Review: The Woodwind Player’s Cookbook

I’ve been reading The Woodwind Player’s Cookbook, published last year by Meredith Music and edited by Charles West. It’s a collection of 57 pedagogical essays by a pretty impressive roster of woodwind folks. You can download the table of contents here to see the authors and titles.

Most of the articles deal with technique fundamentals on specific instruments, which should make this book valuable to school band directors, but it also works quite well as a handbook for woodwind doublers; in fact, there are several articles that deal specifically with doubling, by Mike Duva, James Nesbit, Elsie Parker, and Albert Regni.

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Eight live microphone tips for woodwind players

If you are a classically-trained woodwind player, playing into a microphone might be a new experience for you.

A rock band that I play in (flute and saxophone) does a lot of shows in small clubs and bars, and the sound guy (or girl—I’m using “sound guy” from here on out, with gender-neutral intent) is usually used to miking vocals, guitar amps, and drum sets, and may or may not know what to do with a woodwind instrument. I can often help things along, and make sure the band and I sound our best, by coming armed with a small amount of knowledge.

Here are some basic tips for looking and sounding like you know what you’re doing. I’m assuming here that you’re not doing anything fancy gear-wise (there are plenty of options if you want to buy a clip-on mic), just showing up with your instrument and using the venue’s basic sound equipment.

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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

6 SPECIAL STUDIES

to

render the fingers and tongue rapidly supple

But this is what really sold me:

NOTICE

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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Review: The Many Sides of Al Gallodoro

I recently picked up a copy of The Many Sides of Alfred Gallodoro, Vol. I from Half.com. (As of this writing, they don’t have any copies left, so you’ll either have to get yours from his own website or from CD Baby. There are sound clips at both sites.)

Mr. Gallodoro is a living legend of woodwind playing: born in 1913, started playing professionally as a teenager, and is still at it. I’ve got him listed on my little woodwind doublers’ hall of fame, and you can read his full official bio here.

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Public domain woodwind clip art

Artist Karen Hatzigeorgiou has posted some charming public domain images of woodwind instruments at her website, like this lovely clarinet. The others are in a similar pen-and-ink (or is it some kind of etching?) style.

clarinet

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Buying woodwind instruments

General advice

The information on this page is intended for beginning and intermediate players, including woodwind doublers who already play another instrument. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Get the advice of a good teacher, preferably one that doesn’t get a sales commission from a music store. It’s okay to ask advice before starting lessons. A good teacher wants you to have a good, working instrument.
  • In fact, be very skeptical of anything you are told by music store salespeople. My students frequently begin lessons with poor, non-working woodwind instruments that were highly recommended by the guitar player working behind the counter. Ask the salesperson to demonstrate the instrument. If they can’t do it, there’s little reason to take their recommendations.
  • The most important consideration for a beginner’s instrument is its condition. Woodwind instruments use pads made of leather, skin, or cork that MUST seal properly. Poorly adjusted instruments are one of the top causes of frustration in beginning players. Don’t waste your time fighting with a leaking instrument. Cosmetic flaws like worn or scratched finish or small dents (except in vital spots such as a flute’s headjoint or saxophone’s neck) do not necessarily affect an instrument’s playability, but may be warning signs of larger problems. It is possible to buy a non-working instrument and have a good technician restore it to playable condition, but it would be a good idea to get their appraisal of the instrument before you buy it.
  • Don’t buy musical instruments from department stores, megastores, or warehouse stores. These temptingly cheap instruments are made from inferior materials and are almost always in poor adjustment. Good repair shops won’t even work on them because they tend to break under the normal strains of routine maintenance.

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Multi-instrument method in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Creole Love Call”

The artist1

Roland Kirk was born in 1935. As an infant, he was blinded, possibly by negligent medical care. He attended the Ohio State School for the blind, where he played in the school band. At the age of sixteen, he led a dance band that performed around the Midwest. It was also at age sixteen that he got the idea to play more than one instrument at once, an innovation he claimed to have received in a dream. He acquired a battery of instruments, including such oddities as the stritch and manzello (obsolete cousins of the saxophone), and set about mastering them individually and in combination.

Kirk recorded as early as 1956, but got little attention until 1960, when critics began to accuse him of gimmickry. Kirk maintained that his unorthodox techniques were born of musical expression rather than cheap showmanship, and his following began to increase.

In 1970, he added “Rahsaan” to his name, having been prompted to do so by another dream.

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Anton von Webern’s Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano, op. 22

The composer

Anton von Webern was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1883. (The predicate von identified those of aristocratic heritage until a 1918 revolution outlawed its use; the composer’s works were published under the name Anton Webern.) His father’s career in mining engineering caused the von Webern family to move several times during Anton’s youth; in Klagenfurt at the turn of the century he studied piano and music theory under Edwin Komauer. He also learned to play the cello and participated in community orchestras. His earliest compositions, for piano and cello, date from this period. In 1902 he was deeply impressed by performances of several Wagner operas, and entered the University of Vienna to study musicology and composition. Before receiving a doctoral degree in 1906, he began studying privately with Arnold Schoenberg.

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