Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oliver, Oliver....

... *$&%@!

Been playing that show for two weekends now, and the main theme is driving me to distraction. It's worse, probably, because I'm covering the bassoon book (on bass clarinet--more on that in a moment), and the bassoon is the first to play that theme. Solo. Unaccompanied. And it's one of those tunes that glues itself into your aural memory for several days after hearing it, so you get to enjoy it well into the next week. Argh.

So exactly how does one cover a bassoon part on bass clarinet? Originally, my plan was to transpose the book from the bassoon key (bass clef and in C) to the bass clarinet's key (treble clef, Bb), but that was before a) I ended up having to re-work two of my classes for fall, and b) I actually got a look at the book. It's the small orchestra book--about 70 pages of stuff that includes bassoon rather prominently, and there isn't enough time in my universe to transcribe the whole thing. I was actually starting to panic when a random perusal of Craigslist enabled plan B, which was to play the show on my newly-acquired contra-alto clarinet. I bought the horn from a local composer, and it's a beast! The range of the instrument goes down to low Eb (the lowest Gb on a piano), and since it's keyed in Eb, playing a bass clef part in the key of C is possible by reading it as though it were in treble clef and adding three sharps to the key signature (as well as reversing a lot of accidentals). It's not difficult, exactly, but it does take some getting used to, especially when lines of sixteenth notes are flying by, and some are also in tenor clef, which shifts everything down one note or one space. Finally, throw in the stuff I have to take down an octave because it's out of the contra-alto's practical range (pretty much anything above high C), and you end up with music that keeps me on my toes. I know every serious woodwind doubler deals with this, but it does make reading big band charts seem like a welcome relief. The only other little snag I deal with is the odd part that ends up being impossible to play once it's transposed... and unfortunately, that solo section on the main theme falls in that category. I dealt with this by putting the first two numbers into the key of Bb instead and playing them on bass clarinet, which makes them tricky but still playable. It means lugging two instruments out instead of one, but there was no way I was going to make that section work otherwise. Ho-hum.

Of course, situations like these always have an upside, and in this case it's that I'm having to get the bass clarinet out and work on my chops a bit, which reminds me of how much I like playing that instrument. It's sort of like the regular clarinet, but with a prettier low register and some extra notes. Mine goes down to low C (low Bb on the piano), though, so there's quite a bit of extra keywork on the bottom that I don't have to cope with on any other instrument, and it's taking up some practice time reminding my pinkies of what all those keys DO. Still, it's fun, and the more doubling I do, it seems, the more I'm called upon to do. Cool.

On other musical fronts, I've taken a hiatus from the Tuesday evening band over at GCC because I got the opportunity (courtesy of a friend) to play bari sax in a really good big band that rehearses at the musicians' union on Tuesday nights. The bandleader has worked as a copyist for decades, and because of that he's got access to one of the the most incredible jazz libraries ever assembled. The guys in the band are also really good players--most are either working pros or have been at some time in their lives--so it's kicking my butt from a playing perspective, but they seem to be okay with what I bring to the section so far. I kinda spend weeks looking forward to Tuesdays rolling around now, but it definitely makes all the practicing worthwhile.
I've also been getting calls to play/sub on the lead alto chair in a couple of bands, which also forces me to develop my reading/phrasing chops to a higher level. It's a little nerve-wracking, but I'm getting more and more confident as I do it. I'm also starting to enjoy playing alto again. Go figure.

With all this music happening it's kind of a drag to have real life intrude, but the fall quarter managed to sneak up on me again and I'm prepping like mad. This term I'm teaching two sections of Strategic Maangement (one in each department, so each has to be prepped separately), and one of Principles of Management. The survey class meets three days a week from 8am-9am, which is going to make things interesting, me being even less of a morning person than most of my students. I may have to open those sessions with a round of jumping jacks or something... we'll see.

More later though--this week is fall conference, which means endless college/department meetings. Argh again.