Contrabass Digest

To subscribe or unsubscribe, email



Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 16:54:07 -0700
From: Grant Green
Subject: Re: [CB] [Contra-Alto Digest]

>Well, the Messiah performance went about as well as I could have
>hoped (bent key notwithstanding). The contra-alto spoke easily -
>I'm still having to use 2-1/2 reeds for the moment, but an overnight
>soak in hydrogen peroxide seems to help quite a lot. It was a little
>vague on high C, so I had some doubts about the high D (concert
>F) required in "He Shall Feed His Flock" (I was playing the basso
>continuo / 'cello line throughout). But the high D was available after

I discovered last night (just before concert time...) that I could
reach that high D on contra-alto by fingering it "LT" - just the
octave key.  We had one piece in which the CA part reaches high D,
but always stepwise from high C (it doubles the bass clarinet part in
those passages).  My old Buescher contra-alto is difficult to play
into the altissimo, but using a Selmer C** with a #4 Vandoren (the
reed also brand new for the concert) made it possible.  Probably just
need to devote some real practice time to the horn...  I'd been
playing it with #3s, but the high C was just too flabby: I tried the
#4, half expecting to find that it made the low register too breathy
or otherwise unsuitable, and had no problem with the low end, and
improvement at the top end - to my relief.


Grant Green
Professional Fool ->

From: "Rich Haynes"
Date: Tue, 05 Dec 2000 13:22:19 +1000
Subject: Re: [CB]

i completely agree with you but what about specialising in bass clarinet for
example? i think youd be doing yourself a favour by mastering the other
clarinets, hmm, whats your opinion on this? and anyone elses?

----Original Message Follows----
From: Andrew Stiller
Subject: Re: [CB]
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 13:55:48 -0800

At 5:11 PM +1000 12/4/00, Rich Haynes wrote:
>I think while auxillary instruments are becoming fantastic vehicles
>for solo rep. and other featured parts, mabye devoting your life to
>the bass clarinet/piccolo/c.bassoon etc narrows the employment
>I dont know - mabye im completely narrow minded.
>I'd love to hear other opinions or situations!

I'm totally opposed to this type of specialization. When I was a kid
studying clarinet with Sydney Forrest (2nd cl. w. the Baltimore
Symphony) I casually mentioned to him that I was thinking of playing
the bcl. in my highschool band. He told me that if I did that, he
would no longer teach me because "it would ruin your
embouchure"--which of course is crap. When I decided to play the
*bassoon* I was forwarned and dropped Forrest for another teacher.

In Bach's day, WW players were expected to play *all* WW with full
proficiency, and on Broadway that standard still obtains. I have no
use (or respect) for first oboists who refuse to play EHn.,
timpanists who refuse to play general perc., etc. This is nothing but
a display of ego at the expense of the music.
Andrew Stiller
Kallisti Music Press

Get more from the Web.  FREE MSN Explorer download :


From: "Jean Adler"
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 22:23:07 -0600
Subject: [CB] specializing

Here are my thoughts on playing:

I have played all the woodwinds at one time or another.  I feel proficient
on flute, the clarinet family, the saxes, and contra bassoon.  I know I
could be up to speed on the bassoon in a short period of time.  Oboe and
English horn could take a bit longer.  I have found because of the
popularity of marching bands the double reed and larger woodwind instruments
are not being played.  By the way I am a former music teacher, so this is
coming from first-hand experience.  Price is of course an issue.  These
instruments are terribly expensive.  As are the reeds and upkeep.  That and
how many people have an English horn or oboe lying around the house.  Ever
notice how many flutes, clarinets, and saxes end up on garage sales and at
pawn shops.

Anyway, the bass clarinet has been my primary instrument since I was
13...that is nearly 30 years now.  Despite not being allowed to major on it
I am in constant demand.  All bass clarinetists in the 1970's when I was in
college were switched to clarinet although we still were "allowed" to play
bass in the performance groups.  I am called in as a ringer for our local
college (9000 students and no one plays the bass clarinet).  I am asked to
play for all the pit orchestras for the local theatre companies.  I usually
play Book 3 or 4. I could be working constantly on a show.  I have a friend
who does all of the shows for at least 5 different companies.  I played in
the local symphony for a few years but got tired of working with a director
who wouldn't make out a schedule and often sat over 2 hours waiting to play.
(But don't get me started on inconsiderate directors)  That is one of the
perils of being the bass clarinetist with a symphony.  You don't get to play
very often, unless your group plays more recent literature.  What I am
saying is this, if you play well enough and live in a large enough community
you can always play.  Granted, none of these gigs pays a whole hell of a lot.

