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Topic: Which Reed?

  1. #1

    Which Reed?

    I have a number which begins with two baritone vocal solos (different characters in a musical theater score). The orchestration is light. For the first verse, 6 pizz violins play an ostinato figure, in unison, an octave above the first singer. For the second verse, a single woodwind takes over the violin part and soft accompanying piano chords are added below. A string bass plays the bass line (pizz) under both verses.

    I am seeking advice on which reed instrument to use in the second verse. My available instruments are a clarinet or a flute. The problem is that the range is roughly from Middle C to an octave above. If I use the clarinet, the player would often have to play throat tones and repeatedly transition over the break. If I use the flute, it would be primarily in its lowest (and presumably weakest) octave.

    I am primarily concerned with tone quality I might expect in a live performance (assuming professional caliber musicians). I want to minimize the possibility of intonation problems or variation. I am concerned about the smoothness of the transitions over the break if the clarinet is used. I wonder if the bottom octave of the flute will "speak" clearly enough, or get a bit muddy. I am not worried about the volume because there is very little else going on and the vocalist will have prominence anyway. It is also likely that the singers and pit will be amplified.

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  2. #2

    Re: Which Reed?

    I am a clarinetist and a reasonably good one (Master Degree in Performance on Clarinet from Northwestern University). I can say that what you describe as being a problem in the throat tones is not a big problem for the caliber musician you are talking about. I have played many pieces that are in that area of the clarinet. I also have heard other clarinetists do the same (many of a higher caliber than I). That problem that you discuss is mainly an amateurs problem. On a fine clarinet and played by a fine clarinetist, this should be no problem. The clarinet has a larger range than the flute and fits well in same range as a violinist. It also has somewhat of a similar tone quality that matches a violin sound very well. I would not be afraid of putting a clarinet player on the part you describe for your piece.

    I hope my comments are helpful and I wish you the best of luck in the development of your piece.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong


  3. #3

    Re: Which Reed?

    Do you have two players? Or just one player doubling the Clar and Fl?

    If you have two players why not have them both play the part, blending the two sounds together? You might not hear the Flute but it would "color" the clarinet sound.

    If one player I would go with the Clarinet as stated above.
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
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  4. #4

    Re: Which Reed?

    Thanks for your excellent suggestions. I do have two reed players available, so I could double the part. But it is also good to know that the clarinet can handle it alone. The orchestration books I have read make such a big deal about the break and throat tones that I wasn't sure how much of a consideration it should be if the score is to be played by professionals. I'm guessing that I will probably go with the solo clarinet, but I'll try both to see how they sound.

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  5. #5
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: Which Reed?

    Hi ejr,

    Great info/suggestions from Rich and Ed ... I agree.

    If the flute color is a must, Broadway pit orchestrators would more than likely bring in 'the cousin' for the flute chair ... an alto flute, whose strongest and most desirable range is in the first octave and a half ... ideal for your passage.

    Frank D'Erasmo
    FABD Music - Arrangements-Orchestrations
    All Styles ... Specializing in Jazz, Theater, Latin & Pop

    Garritan JaBB, GPO, CoMB, World, GAS, Stradivari Violin & GigaStudio. Sonar X2 Producer, Pro Tools, Performer & Finale.

  6. #6

    Re: Which Reed?

    Thanks, Frank.

    It actually did cross my mind to use an alto flute for the passage, but I decided against it for the following reasons:

    (a) it would be the only place in my score where an alto flute is used (and, therefore, hard to justify the extra expense in an eventual production)

    (b) I wasn't sure whether the alto flute was actually stronger than the standard flute in the range in question. (Thanks for clarifying that for me).

    The orchestration books I have read say to use the alto flute for notes below Middle C, but also caution that it is a weak instrument and advise doubling it with another alto flute (or another instrument).

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  7. #7

    Re: Which Reed?

    Thanks again, Rich. Your advice on the clarinet and its similarities to the violin clarified the use of this instrument for me. I had largely been using it for solo work and accompaniment for vocals in its lowest register, to double the bass clarinet an octave higher, and occasionally in its high register over the brass when the flute isn't strident enough and the piccolo would be in its weakest register.

    I have reworked several places in my score to have the clarinet in its middle register take over the violin part, providing some welcome relief. I have also used in unison with the first violins to emphasize the part. I only have 6 violins in the score. Usually, when I divide them, it's for a pad, where I want the parts to be of equal strength. When I want the first violins to play the melody line, I have been scoring them to be played louder than the second violins and two cellos that make up the rest of the string section or double the first violin with the flute at the octave. Doubling the first violin part with the clarinet at the unison gives me another alternative that is more satisfying than what I had done in some places.

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