you could recommend for this. There’s a nearby university with a degree program in multiple woodwinds, so I figure there must be a number of students or graduates who are available. I would like to hire someone in the area, since unfortunately we can’t pay for travel to Seattle.
Eddie Skousen, President
Classical Cruises, Inc.
I’ll confess to being sort of fascinated by the idea of being hired as a kind of utility backup for an orchestral woodwind section. And I did put out a call for some potential hires, but didn’t get any nibbles. It’s a creative idea, but there are a number of practical obstacles:
- Only a small subset of doublers can cover all of those instruments at even semi-professional level. It seems that many doublers are primarily saxophonists, so even if you can find someone with good flute, clarinet, and double reeds skills, there’s a good possibility that you’re hiring someone to play everything but their strongest instrument!
- The pay scale indicated above hasn’t been altered from the original email. Though musicians’ fees vary widely based on location and a number of other factors, these numbers look quite low to me, especially considering there are no guaranteed performances. “Eddie” was looking for a relatively rare and highly skilled musician, but offering compensation that seemed rather amateurish. I expressed this opinion in a return email, and Eddie did indicate some willingness to work with a potential hire on this, since even substantially higher pay would be cheaper than bringing along a separate sub for each instrument.
- I also mentioned to Eddie that this seemed like potentially a very high-pressure gig, with the doubler needing to be prepared to cover any of four principal spots or four second parts at a moment’s notice. Playing one principal woodwind chair is pressure enough! Eddie clarified that the doubler would most likely cover second parts, and the regular second players would be prepared to take over the principal parts if needed. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine a satisfactory rehearsal situation: I would definitely want to rehearse each part I would be expected to cover, but would the regular orchestra members be willing to hand over their own rehearsal time?
- Even for departing from a fairly major city (not actually Seattle), I fear that Eddie may not be casting a wide enough net to find someone willing and able. The existence of a nearby multiple woodwinds degree program probably doesn’t guarantee as many local doublers as he is thinking. I graduated from two such programs; each of those programs reached a peak enrollment of two students while I was there, and each had had zero enrolled for several years within recent memory.