Okay, I know I really take to heart what the orchestration books say about the "difficult" or "problem" areas of various instruments and go out of my way to avoid them. But I'm in a real spot with several of my pieces and I'm wondering how strictly I have to adhere to all these rules.
Here's the situation: I am nearly finished orchestrating a musical that I wrote. My pit orchestra has four reed players. One of them primarily plays bassoon, but occassionally doubles on the bass clarinet. (He also doubles on a Bb Clarinet in a couple numbers where I don't need a reed bass and the part would be a little too agile for the French Horn). So far, so good.
But I have two numbers where I need the Bass Clarinet as the lowest wind instrument for the bulk of the tune and it also has to go into the middle ("thoat") range sometimes (concert Eb below middle C, up to the top of the bass staff). Ordinarily, I would use the bassoon for numbers like this. But I don't want to because the clarinet just sounds better and I have used the bassoon so much all ready that I need a little variety. The other three reeds are occupied and the French Horn is either being used as well or sounds a bit to muddy if used there.
In one number, I am contrasting the verses (where the strings, piano, and flute predominate) with the choruses (which feature a pad consisting of the French Horn, over a Bb Clarinet and Bass Clarinet.) The Bass Clarinet is basically sustaining the G#, Db and E below middle C in the chords. In the verses, the Bass Clarinet drops down to its "normal" lower range, alternating with the cello.
In the other number, I have a relatively fast moving ostinato that lasts for an entire verse. Orginally, I had the Bb Clarinet playing it alone. Then, trying to sing the line, I decided that it would probably be too difficult for one musician to play. (I kept running out of breath.) Since the tempo is in 5/4 time and chiefly consists of 3-beat motifs followed by 2-beat "answer" phrases and vice versa, I thought it would be a good idea to try alternating the Bb Clarinet with the Bass Clarinet. But this would put the Bass Clarinet into its throat tones a lot, over and over again, in this verse. (In the rest of the song, the Bass Clarinet plays in its "normal", low register.) I tried substituting the Bassoon, but I found the difference in timber between it and the clarinet a little too noticable. This section is just one iteration of an ostinato pattern that substitutes for a pad between the bass line and the melody in the treble clef.
All I have to go by is what this sounds like on my DAW. I am using Westgate's Clarinet sample libraries with Kontakt 2 (and the Bassoon sample libaries that came with Kontakt.) Both of the above parts sound just fine with these instruments. The Bass Clarinet is a part of a harmony pad (in one case consisting of sustained notes, and in the other as part of a moving repetitive riff). Since, hopefully, this will one day be played by live pit musicians, I want to be sure that I am not giving them anything that is technically impossible or unreasonably difficult to play. I know Broadway pit musicians can play virtually anything and make it sound great. But, having been in show business for most of my life, I know the harsh reality is that most shows never make it to Broadway and those that do must first be successfull elsewhere and I want to make sure it's playable by any reasonably good musician. (A little difficult is okay with me. But impossible, or only playable by a few of the greatest musicians is not.)
I would appreciate any feedback from bass clarinet players - or bassoon players who double on the bass clarinet. Thanks.
(And BTW - I'd still like to see a real Broadway/musical theater thread here!)