Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A rather nice picture of the medieval equivalent of a guitar band - lutenist and singers

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Focus on Ensemble Sheet Music - Clarinet Ensembles

Clarinet Ensembles come in various sizes, and first it is useful to review the members of the clarinet family.  The most common clarinet is Bb clarinet, and this is generally what we refer to when we talk about the clarinet.  It was created in the 18th century and like most woodwind instruments, evolved over time from a simple wooden cylinder with holes which you covered with fingers to the modern clarinet which has a multitude of keys.  Unlike the oboe, the inside of the clarinet is a straight cylindrical shape, the same diameter up and down.
The most common types of clarinets are:
Eb Soprano Clarinet
A Clarinet, mostly used in orchestral pieces but is also a solo instrument
Eb Alto Clarinet
Bb Bass Clarinet (looks a little like a saxophone with an upturned bell at the end)
BBb Contrabass Clarinet

Most ensemble sheet music is scored with alternative parts, so for example it may have a Bb clarinet part in the low register to be used instead of an alto clarinet.  Clarinet ensembles are sometimes called clarinet choirs. Generally a piece with more than 4 parts will be called an ensemble, anything less than that is described as a duet, trio or quartet.
Duet sheet music is most commonly scored for two Bb clarinets, especially music aimed at beginners.
You can find a selection of music for clarinet ensembles on the website.

Focus on Ensemble Sheet Music - Double Reed Ensembles

While there is a large number of double reed instruments throughout musical history, in modern terms the most commonly seen and played are the oboe, cor anglais, and bassoon.  Unlike clarinets which use a single reed vibrating against a mouthpiece to produce a sound, double reed instruments - as the name suggests - produce their sound by using two reeds bound together on opposite sides of a tube to make their noise.  An amount of pressure is required to produce and control the sound.
  
In terms of ensemble music, bassoon duets, oboe duets and trios are the most common.  However for a fuller sound oboes can be matched with a cor anglais which is pitched lower.  Some ensemble music uses oboes with a bassoon for a bass line.  Other double reed instruments include the oboe d'amore and the contra bassoon but these are rarely played in modern music.

You can find a selection of double reed ensemble sheet music on the website.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Focus on Ensemble Sheet Music - Brass

Having just revamped a large part of my ensemble music section, I thought it would be worth talking about ensembles in a little more depth. I have two sections purely for brass instruments – brass band and brass ensembles – so what’s the difference?

In the UK the term brass band refers to a very defined formulation which includes all brass instruments except the trumpet and french horn (cornets take the place of the trumpet as the upper brass voice).  Brass bands have roots going back to the Victorian period and have evolved their own unique sound and repertoire, distinctly different from orchestral brass. It is normal, for example, for all players to read their music in treble clef, with the exception of the bass trombone.  While tubas may be present, it is more normal to have Eb and BBb basses which read treble clef.  The term “tuba” generally refers to the orchestral instrument which reads bass clef.  Some instruments specific to brass bands and absent from orchestral brass are the flugel horn, tenor (Eb) horn, euphonium, baritone, Eb bass and soprano cornet.  So a set of sheet music  for brass band would reflect this set up.

Brass ensembles, on the other hand, are a bespoke arrangement of brass instruments from a duet to a 10 piece ensemble and everything in between.  They often reflect orchestral brass so the cornet may be absent, along with the other instruments specific to brass bands.  As a result, and especially with music published outside the UK, the trombone and tuba parts are often in bass clef though publishers sometimes provide parts in both clefs in the UK.  There is a strong geographical divide in the clefs, with many players in the north of England playing in treble clef as a reflection of the brass band heritage, with more players in the south of the country where the brass band legacy is not as strong playing in bass clef.  Likewise tenor horn, flugel and euphonium/baritone players are more often to be found in the north.

Some brass ensemble music is written with flexible parts which allow a number of different instruments to take part, whereas other specify certain instruments and the arrangement is not flexible, so it is important to check the instrumentation before purchasing.  If in doubt, ask.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Transparency Among Retailers

Just spoke to a very nice lady who had questions about the ABRSM oboe exam recordings. Helped her out (no gain for me because she had already ordered music from ABRSM shop), but what really annoys me is that she thought she had spoken to ABRSM about this when in fact she had spoken to the third party who processes the orders from their shop. They weren't helpful, unsurprisingly, because the people on the phone know nothing.
But it really is misleading when big names such as ABRSM and Trinity trade on their brand, make you think that you are dealing with them when in fact you are not. Nowhere do they tell you who actually runs their retail business. I know who it is, as does every other independent retailer in the business, because we all lost sales when the exam boards started doing this a few years ago.
Recently I started another website - www.musicbeginners.co.uk - which is small and targeted at a specific market and with additional information to help customers which I simply could not fit onto my larger site. I am clear on the site and on the invoice as to who owns and runs it. Surely the big brands could be as transparent as me? Or am I being wildly unrealistic?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Summer is Icumen In

As the days are getting longer and warmer, here is the manuscript of the famous medieval song Summer is Icumen In.  Written in early music notation, it is a bit different to modern musical notation and practice.  There is still a lot of discussion about the origins of the notation but our modern way of writing combines Gregorian style notation such as this with Islamic influences from the medieval muslim empire in places such as Spain, which also gave us many of our modern instruments such as guitar and oboe.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Tiptree Sneeze

This is what happens when you need to sneeze during a concert and you're holding a trombone...