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Topic: Woodwind Table Chart Question

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  1. #1

    Question Woodwind Table Chart Question

    Hey everyone,

    I've been reading through the Principles of Orchestration both Online and by the Book but I am little bit confused - I know a fair bit about Stringed instruments so the first section wasn't a problem for me but I bought the book to increase my knowledge of woodwind and brass.

    Now when I had a look at the table here I get confused:



    The first column implies that there are two Flutes, two Oboes, Two Clarinets (one of which might play bass clarinet?) and two bassoons. That's fine, aslong as I'm correct that the Clarinet played plays the Bass Clarinet then I get that.

    The middle column and the third to me just loose me.

    For sake of discussion I'll just talk about the middle column:

    The middle column implies that there are 3 flutes, 2 oboes (the third player in the group is present but just plays just an English Horn), 3 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons (and the third player there just plays a Double Bassoon).

    That I think I understand, please correct me if I'm wrong. What I do not understand however, is the parts in brackets:

    Judging by the fact there is nothing above the top line which states (III - Piccolo) I can assume that the third flautist also has the skills to switch to the Piccolo as a secondary instrument meaning that I can notate for the Piccolo.

    But then, if I follow that logic that the secondary instruments are placed in brackets above the players, the part which states (II - Bass Flute) would relate to the 2 Oboes telling me that the secondary Oboe player also plays a Bass Flute, which I reckon is probably incorrect because it would make more sense for a flautist to play another type of flute instead of an Oboeist(?) playing a Bass Flute?

    Basically, what I'm asking is which set of players do the bits in brackets relate to?

    Also, when the book discusses Violinist it labels that the players are divided in desks. Having done some searching on the forums I understand that there are 2 players to each music stand? Is that the same for Violas and Double Bass? And Woodwind? And Brass?

    I hope all this makes sense and I'm really forward to hearing a reply! Thanks!

    Daryl

  2. #2

    Re: Woodwind Table Chart Question

    The chart you're looking at is rather inelegantly laid out, so I can understand your confusion. The following should help straighten things out:

    Middle column

    3 Flutes, the 2nd Flute doubles on Bass flute, and the 3rd Flute doubles on Piccolo. I find it rather odd this arrangement doesn't mention Alto flute, as you would find it more often than Bass flute in orchestrations that use the lower-sounding members of the Flute family. However, the 2nd Flautist would play either.

    2 Oboes, the English horn is a player dedicated to the English horn part. Also, you are correct that woodwind players would not "cross families." This kind of doubling is fairly common in studio work, but unheard of in symphony orchestras.

    3 Clarinets, 2nd Clarinet doubles on Small clarinet (I assume that's Clarinet in E), 3rd Clarinet doubles on Bass clarinet. Unlike the Bass flute, Bass clarinet is not hugely uncommon in orchestrations from the Romantic period forward. However there is also the Alto clarinet, which I think would show up about as often. The 3rd Clarinetist would play either.

    2 Bassoons, the Contrabassoon is a player dedicated to that part.

    Third column

    3 Flutes, the 3rd Flautist doubles on Bass (or more commonly Alto) flute, the Piccolo part has its own player.

    3 Oboes, the English horn part has its own player.

    3 Clarinets, the 2nd Clarinet doubles on Small clarinet (once again, I believe that's Clarinet in E), the Bass (or Alto) clarinet part has its own player. The only modification I would make here is that if a score has both Alto and Bass clarinets, the 3rd Clarinetist would double on the Alto part.

    3 Bassoons, the Contrabasson part has its own player.

    Now just a few notes on practical application:

    First, the Roman numerals in the table indicate how you would group and name the staves in the score. However, these are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. For example, if you wanted an orchestration with 3 Flutes and the 3rd Flute doubling on Piccolo, you would have a Flute I staff, a Flute II staff, then the 3rd staff would be named Flute III (also Piccolo) or something to that effect. The main thing is to make sure that your score staves are clearly named for who is supposed to be playing what.

    Second, if your orchestration calls for players doubling on a part, you'll need to be sure and give the player adequate time to put down one instrument and pick the other one up. The more lead time you can give to your doubling players, the better. Also, be sure to note the change points in the score and the appropriate parts at the beginning of that lead time.

