Finding a Musical Career Through Woodwind Doubling, Part 1
Every year around this time, the Triangle, NC (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) community is buzzing with theatre productions. I have been in the musical theatre scene in this area for about 20 years. I have seen the amount of productions increase year after year. What used to be an every once in while kinda thing has turned into a year round calendar packed with shows. I am on track to be involved with 15 productions in 2016. A record for me. But, that is only because of the volume of shows being produced. I’m not sure if you would call it a revival or a renaissance, but people seem eager to attend these productions and local theatre companies are more than happy to provide.
I started my career as a saxophonist. I still identify with, play and teach that instrument family the most, but I would not be working in musical theatre if that is all I had to offer. It didn’t take long after I graduated with a masters degree in saxophone performance from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and moved back to my home city, Raleigh, NC, to realize that playing one instrument would not be enough to make a living. That is, if I didn’t want a day job to make ends meet.
As a saxophone major in college, I did not give woodwind doubling much thought – other than doubling other saxophones, which I was always interested in. I did purchase a cheap clarinet and flute because the jazz teacher encouraged the saxophonists to work on their doubles. But, I was going to be a saxophonist! Why did I need to work on those other instruments? I did not take the jazz teacher’s advice seriously and my clarinet and flute cases collected dust.
One of the first calls I received after starting my career as a freelance saxophonist involved playing bass clarinet, in addition to baritone sax. I told the contractor I was willing to find an instrument and learn, but that is not what they wanted to hear. They passed on me. That was a wake up call. There I was, having spent the last several years of my life and tons of money to become a professional saxophonist. I immediately dusted off those cases and began to practice. The first thing I realized was the time it was going to take to reach a decent level of proficiency on each instrument. A lot! And, the amount of patience it was going to require. I did not have a lot when I was younger. But, I committed myself to it.
As time went by, I continued to work as a saxophone performer and music teacher and slowly, but surely, became a woodwind doubler. Now, I am most at home in the theatre environment. In the pit! I do enjoy playing many other styles and with other groups, but I prioritize my work and will often take a theatre productions over other gigs.
I like to say I learned Broadway, “the hard way”. I had no background or interest in musicals when I started doing them. It was simply a way to make part of a living as a musician. My family were not theatergoers and I had never been exposed to the form previously. I grew up listening to pop, rock and later, jazz and classical. Musicals integrate all of these styles. But, through the lens of Broadway. I quickly became an appreciator of the genre and began to enjoy seeing shows as an audience member. Although, the best seat in the house is always in the pit!