For Christmas 2017, I decided to go all out and delve into the unknown… I decided to write my own arrangement of Walking in the Air from The Snowman, and play all five parts. Traditionally, a wind quintet would have a French Horn rather than a Tenor Saxophone, but seeing as that’s not one of the instruments I own (or can play!), I decided to pop a saxophone in there instead. (We all know reeds are better anyway…)
I think the arrangement works fairly well. I do love the music from the Snowman, and it always makes me feel very Christmassy, so it was nice to be able to spend a bit of time working on the arrangement. Every instrument gets the tune at some point, although in retrospect, the bassoon part really is very exhausting as there is nowhere to breathe! I’ve sat in many band rehearsals over the years complaining about the bassoon part always being repetitive and having no rests, so I really ought to have known better. Whoops!
One of the biggest issues with putting this arrangement together was actually dealing with the difficulties in maintaining decent tuning. When you play in a band, you automatically tune and adjust to the instruments around you. Unfortunately, when you are recording each instrument separately, you don’t have this luxury. Although the timing is fairly accurate, thanks to the metronome in my earpiece, there are definitely one or two dodgy moments in here!
But you get the idea. And anyway, it wouldn’t really be Christmas without one of my silly videos, would it?
I’ve had a pretty busy few weeks pottering about as multi-instrumentalist… Most notably spent sitting in the pit for a production of The Addams Family. Ideal for Halloween, I think you’ll agree!
My part (Reed 1) was for piccolo, flute, clarinet and alto saxophone. I also had the pleasure of sitting with a friend of mine (also called Emily, who also plays woodwind instruments… it’s all very confusing) who was playing Reed 2. Her part was flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. So 9 instruments between 2 Emilys.
There’s really nothing like the joy of being surrounded by so many instruments. You have to be switched on when you only have a few bars rest to change from one to the next. It really challenges the brain, lips and fingers… And you get a huge sense of satisfaction from being able to play so many different styles of music in such a short space of time.
I highly recommend picking up a second instrument if you are already fairly confident on another. Especially because most musical theatre pits aren’t big enough for one player per instrument. Every musical director is delighted when they meet a multi-instrumentalist, so if you want the gigs, prepare to be flexible!
However, do be careful to watch your embouchure if you’re planning to pick up multiple woodwind instruments. You don’t want to pick up a saxophone for the first time, only to find you can no longer play your oboe a few weeks later! The trick to it is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
One of the biggest frustrations for any music teacher is DEFINITELY listening to the same excuses every single week!
“I didn’t have time to practise” (No time at all? Did you have time to watch TV? Did you have time to play video games? Could you have woken up 10 minutes earlier?)
“I had too much homework” (why don’t you think of music practice as part of your homework?)
“I lost my music” (hmmm… you seem to have found it in time for your lesson though… anyway there is plenty of other ways to practise if you have genuinely lost your music – blog to follow!)
“It was my birthday/ My friend came over/ My auntie came round for tea” (did that last the whole week?)
“I couldn’t remember how the piece goes”
Ah. There we go. That is definitely the one I have heard the most. That one there right at the bottom.
I couldn’t remember how the piece goes.
Now, no matter how hard we music teachers work at teaching children which note is which, and what the different rhythms look and sound like, the simple fact is that it IS actually pretty complicated learning an instrument. And even if you know that you are looking at a crotchet G or a semibreve C in THEORY, when you are trying to put everything together and remember which finger goes where and trying to keep a steady pulse, sometimes it is all just a bit fiddly.
(I think we forget that when we are teaching. Try learning to speak a new foreign language if you need a reminder of what it’s like to take in so much new information at once!)
Anyway, so what usually happens is…
My pupil will tell me they can’t remember the tune
I remind them how to work out note is which, how to work out the rhythm, etc
We hum it or sing it
And after a little bit of practice, we have made progress!
But with only one lesson a week, that progress can feel pretty slow. Especially when your student is constantly reminding you that the reason they started playing the saxophone is because they want to play the theme song from The Simpsons, which is definitely a long way off at the moment.
So I started looking online to see what help I could find. I figured there was really no excuse for forgetting how a piece goes if you can hear it whenever you want to. (As it happens, I have never heard this excuse used when we are learning how to play Jingle Bells or the theme tune from Eastenders)
And finally I hit the jackpot – people have been uploading videos of themselves practising for some of their grade exams on YouTube! But there were lots of flute and clarinet videos, and little to no double reed videos. And that’s a pretty big disadvantage for young oboists and bassoonists, especially when you consider that they are often the only one playing that instrument in their school orchestra or band as well, so they may not know anyone else who can help.