Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thoughts on Doubling

I actually don't mind doubling that much, it can be a nice change of pace, plus, show tunes are just so much fun! It's been great exploring these instruments again, especially since I've been really aiming to build a foundation on both instruments, not just patch the holes just enough that I can survive the gig.

It can be incredibly frustrating to go from one instrument where one can play musically in all twelve keys, with good technique and sound to one where creating a sound is challenge enough, let alone when playing in F# major! However, having the chance to start fresh, begin at "Square 1" again with the knowledge gained from 15 years of musical training and experience is really great. I'm able to progress fairly quickly, even when practice time is slim or irregular, because I know now what I should be aiming for (unlike when I was in the 5th grade).

Doubling is not without issue, though. The resistance that clarinet/sax have is something that I'm not used to facing with the flute, which adds to endurance issues caused by the use of different muscles. It's about more than just playing the instrument though.

An added challenge for this gig specifically is the jazz element. Last time I played jazz, I was in seventh grade - and was playing the Trombone 4 part on contralto clarinet. Yes, that's correct. Contralto clarinet. Jazz. 12 years ago. I've been doing a lot of listening to various jazz groups and styles, and looking up jazz notations and learning how to perform them in a representative manner. I'm not looking to be an amazing jazz cat (or whatever those guys refer to themselves as [See?! I'm clueless!]), I'm just trying to do them respect by my performance.

One major downside to doubling is the amount of "tools" you need to get the job done. For this gig alone, I need 5 instruments - piccolo, flute, clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax. Thankfully I already own four of those, but I didn't have good reeds for clarinet and alto ($$). I didn't have a triple stand to hold the clarinet and saxes ($$$), I don't own a soprano mouthpiece, reeds, or ligature ($$$) or a soprano sax for that matter ($$$$$$$$$)!

Upfront financial investment is never fun, and this is particularly true when you're poor. I tried to find a soprano sax to rent, but the people who would rent one to me didn't have one available to rent and the people who had one available to rent couldn't (or just wouldn't) rent it to me, even though they had it and I was willing to pay for the time I would have the instrument. At this point, buying the instrument is not an option for me, so I'm just going to have to play the soprano parts on clarinet in the most "saxy" way possible.

As flutists, we're super-spoiled. We buy our instrument, a nice headjoint, and we're done. Not so with reeded instruments - reeds suck. In order to play well, you must first sound like crap while a new reed breaks in. Then you have to do it at least one more time so that if a reed gets broken during a performance, you're not totally screwed. Then do it all again for each reed instrument you're playing. Oh yeah, did I mention that some of the reeds you paid money for won't be good enough for you to actually play one, so you have to throw them away. I must say though, when it actually turns out to be the reed causing a problem, it makes me feel much better about myself. ;)

I'm going to get back to some nice Saturday doubling practice, I've got a couple more reeds to break in!


  1. OK Piccolo Phil, I am a flute and piccolo player. I have not played the oboe since the seventh grade (which was in the Jurassic period) and now I am interested in learning to play in the pit. So where to begin? Do I need to rent a student/band quality clarinet and start teaching myself? Your thoughts?

    1. Hi! Which instrument(s) are you looking to learn? I think a good way to go would be to pick one instrument at a time to learn. If you have musician colleagues that play the instrument you're learning, they might be able to help you find the instrument and tools (reeds, ligatures, etc.) you need to get started. It might be a good idea to rent an instrument at the very beginning just to see if you really want to pursue doubling. Once you decide for sure to go for it though, purchasing an instrument (even a student model) will probably be better in the long run. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you use quality instruments and reeds and an instrument that is in good working condition! A crappy horn WILL make a huge negative impact when learning a new instrument.
      As for playing in pits, being a flute player already, clarinet and sax are the two instruments to learn. Good luck!

  2. I understand you pain Piccolo Phil. I am a flutist first by trade. I am even a principal flutist with and orchestra, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra which also plays Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Opera, Tulsa Oratorio and even a Chamber Music Series. I even have to double, reed double that is some times. Usually it is for touring broadway shows and the summer Light Opera Musical Theatre productions. So I understand all about the investment in instruments, stands, and those gosh darn reeds. A few summers ago we did the 1999 revival version of Kiss Me Kate and I had to play flute, piccolo, B-flat clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax. One of the most stressful and rewarding summers of my life. An experience I would never give up. Save up and gradually get all of the instruments you need. You will thank yourself later on when a call may come that the reed 1 part of some touring show just got sick and they need someone to fill in for three or four weeks of the run. Trust me it has happened!