If I have a student who wants to play soprano and bass clarinet my answer is
yes.  Soprano clarinetists are a dime a dozen.  Unfortunately too many
directors put their worst players on the bass clarinet.  I was first chair
when I switched.  My clarinet wasn't great and my parents were too poor to
buy me a new one.  The school owned a couple of basses so my primary became
bass.  The best thing as a high schooler was qualifying for All State Band
three years.  I doubt that would have happened had I stayed on the clarinet.
I have had a lot of great opportunities to play because I play an "oddball"

I have never had a problem switching embouchures from instrument to
instrument.  Being a pit musician you can't think about it.  I just get
tired of lugging so many horns and stands to the pit gigs.

Wow, I didn't mean to write that much...

Happy Holidays...Here in the Upper Midwest it is going to be below zero
tonight....Glad I don't have to take my horn outside!!!



From: "Jean Adler"
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 22:29:24 -0600
Subject: Re: [CB] Fwd: contra info

To Chris,
We have a gorgeous rosewood contra that never gets played where I do some
playing. I played it a few years ago.  What a treat to play.  Want to come
to Minnesota to college?  We also have a nice contra-bassoon.  (Also played
it)  And the bassoon teacher is a friend of mine and a terrific player.  I
should mention I give a $1,000 a year scholarship to the college.  Only bass
clarinetists and bassoonists are qualified.  I think the department must
have been flush with cash several years ago to have purchased so many BIG


Date: Tue, 05 Dec 2000 00:20:39 +0000
From: Robert Howe
Subject: [CB] Re:My $0.02 on several topics

Several observations on recent threads.

  1. Please, include me in the list of Hecklephone players and owners!
  2. I never pay more than $16K for a Hecklephone, $16,094.99 is my absolute TOPS.
  3. Why no major on bass clarinet?  For the same reason there is no major on Eb clarinet or oboe d'amore.  You cannot make a living doing just the one.  Bass clarinet is, like it or not, a variety of clarinet.  Not every clarinet player ever needs to play bass clarinet (although all should) but every bass clarinet player does need to play clarinet.
  4. Buying 30 metal clarinets on EBay strikes me as more of a fetish than a collection, but I have that many oboes, so who am I to question another fetishist!  Jim, do you have many double-walled metal clarinets?  Metal clarinets in Eb or C or A or G or Eb alto or Bb bass (I own or have seen all of these).
  5. If Al Gore were a musician he'd play third chair second violin--he's surly and unhappy, pissed that he's not playing the solos, not willing to put the business of the ensemble before his own, and quite unable to hear what is happening around him as he saws away at his own tempo, unaware that the conductor has stopped.  Georgie W., second basssoon.  Always there at the base of the chord, certain of what he ought to be playing, faithfully following the part, but too often too quiet.
  6. Is anyone familiar with a new musical instrument museum in Brussels?  I am invited to visit during a visit to Paris, but this would extend my stay by  day and cost me $500 for new airfare, train tickets, etc, and I don't know if it is worth this.
  7. What are these freaking umlauts and agues and other stuff that my new computer keeps giving me when I type (see items 4 and 6 above)?
Best regards to all fellow contra-freaks (contrarians?),

Robert Howe


From: <oghma>
Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2000 04:24:39 -0600
Subject: Re: [CB] [Contra-Alto Digest]

I've had similiar success with playing D using the octave key only, thought it might just be
something wierd in my technique that made it come out ok.  I've found that these work nicely:

I'm not sure if it's only good for particular horns, but on my LeBlanc contraalto it speaks easily and clearly,
much better than the standard fingering.  It's also much easier to finger in fast passages.


From: "Peter Hurd"
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 23:31:56 -0800
Subject: [CB] Havergal Brian

Dear Grant,
         Great job on the editing of the Heckelphone list.
A couple of little details-  Havergal Brian- you did place this correctly under "B", but the name is still reversed-
should read:  Brian, Havergal . I have a hard time with this also, as Havergal would seem to be ideal as a last name.
Also, I would ask if you would kindly delete the old e-mail address at the beginning of the list ( - I no longer use this one) and substitute my present address- I will send you an updated version of the "Renaissance for Heckelphone" article within about a week.
          Ever yours,   Peter


Date: Mon, 04 Dec 2000 23:51:09 -0800
From: bitwise
Subject: Re: [CB] [Contra-Alto Digest]

Grant -

I wondered (after I posted, of course) if anyone would know
which D I was talking about. It is that LT-only - concert F4.
I discovered that fingering by visiting a webpage dedicated to
altissimo fingerings for lower clarinets. I *think* it's at sneezy,
but I'm not sure. I found it by doing a Google search for 'contra-
alto fingering'. In the piece I was playing, that D is reached by
a simple scale, which helps quite a lot.