    Third, the size of the woodwind section you would actually use depends how an orchestral piece is to be performed. If it's an electronic performance with a sample library, the sky's the limit and you could use all of your woodwind patches to the hilt. Performance by a live orchestra is, however, another matter. The major symphony orchestras generally have the resources to handle "woodwinds in threes" or "fours" arrangements. Community orchestras tend to be more limited, and using overly ambitious woodwind orchestrations could put your piece out of reach for performance by orchestras that may be more likely to do it otherwise. Generally speaking, I would recommend keeping orchestrations for live performance to woodwinds in pairs unless you know in advance that an orchestra taking on a performance of your composition has the capability of bringing in the additional players for a more expanded woodwind section.

    As to your last question, the Violin sections do have players paired off, with each pair sharing a music stand. I believe that the Violas sit close enough together that they also do this, but I'm not totally sure. All other instruments in the orchestra (including Cellos and Basses) have one stand per player.

    Edit -- I just checked, and all string sections have players paired off and sharing stands. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion do have one stand per player, though.

    Hope this helps!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  3. #3

    Re: Woodwind Table Chart Question

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much for replying to my question in such detail! I really am greatful.

    After reading your description of the middle column it all became clear that it was written so that the higher treble-pitched secondary instruments are above the primary instrument and the lower, bass-pitched secondary instruments are below the primary instrument. Makes sense now I think about it but I wouldn't have got there without your help so thank you so much!

    I have one or two more questions now from reading what you said:

    You said also about how the table misses out that these players could also play the Alto Flute and Alto Clarinet. My question is, is it safe to assume that, in a Woodwind Section organised in threes, the second flautist will be able to play both the bass and alto flute aswell as their standard flute? Are the fingerings on these instruments the same and is the notation the same (with perhaps an 8va or 8vb?) or would the bass flute player have to be able to read the Bass Clef and thus be rarer to come across?

    Also, I'm not composing for a specific Orchestra, I just want to compose as a hobby, I was wondering, would it be safe to assume that every Orchestra checks that the second flautist can play alto and bass flute before they hire them? I assume the bigger Orchestras can pretty much do anything you ask for them too and you did say that you'd be safer off working with a Woodwind group "in pairs" but is it really a case of asking each small Orchestra before writing for them if the second flautist/clarinetist can actually play the alto and bass flute/clarinet?

    The other thing aswell is I have the programming Software Sibelius which is what I want to Compose with, in the instruments it does not have an Alto or a Bass Flute but only a normal Flute, Piccolo and an Eb Flute. Is this an error in the program or do they have alternate names?

    Thanks again for all your help!!! I really appreciate it!

    Daryl

  4. #4

    Re: Woodwind Table Chart Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Daryl Graves View Post
    Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much for replying to my question in such detail! I really am greatful.

    After reading your description of the middle column it all became clear that it was written so that the higher treble-pitched secondary instruments are above the primary instrument and the lower, bass-pitched secondary instruments are below the primary instrument. Makes sense now I think about it but I wouldn't have got there without your help so thank you so much!

    I have one or two more questions now from reading what you said:

    You said also about how the table misses out that these players could also play the Alto Flute and Alto Clarinet. My question is, is it safe to assume that, in a Woodwind Section organised in threes, the second flautist will be able to play both the bass and alto flute aswell as their standard flute? Are the fingerings on these instruments the same and is the notation the same (with perhaps an 8va or 8vb?) or would the bass flute player have to be able to read the Bass Clef and thus be rarer to come across?

    Also, I'm not composing for a specific Orchestra, I just want to compose as a hobby, I was wondering, would it be safe to assume that every Orchestra checks that the second flautist can play alto and bass flute before they hire them? I assume the bigger Orchestras can pretty much do anything you ask for them too and you did say that you'd be safer off working with a Woodwind group "in pairs" but is it really a case of asking each small Orchestra before writing for them if the second flautist/clarinetist can actually play the alto and bass flute/clarinet?

