On November 7, 1995 Earl wrote:|
You have posed a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Of all of the fascinating topics posed on this list, doubling is the only one to which I feel a completely secure degree of competence in replying to. A brief background may be useful at this point. As a child I began as a saxophone player. I continued my studies and development on that instrument until well into my thirties. At the age of seventeen I entered an undergraduate program at university and graduated four years later with a degree in performance clarinet. The clarinet had been added to my daily dose of practice and I continued to study clarinet in addition to saxophone for the next couple of decades. As a fourth year undergraduate I was playing a great deal of jazz, commercial, and show music and was encountering flute doubles more and more often so flute was added to list when in my early twenties. When it was time for graduate school I chose to attend Michigan State University where I did a Masters degree as a woodwind specialist - flute major. Degree requirements were such that I was required to add a fourth instrument to my bag of tricks and oboe was my choice. Dealing with four lessons each week is no small task. I recall one day on which I was scheduled to play four performance exams on four different instruments. Upon entering the room for the third time, one of the jury members announced me as the *schizophrenic*. I can't begin to describe the frustration caused by attempting to maintain a high performance standard on that many instruments.
Now on to a few comments that will hopefully contain some intelligence based on much experience. There are many wonderful woodwind doublers who contribute greatly to the world of music but they are confined mostly to the realms of jazz and commercial music making. One need only sit in the pit of a typical Broadway musical or a recording studio during a film taping to observe the vast array of instruments surrounding the woodwind players. A standard five chair saxophone section of a big band will include all varieties of flutes, clarinets, oboes, and bassoons. What you will not see is a woodwind player doubling on a brass instrument.
Without writing a dissertation I would like to say a few words about various woodwind embouchures and how they relate to each other in a practical way. The slack jaw and reasonably loose musculature of the saxophone embouchure seems to have minimal detrimental affect on a flute embouchure. The general tightness of the clarinet and oboe embouchure can be extremely damaging to flute embouchure. The problem as I see it lies in the difficulty in learning refined control with tight muscles as opposed to the same refined control with minimal muscle tension. When you focus attention on one you are in effect damaging the other. With the reed family one must roll the lower lip (both lips for oboe/bassoon) over the lower teeth and use the lip as a cushion for the vibrating source. This contact does tend to deaden the sensitivity of the lower lip slightly which can be quite a problem in flute playing. While maintaining multi embouchures can be a daunting task it can be accomplished. In my opinion, this can be done only to a certain level. A fully affective and functional embouchure for any instrument requires years of intense focus and regularly confusing the muscles only serves to limit the degree to which the embouchure can be developed.
Each woodwind has a myriad of technical skills to be mastered. Details regarding articulation, fingering, and wind speed/intensity are different for each instrument. I would include piccolo as a clearly separate instrument with regard to this aspect of doubling. One can learn many ways to use the tongue, one can memorize millions of fingerings, and one can even learn to vary the speed and intensity of blowing. The problem here is that attempting to internalize these functions so that they become completely natural and second nature can be a life long task on a single instrument. Trying to accomplish this on many instruments is a lot to ask.
With regard to doubling on flute and any brass instrument I would have to say that I can think of no more damaging activity to a good flute embouchure than to spend time tightening the cheek muscles and buzzing the lips.
Several years ago I had a high school flute student who had been progressing quite well and was seriously considering entering a music program at university the following year. For reasons unknown to me she began getting worse instead of better with each passing week. Her sound was deteriorating at an alarming rate and I was dredging my mind to find a solution to the difficulty. After several weeks of this problem she entered a lesson and asked if I knew how to finger a particular note on the trumpet. When I asked why, she explained that several weeks prior, her band teacher had convinced her to play trumpet in the school band because he needed a good player in that section and needed her help. After a short but informative lecture and a phone call to the band teacher, that was her last day of being a trumpet player. She has long since gone on to earn a bachelors degree as a flute major. That was my first encounter with the brass/flute double and fortunately my last. That young student came precariously close to losing a potential career due to an innocent error.