What's the story with various reed strengths, mouthpieces and
'breathy' sound? That 1430 bass I attempted to use in Messiah
had that very problem. I was stuck as far as the mouthpiece
(Bundy #3), but using a 3 reed didn't help much. I could
approximate a 'normal' sound by manually choking the reed,
but that is obviously no solution - at least not without a third
hand. I know several people on the list have addressed this
subject, but I'm having trouble getting a handle on it. All other
things being equal (yeah, right), are ease of playing and a
'clarinetty' sound somewhat mutually exclusive? How do these
relate to whether a mouthpiece is 'open' or 'closed'?

Another question, not contra-alto related for a change: I have
a wooden bass that I bought for parts. It was made in France,
it goes to low E (with a bell key, no less), and has no
manufacturer's markings anywhere. The keywork is almost
identical to that of a Buffet soprano I saw recently. Any ideas
on how I might identify this horn? It has been exposed to
weather, and needs extensive work on the metal parts, but the
bore is sound. I'm trying to figure out if I should restore it. You
know, the lure of the "diamond in the rough".
My Coudet is still in the shop - it was missing the Eb trill, which
the mystery horn supplied as an almost-exact replacement.



From: "Peter Hurd"
Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2000 04:50:03 -0800
Subject: [CB] Reedwinds

Dear Paul,

         Thanks for your note and discussion of the differences between the French and German schools of saxophone playing. I play oboe , English horn, and sometimes oboe d'amore (the premier instrument of the lot in my estimation). In the oboe world also different schools exist- The (old) English school promoting a thin, ultra-nasal , reedy sound, rather on the bright side. The French (also using extremely short scrape reeds )school tends to be bright and brighter. The German school tends to fancy an ultra dark tone. The Eastern Europeans vary between thin and bright (sometimes difficult to tell that the oboe is different from the trumpet). The Dutch have their own brand of dark brightness. Americans nowadays seem in the main to favor a silvery sweet tone, although there are  (still) remnants of an East Coast school of oboe playing which seeks a tone with a truly hard, penetrating, aggressive and unyielding edge (the reeds of this school tend to be utterly lacking in any subtle refinement- the bare reed could easily be a substitute for a duck call). I find that listening to the players from this school sort of like" nails on the blackboard". The Viennese of course play an entirely different type of oboe, generally discribed as sweet toned. I like listening to players of all the different schools, and am glad that many oboe players do not seek to sound all one like the other (Robert Howe exclaimed what a gift it is to the realm of music that not everyone plays on (the "politically correct" in the U.S.) Loree oboe).
        I played sax when I was young, and really have a fondness for the instrument (If I had to do it all over again, I would probably choose the bassoon, although the Heckelphone playing does seem to help alleviate a bad case of "bassoon envy"). I played baritone in a theatre orchestra, great fun, and if I ever start sax again, that is likely where I would start. I like the Selmer Mk VI alto and tenor especially, but I find that the old Buescher horns to be appealing as well. (My brother has a Selmer Mk VI sopranino in mint condition- it is a remarkable horn in that it plays as well as a  fine MkVI soprano- absolutely stable and sweet toned) . My family has owned several Buescher Aristocrat altos over the years, and these have consistently proven to be first class saxophones in every respect. My friend Paul Woltz plays bass sax, and this is of some interest to me as well (about ten years ago a Buescher bass came up for sale here in Seattle- $2500!)
          Best wishes,   Peter


From: "Peter Hurd"
Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2000 06:04:07 -0800
Subject: [CB] "H" list yet again

Dear Grant,
        The listings of Schoenberg need to be expunged from the "H" list. Thanks.  Peter


Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2000 11:23:42 -0800
From: Andrew Stiller
Subject: Re: [CB]

At 1:22 PM +1000 12/5/00, Rich Haynes wrote:
>i completely agree with you but what about specialising in bass
>clarinet for example? i think youd be doing yourself a favour by
>mastering the other clarinets, hmm, whats your opinion on this? and
>anyone elses?

I think you missed part of my point. Anyone who calls themself a
clarinettist should be able to play any size from Ab to Contrabass at
the drop of a hat. Specializing in *any* one size is neither
necessary nor desirable.
Andrew Stiller
Kallisti Music Press

Ut Sol inter planetas, Ita MUSICA inter Artes liberales in medio radiat.
--Heinrich Schuetz, 1640

Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2000 14:49:53 -0800 (PST)
From: Charles King
Subject: [CB] Bass Sax Alert

Hey everybody, there's a Conn/Pan American bass sax
for sale at  The seller is in
England, and the price is listed as "negotiable".  To
find the listing, click on the "used saxes" button and
then "other saxes".


***End of Contrabass Digest***

Next Digest ->
Previous Digest <-