    The other thing aswell is I have the programming Software Sibelius which is what I want to Compose with, in the instruments it does not have an Alto or a Bass Flute but only a normal Flute, Piccolo and an Eb Flute. Is this an error in the program or do they have alternate names?

    Thanks again for all your help!!! I really appreciate it!

    Daryl
    Hi Daryl,

    Glad I could help out. I'm a former bassoonist, and I spent a number of years playing in community orchestras. I stopped peforming about 22 years ago, though, and I hope that my background experience isn't so out of step with the current times that I'm giving you misinformation about what to expect when you try and get your orchestral pieces performed.

    Regarding your Alto/Bass flute question, Bass flute is actually pretty rare because it's not that practical for a lot of orchestral use. There is a significant amount of lag time between when the player starts blowing and the notes sound, so rapid passages are impossible. The Bass flute would be better for sustained notes that add tone color. Also, Alto and Bass flutes can't produce as much sound volume as the standard flute, so their sound could easily get lost among other instruments if the score dynamics are above, let's say, about mp. Alto flute can handle somewhat rapid note passages, but not as fast as the standard flute, and they should always be slurred. The most famous example of Alto flute is Henry Mancini's theme from the classic Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellars. It is a very sensuous sound, and one that you could easily find a place for in orchestration. Bass flute, I'm not so sure about...

    (Funny story I'd like to relate. Years ago I was in a community orchestra, and we were going to perform Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Probably the most famous flute solo in the orchestral literature. For some reason, the conductor thought it would sound better if the Flautist would play it with Alto flute. He wasn't quite satisfied, so he asked the Flautist to try it with a Bass flute. We all agreed that it sounded like a moose in heat! Luckily the conductor came to his senses after that experiment, and the Flautist went back to playing his solo on the standard C Flute -- much to his relief, I might add.)

    Now, as to what you could expect with instrument doubling capabilities in community orchestras, that depends on the orchestra. Some will be strictly amateur with little or no funding to hire outside musicians, so it's a matter of what they can handle with the woodwind players they have. Others are a mix of amateur and professional, and they can generally afford to hire outside players as needed. Then there are a few that are fully professional. We have an orchestra here in southern California called the Pasadena Symphony. Although it would be considered a community orchestra, it is staffed entirely with professional musicians. (Sadly, our bad economy has had a serious impact on funding for a lot of things, and I fear for what this may be doing to the state of orchestral performance on the community level.)

    I also forgot to mention youth and college orchestras. We have two excellent examples of both in the Los Angeles area with the Young Musicians' Foundation and the University of Southern California orchestra. USC has a world-class music school, so their orchestra's woodwind section would certainly be capable of handling orchestrations that call for doubled instruments. However, if your local colleges don't have much of a music department, then whatever orchestra they can scrape together probably couldn't do it. My best advice would be to do some research on what orchestra(s) you have in your area, then contact them and find out what their woodwind players are able to do.

    Regarding Sibelius, it sounds like its instrument patch libary doesn't include Alto or Bass flutes. If it were there, the Alto flute's alternate name would be Flute in G. (By the way, I just made a discovery. From Wikipedia's article on the Bass flute: "Prior to the mid-20th century, the term 'bass flute' was sometimes used, especially in Great Britain, to refer to the alto flute instead (for example: the part for 'bass flute in G' in Gustav Holst's The Planets)." Since the table you were looking at is very obviously British, it explains the Allto/Bass confusion.) I use GPO4, and its woodwind library includes Alto and Bass flute patches. If your version of Sibelius came bundled with a GPO library, then you'll be missing a number of instruments that are available through the full version of GPO. This is also the case with Finale (which is what I use), although I think MakeMusic has some sort of arrangement with Garritan where one can upgrade to GPO4 without having to pay full cost. You may want to look into whether Sibelius has a similar arrangement. If not, you'll have to buy GPO4 as a new customer, but it's only $150. A lot of bang for the buck there, so definitely worth it if you have to go that route.

    Well, I think I might be in competition for the world's longest forum post here ! Anyway, it's always a pleasure to help my fellow musicians when I can, so I'm glad you could get something useful out of all this.

    Best of luck!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

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