After nearly three decades of dedicating myself to becoming the best woodwind doubler that I could be I made a conscious decision to discard the entire project and become a full fledged flute player. The frustration of never being good enough at any one instrument became overwhelming and fears of not being able to earn a living as just a flute player began to fade. Five years ago I played my last Dixieland gig as a clarinet player, announced that this was the last time that I would be swabbing the clarinet and that was that. The case has never been re-opened. The following year was spent studying in London and practicing from six to eight hours each day. I discovered what I knew had been missing and I have never been more pleased with my humble playing skills.
Sorry to have gone on for so long but your posting presented a clear opportunity for me to ramble on about my thirty year journey of discovery with regard to doubling. As a final comment I would say that if you enjoy playing many instruments, if your career and artistic goals are being satisfied, and if frustration is not part of your musical experience then keep right on doing it. For me the bottom line is that good music is made my musicians who love what they are doing and if you find that love through doubling then go for it and love it.
All my best,
I don't mean to disagree with your statement but I would like to add that embouchure doubling damage must be considered in relation to the type and level of performance. It is rare indeed to find a jazz oriented woodwind doubler who is able to execute a demanding work from the flute repertoire with the same degree of control and sensitivity as one who has not confused the lips through regular multiple embouchures. I don't mean to downplay the value and importance of doubling and must point out that there are and have been many amazing doublers at the highest levels of performance. What I do mean to point out is that there is always a price to pay, however small, when identical muscles are asked to perform opposite functions on a regular basis. The doubling issue is one which I have spent the past 25 years analyzing and studying in great depth. My first embouchure was saxophone; then it was a BMus as a clarinet major; and for my master's degree the flute was my major. As each instrument was added the parctice schedule grew and the manipulation of multiple embouchures became quite an issue for me. At one point I actually had the courage (or stupidity might be more correct) to perform the Hindemith Sonata for Saxophone, Stravinsky Three Pieces for clarinet, and Messiaen Le Merle Noir on the same program. That was a one time only test that I would most certainly not choose to repeat and would not recommend to anyone else.
I have chosen to pack in the doubling life and focus entirely on the flute. I must say that discovering a consistant embouchure has been very much like meeting up with an old friend that I had all but forgotten about. We are getting along quite well now and we become more intimate with each passing day. Doubling is fine but it does come with a cost.
All my best,
I also found the same thing to be true for about twenty years. The problems were manageable and continued to diminish to a point. As my expectations and critical judgement grew it became apparent to me that multiple embouchures were holding me back as a flute player. My choice to leave the realm of jazz and musical theatre pits was anything but easy and very much experimental at first. I am now completely convinced that my suspicions about doubling embouchures were true, at least for me. I don't profess to be a world standard setting flute player but for the first time in my life I do feel at home with making the flute sing. I must conclude that this level of comfort is due to the consistancy of expectation placed on my embouchure.
All my best,
This debate over the relative merits of doubling has come up on the list quite often over the past year and it is clear that there are many opinions regarding the practice. I would like to applaud your incredibly upbeat and positive attitude. Your enthusiasm and search for the joy of music is most clear and I am sure that your students have gained much from that approach to music making. Congratulations on landing that oboe chair in the community orchestra.
When I speak in the negative with regard to doubling, my comments are aimed at those who aspire to the flutistic achievements of the likes of Galway, Lloyd, Wye, Bennett, Baker, Snowden, Bell, Milan, Still, Nicolet, Artaud, Baxtresser, Still, Peck, Kujala, Smith, Monroe, Ben-Meir, Zook, Hutchings, Davies, Nolan, Winn, Scott....the list could go on forever. I could be incorrect but I do believe that the most serious doubling done by any of these high flute achievers would be flute/piccolo. There is a place for high quality doubling and a valuable place it is indeed. I have nothing but respect for fine doublers and I know all too well how much amazing skill and determination is required to become a member of that select group. I once witnessed Romeo Penque (sp?) in a recording studio in Burbank where he was surrounded by more woodwind instruments than you can imagine. His seemingly effortless skill and dexterity at changing from one to the other was nothing less than amazing. How could one not recognize the incredible musical talent in that?
