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4. Do you have any tips about doubling?
While most trombonists devote themselves to performing expertly on one instrument, many players "double," or become proficient on more than one instrument. The most common "doubles" are for a person to play both tenor and bass trombone or trombone and euphonium.
Many players have asked me how I feel about doubling, and whether I have any tips about how to successfully perform on more than one instrument. Here are a few thoughts.
My teacher, Edward Kleinhammer (retired bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) once told me this true story about doubling:
One day a well known trombonist from a major orchestra came into my studio carrying two instruments in his hands.
"What do you have there?" I asked.
"Why, these are my tenor and bass trombones," came the reply.
To which I replied, "Young man, those two horns are like two women. They will fight you and they will fight each other until you finally decide on one of them!"
Mr. Kleinhammer's story contains more than a bit of wisdom. It is difficult enough to learn to play one instrument at the highest level; why then, do so many players insist on playing more than one?
The answer for many players is simply economic - if you play more than one instrument, when a contractor calls, you'll be able to say "yes" more often. And, in the case of some doubling combinations, switching back and forth from one instrument to another doesn't cause significant "chop" problems that get in the way.
For instance, if one is a tenor trombonist, it is very common for players to double on euphonium or bass trumpet. The instruments all utilize a similar (or the same) mouthpiece and while each of the three instruments respond totally differently, the main hurdle is simply learning the fingerings for the valve instrument and becoming acquainted with the acoustical ideosyncracies of each horn.
However, a real problem can result when a player tries to overstep the bounds of logical doubling and attempt to play two (or more) instruments on a regular basis that require dramatically different mouthpiece (especially rim) sizes. What Kleinhammer was referring to above is absolutely true: it is very difficult to play two different instruments at the highest level - eventually one will want to "win out" over the other. It is difficult to double, but there are a few things you can do to make the process a little more successful.
1. Choose a doubling instrument that you really enjoy playing.
Let's face it, there are plenty of people who can play any given instrument well. If you don't really want to play something and aren't willing to spend a good amount of time becoming more than just proficient but truly an "expert," don't bother. If you're doubling so you can do more kinds of work, make sure you can really play your doubling instrument well. Otherwise your first call may be your last.
2. Choose a mouthpiece carefully.
There are many opinions about what kind of mouthpiece to use when doubling. Many people advocate using totally different rim sizes and shapes, and develop two distinctly different embochures - one for each instrument. This has never worked for me. Bass trombone will always be my first choice instrument and I hope to have a long, productive career playing it. I would never want to do anything that would, even in the slightest way, jeopardize my ability to play the bass trombone well.
Therefore, I recommend using a mouthpiece on your doubling instrument that has exactly (or as near to exactly) the same rim as your primary instrument.
For instance, I normally play a YAMAHA Douglas Yeo Signature Series Bass Trombone mouthpiece when I play bass trombone. The rim on this mouthpiece is similar to a Schilke 60. When I double on bass trumpet in the Boston Symphony, I play a custom YAMAHA mouthpiece that has a rim exactly like my normal mouthpiece, but with a much smaller throat, cup, and tighter backbore. An alternative to having a custom mouthpiece made is to go with a combination mouthpiece such as those made by Doug Elliott (Doug Elliott Mouthpieces, 13619 Layhill Road, Silver Springs, MD 20906 USA. Phone 301/871-3535, FAX 310/598-9094). Before I had my custom bass trumpet mouthpiece made, I used an Elliott 114 rim with an E cup and 5 backbore. This allowed me to keep the mouthpiece on my "normal" embochure while having a cup and backbore that were matched to the bass trumpet. Combination mouthpieces also give you many options of cup and backbore size that you can switch depending on the piece your're playing.
I do the same thing when I play serpent as well. Having a mouthpiece that has the same rim as my "normal" mouthpiece allows me to play instruments I otherwise would feel comfortable playing.
I personally cannot see how people can double effectively on tenor and bass trombones. While there are those who can play both instruments, I am not one of them, perhaps because I am completely unforgiving of little mistakes on either one. However, I have yet to meet a person who can play both tenor and bass trombone "best," and my advice is to stick to one or the other and leave doubling to other kinds of instrument. Kleinhammer's advice is well taken in that instance.
For me, doubling adds to my enjoyment of making music, but the most important thing is to never do anything that would jeopardize my ability to play the bass trombone. The day I begin to feel like doubling is causing my bass trombone playing to slide, I'll hand my bass trumpet over to someone else!
Some people have asked me about the instruments I use when doubling, so this is as good a place as any to give a list.
My primary doubling instrument is bass trumpet. I began playing bass trumpet in 1988 when the Boston Symphony performed and recorded Richard Strauss' Elektra (Philips 422 574-2). The piece calls for bass trumpet, two tenor trombones, bass trombone, contra-bass trombone and tuba. Since none of the other members of the BSO trombone section wanted to play bass trumpet, I took up the challenge.
I currently have two bass trumpets:
I use the C trumpet primarily for Wagner. My friend and college classmate, William McElheney, who plays second trombone and bass trumpet in the Vienna Philharmonic, suggested to me that C trumpet makes Wagner operas much easier than playing them on a B flat instrument. He was right - the C trumpet makes playing Wagner much more comfortable.
The B flat trumpet is good for most everything else including Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the Janacek Sinfonietta and Elektra. I use a standard tenor trombone Denis Wick straight mute in my Bach bass trumpet when needed.
The other primary instrument on which I double is the serpent, which I have played in the Boston Symphony on only one occasion; performances of Berlioz' Messe solennelle. But there are serpent parts in other great pieces (for more information and a photograph of the serpent, see my article Tempted by a Serpent). I have also recently begun playing ophicleide (in C, by Roehn, c. 1855) and use the same mouthpiece on that instrument as I do on bass trumpet which is quite close to historical models.
The first serpent I purchased was a modern copy of a French serpent made by David Harding of England. The instrument is made of resin and has a fine sound. However, I have recently begun performing as a soloist on the serpent, as when I performed Simon Proctor's Serpent Concerto with the Boston Pops Orchestra in May 1997, so in 1996 I purchased a new instrument, of leather covered walnut with silver mounts and bocal made by Keith Rogers and Nicholas Perry of the Christopher Monk Workshop in London. This instrument is exquisite in workmanship and sound, and is patterned after an 1810 French church serpent. I also have an historic serpent which I purchased in Paris, by Baudouin c. 1810 which is quite a remarkable instrument.
From the retirement of Chester Schmitz, BSO tubist from 1966-2001, until my retirement from the Boston Symphony in 2012, I played contrabass trombone in the orchestra. The Boston Symphony owns two contrabass trombones: a Laztsch contra-bass trombone in F with two in-line valves and a Conn double slide contrabass trombone (no valves) in BBflat which was made in 1901 and was once owned by August Helleberg of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I use my regular bass trombone mouthpiece with the contra, although I have had it modified to have a slightly larger throat.
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