The woodwind section is home to an array of wonderful instruments, each with their unique characteristics and timbral qualities. This family of instruments extends far beyond flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, and encompasses a wide range of auxiliary instruments which woodwind musicians are often required to master, in addition to their original instrument.
We caught up with Ruby, Kara and Adam from the woodwind section at AYO Young Symphonists to discover more about what these auxiliary instruments have to offer.
Oboe and cor anglais
How long have you played the oboe? What made you pick up the cor anglais as well?
This is my seventh year of playing the oboe. I actually started playing the piano when I was six years old, and picked up oboe along the way. In the beginning I wasn’t really sure what the cor anglais was, until the school offered to let me borrow one so I could play it for Melbourne Youth Orchestra, and ever since then, I fell in love with the sound and tone. It’s so much fun!
The cor anglais has some great repertoire! Do you have any favourite pieces?
This is an absolute classic – Schindler’s List composed by John Williams. This was written for the film and the main theme is brought in by the cor anglais which is so passionate, expressive and touching at the same time. It’s really beautiful – almost always brings me to tears.
What are the main similarities and differences between the oboe and cor Anglais?
What’s exactly the same between the oboe and cor anglais is the fingering and the use of a double reed. However, the cor anglais is a much larger instrument with the fingering spaced further apart and a crook, similar to that of the bassoon, as an extended mouthpiece. The reed is also wider and shorter. The main difference is that the cor anglais is pitched a perfect fifth deeper in tone.
What is the thing you enjoy most about AYO programs?
It’s extremely magical when the people involved in the orchestra are all there with the same purpose, it really brings the music to a whole new level. Making new friends from all over Australia not only reminds me of how far I’ve come, but also how rewarding it is to be in the presence of the best young musicians of Australia. The people here inspire me every day to better myself, never once did I feel like I was competing against my friends, but rather having the pleasure of working with them. The tutors are such icons. Throughout the week, we basically became best friends, and I just really enjoyed the amazing positive musical atmosphere, shared with people who I can call my family.
Clarinet and bass clarinet
You’ve only been playing the bass clarinet for a number of weeks! How are you getting on?
When I first picked up the bass it was difficult to make a sound in the higher registers, however the more I played the more comfortable it felt. When I came to AYO Young Symphonists I changed the mouthpiece on the bass clarinet and this helped my sound drastically. Since we played so much every day on the camp I grew to love the instrument equally, if not more, than the clarinet.
What made you choose the clarinet?
I began playing the clarinet in year two, so at the time I would have been seven years old. I was quite young and knew little about music. My older sister Nicole, a flautist, ultimately helped me to make my decision. She liked the versatility of the instrument, its tone colour, and had a gut feeling that the clarinet would suit me perfectly. Eight years down the track, she turned out to be spot on!
What are you enjoying most about the bass clarinet so far?
My favourite things about the bass clarinet would probably be its extensive range, ability to play such low notes and its mellow tone.
What have you found the most challenging about AYO Young Symphonists?
For me, the most challenging aspect of AYO Young Symphonists was learning to play in an orchestra, and in particular projecting my sound when playing on such a low instrument.
Flute and piccolo
How long had you been playing the flute before you decided to give the piccolo a try?
I had been playing the flute for 3 years before I started playing the piccolo. I actually started playing it completely by accident. There was a school concert and the piccolo player was sick, so I was asked to take her place, which meant I had about 30 minutes to learn how to play the instrument before I had to perform! Since then I have performed on piccolo in various chamber groups and with the Tasmanian Youth Orchestra.
What are the main differences between playing flute and piccolo?
There are many differences between flute and piccolo. These range from physical differences such as the size of the instrument (piccolo is half the size of the flute), to different playing techniques and tonal quality. Another difference is the way in which the piccolo is used in orchestral repertoire. For example, in the AYO repertoire the piccolo was mostly used in the fast, loud and bold sections. The flute, however, was used throughout all the pieces.
What are the biggest challenges of playing an auxiliary instrument?
For me, the biggest challenge when playing the piccolo is quick transitions between instruments. Orchestral music is often scored in such a way that one player plays both piccolo and flute in the same piece. This means that in some pieces there is only a bar or two in which I must switch instruments, giving me only seconds to adjust my embouchure and playing style, as well as physically change my instrument. I haven’t dropped either instrument yet!
It can also be challenging to practice the piccolo. The piccolo is pitched an octave higher than the flute and can be very loud and piercing. Because of this, I need to be careful about when I practice so that I don’t annoy my family and neighbours too much.
What has been your favourite piece to play at Young Symphonists and why?
I played the piccolo in Symphony No.3 by Rachmaninov and Carnival Overture by Dvořák. Carnival Overture has an amazing piccolo part and it was lots of fun to play. The Rachmaninov symphony was my favourite piece to play. It was more technically demanding than the other pieces and I really enjoyed the challenge it provided. The symphony contains incredible musical diversity and is a brilliant musical showcase. It is also a work that is not performed often, so it was lovely to have the opportunity to play it.
A little thank you.
I would like to thank our conductor Warwick Stengårds, and the many instrumental tutors, especially Margaret Crawford, for their work with the orchestra over the week. Their dedication and expertise was greatly appreciated!