I am afraid that you and I must agree to disagree when it comes to the recommendation that young students should begin doubling after only one year of study on their chosen instrument. I will refrain from digging out my whip. I make it a policy to never lash people with positive attitudes like yours. I do believe that learning any instrment requires a sufficient amount of time to establish a comfort zone and stability before a new and different technique can be managed as well. It seems to me that one year is somewhat short.
I am certainly not on an anti-doubling campaign. If it were not for doubling then I would have starved to death long ago. I am fully aware of the value, virtue, and necessity of those skills but I do feel that it is important to bear in mind that there are important considerations to be taken in to account when managing more than one embouchure and technique.
All my best,
The topic of doubling has come up often in the past and the range of opinion is indeed mixed on the subject. I would suggest that the amount of risk you take when working with other embouchures is entirely dependent on the nature of your performance requirements or desires. If your daily salary is derived entirely from your ability to execute the standard repertoire demanded by the orchestra, chamber music, and solo venues, then my recommendation would likely be to refrain from messing with different embouchures. Having been a dedicated doubler for 20 years, it is my experience that the flute embouchure *will* be affected by serious work on other instruments but that a reasonably high standard of playing is still possible with a thoughtful and dedicated approach to practice. Since we are each unique, there can be no real consensus on how much variance of activity any particular embouchure will easily tolerate. In my own experience I became a doubler quite naturally. By the time I was 21 I was studying saxophone, clarinet, and flute in a very serious way. Managing all those teachers, lessons, techniques, and embouchures was no small task but it did have many rewards. Over the years I have taken private lessons on three instruments with 14 or 15 teachers. 9 of those were teachers with whom I spent extended lengths of time. I can't help but think that there is much value in broadening ones scope when exposed to such a wide range of music making approaches.
For many years my income depended entirely on those doubling skills and I was allowed to play in a multitude of musical styles. From jazz to pop to classical; it was all there and I loved every minute of it. However, after 20 years of doubling I came to the conclusion that something was missing and the solution might be found in an attempt to focus my energies on a single instrument. I chose the flute. I can honestly say that over the past few years I have discovered a sensitivity and comfort with the flute (especially embouchure) that I had never known before. For the first time in my life I now think of myself as a flute player and not a doubler. I wouldn't change the past one bit but I often wonder what the results might have been had I found a focus much earlier in life.
For what it is worth, these are more ramblings from a converted doubler.
All my best,
I have no intention of hitting you at all, nor do I strongly disagree with much that you have said. As a matter of fact I would say that you have pretty well summed up much of what I belive to be true. I hold fast to the belief that if I do have a broad appreciation for the vast world of music then I owe much of that appreciation to the fact that I did spend so much time in the field as a doubler. I don't believe that even one moment of my studies and practice on other instruments were in any way a waste of time and that many specific musical insights can be gained from making music on different instruments. My clarinet playing did indeed show me the great value of tone without vibrato, playing jazz on saxophone provided an insight into the realm of improvisation and creativity that can be so valuable when interpreting all repertoire, working musical theatre provided wonderful insights into the areas of being flexable and the need for transposition skills. I would say that being a doubler for as long as I was is now one of my greatest strengths as a flute player.
Where I think that we do disagree is with regard to the affect that multiple embouchures has on the lips. In my experience there was a huge affect on my flute lips and this reality was not fully clear to me until I had spent one full year (average practice of 6 hours/day) as a non doubler. I discovered a sensitivity and control of the lips that I had never known before and my flute playing improved more in one year than it had in the previous twenty put together. You must understand that choosing to set a new or different direction after establishing a career as a doubler was no cavalier decision. Under no circumstances would I ever mean to imply that doubling is an activity that must be avoided if one is to be a flute player. I cherish those years and those experiences very much indeed. I do hold fast to the idea that doubling does have an affect which must be attended to if one is intent on becoming the best possible flute player one can. My final word on the subject - for now anyway - doubling is not bad but it can be difficult.
All my best,