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Topic: Using Piccolo

  1. #1

    Using Piccolo

    In lesson 1, Rimsky-Korsakov gives the piccolo a bad rap, I think, but for good reasons. He dispenses with extreme ranges of individual woodwinds because they are too hard to manage, out of tune, and they generally do not produce an artistic effect. For the most part that is true even today as it was then. Woodwind players today can handle extreme range and technical playing in all ranges, but the tone leaves a lot to be desired--even "useless" as he describes in most cases. One notable exception is the piccolo. Piccolos in RK's time were difficult, leaky instruments played poorly almost all the time. Nobody specialized in the instrument, and the piccoloist generally prefered to be playing flute, recalcitrantly accepting the piccolo assignment because somebody had to. But that has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Now, piccolos are first-rate instruments, costing many thousands of dollars, and good piccolo players are in demand. Go to any flute convention and you'll see a lot of them. Far from being shrill and useless except for occasional high passages, the piccolo has a very useful sound throughout its range. The lower range has a "wooden" tone (many fine piccolos are made of wood, by the way, and sound quite different from the silver, gold, and platinum models available). It's not merely a double of the flute's second octave, but has a character quite its own which is great for happy, lively, upbeat passages. Think of an Irish penny whistle, but with orchestral quality. Most piccolos have a low end of D (4th line treble clef, written an octave lower). They are indispensible in concert bands, where often you will find two or three of them (how do you tune three piccolo players? Shoot two. ) To compare the same pitches played on a flute and a piccolo in the flute's 2nd octave and piccolo's 1st, the flute will sound "wetter" and sweeter, while the piccolo will sound dryer and breathier, but with the same technical facility. Give it a little room in the lower register; it lacks the projection of a flute at the same pitches, but that changes dramatically in the 2nd octave, where a single piccolo can be heard over an entire tutti orchestral passage.

    I just thought I'd mention this, since a lot has changed since RK wrote his book, and I think the piccolo has probably changed more than most of the other woodwinds due to quality pressures exerted simply by the sheer numbers of available players for any given audition. It's not unusual for hundreds of players to apply for a flute audition, and every slight advantage increases the likelihood of winning. So don't be so cautious when using the piccolo among professional players. It can handle the most technical of passages, with a clarity and character that is unmistakably its own.

    Shooshie (a lousy piccolo player who knows some great ones)

  2. #2

    Re: Using Piccolo

    By the way, many thanks to everyone involved in this project. This is above and beyond the call of duty, even if it probably does bring in some (well-deserved) sales for Garritan. Only good can come of this.


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