Meri’s Musical Musings

Discrimination against non-saxophone playing clarinetists for jobs?

Posted on: October 8, 2016

It sure seems that way, based on the things I’ve experienced in recent years for positions in them and instrument clinics.

I am primarily a clarinetist, and do not play saxophone. In fact, I have never been comfortable with the weight of even an alto sax, and wanted to play tenor for jazz band in high school. A regular neckstrap never worked from the beginning, and I doubt that the newer style sax braces would help me that much. And it appears that I may never be able to play a saxophone, because of recent shoulder injury which I am currently getting physiotherapy for at time of writing, not only due to the weight of holding the instrument while playing, but also carrying one, along with a pair of clarinets for gigs that call for both, especially when you cannot afford a vehicle and no-one in your household has a vehicle or drives.

I CAN play flute and oboe though, although I haven’t done so since my final year of high school or so, and those are much lighter instruments even together than even the lightest saxophone in its case. And both are quite manageable in terms of the weight, especially oboe.

One thing I have noticed about doublers or people who claim to play all woodwinds, especially those who didn’t start on clarinet or started on it and didn’t reach a relatively high standard (say around early advanced level certificates in an examining board or a spot on a quality student, amateur, or semi-professional orchestra), especially outside of a school music program, is that they extremely rarely have a seat in a symphony orchestra on clarinet, not even as a utility players or the rare pieces that call for the soprano E flat clarinet, bass clarinet, or saxophone. Those doublers/multi-woodwind players can and do get by in pit orchestras, such as those for stage musicals, but very few play to a high enough standard to be accepted in even amateur and community orchestras, which in wind sections, are often extremely competitive, particularly in large cities, let alone the semi-professional and professional orchestras. This is because many woodwind multi-instrumentalists who didn’t start on clarinet have an improper sound on clarinet that does not carry over a large orchestra in important solos, plus the technical demands in many orchestras on clarinet increasingly go well beyond what many woodwind multi-instrumentalists who are not primarily clarinetists can handle. The clarinet cadenzas of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scherezade are much harder than in sounds, and so is the clarinet parts of the Scherzo from Mendellsohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both of which regularly appear on the higher levels of clarinet music exams. Another example of very challenging clarinet orchestral parts but does not often appear on exams, is Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which ALL three clarinet parts (1st, 2nd, and bass clarinet) are challenging in range (written double high A in the first clarinet part a number of times, for example) and technical demands—usually only the strongest orchestral clarinetists can handle this piece, and they are almost never doublers or multi-woodwind players.

In addition, of all the people in the Greater Toronto area I know personally who play more than one woodwind instrument, including the so-called 905 areas east, west, and north of the city proper, I know only TWO clarinet/saxophone doublers who play both EXTREMELY well, who both started on clarinet and studied it seriously for a long time before picking up the other woodwinds, and neither needs the jobs of music schools that call for a teacher who teaches both clarinet and saxophone, and sometimes all woodwinds, or instrument clinics in schools and community bands that call for someone to work with both clarinets and saxophones in the same clinic. One is a very busy performer and teacher, usually on clarinet, rarely saxophone, as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestra member, as well as a university clarinet instructor. The other is a custom clarinet maker, repairer, orchestra member, and private teacher. Both have quite a bit more than enough to make a comfortable living, including travelling the world at least a couple times a year. The latter has a long-mortgage free home.

I’ve noticed too that clarinet teachers who are not woodwind doublers/multi-instrumentalists tend to produce significantly better clarinet students in terms of playing standard and achievements on music exams and competitions for example. Only a very small percentage of candidates earning 90% or better on the elementary to intermediate levels of Royal Conservatory exams were taught by woodwind majors who were not clarinet specialists. Or at those whose primary woodwind instrument is not clarinet.

But most community schools, in big cities, but especially small towns, want teachers who can teach clarinet and saxophone or even all woodwinds, just to save money? Not at the expense of quality. Same thing in school and community bands. It’s much harder than you think to do the two most closely related of the woodwinds, clarinet and saxophone, especially when the clarinetist has never played saxophone clinician for a school a significant distance away cancelled the day before or the day of the clinic, didn’t provide a sub, and the school teacher asked me to do saxophones as well, while I already had a detailed plan to cover a bunch of things only for clarinet in the hour or so for the clinic I had, I had to revise my plan extensively with only a few hours notice! I had someone too that might have been able to take over the saxophones, since I had talked to them already but then had the original person who cancelled, and I could not reach them. I have taught a LITTLE sax privately but one-one-one, based on what I know about clarinet blowing technique, air use, and the fingering being very similar to flute and recorder in the very beginning to beginning stages, and that was barely manageable although somehow the kid liked me and did make better than expected progress, considering he usually resisted adults, and really thought the combo sax/clarinet clinic was a failure for me personally due to some major differences, last minute changes, and a lot of nerves/stumbling. After kids start learning notes beyond the basic fingerings for saxophones, I’m totally lost. Would never do a combo saxophone/clarinet clinic again.

It’s not worth the cost savings in hiring one person for two or more woodwind instruments if it results in lower quality playing students, and many community music schools are suffering from poor reputations in part perhaps because of such practices, to save money and time on scheduling and payroll. If you have a cancellation by clinician, try to coax out potential substitutes from first the initial one who you had hired, and next from the others, because I had at least one maybe two or three possible back up people for the saxes in her school, but who couldn’t do it or didn’t notify me, because of the very short notice of cancellation. There are too many differences between woodwinds to make a multi-instrument clinic where students learn new techniques and special fingerings for example feasible.


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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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