C Piccolo Flute
The Piccolo is the highest and smallest of all woodwinds. It is a common sight in all bands. In fact, some feel a band is not complete without a Piccolo. Sousa’s famous Stars and Stripes Forever has solidified the link between the Piccolo and band to the point where the two are inseparable. I find this practice abhorrent. The Piccolo, pitched on full octave higher than the C Flute, is an instrument that should be reserved for special occasions. Its piercing and shrill tones are more suitable for an outdoor setting than for a concert venue. That said, I do still like the instrument (just not its constant use in the band!).
Every note from a Piccolo will stand out and be heard. Remember this at all times when writing for the instrument! Over use of the instrument can grow tiresome, and this is where I have a huge beef with most bandestrators. When an instrument becomes overused, it loses its potency. When I’ve written for the Piccolo, I tend to only reserve it for special occasions. A rare tutti ensemble passage that requires brilliance is perfect for the Piccolo. Menacing or stormy passages are equally suitable. A standard unison for the band, in reality, is better off without the top octave. Too often I have heard band directors crying out to their ensemble to make a dark sound, and too often it is the bandestrator’s fault for arranging the voices too high. It is okay to leave out the Piccolo – no one will miss it!
Now, of course there are plenty of other uses for the Piccolo. I love the sound of a solo Piccolo in its lower register. It has a hollow and eerie sound, and is best accompanied by metallic percussion. The Piccolo can also be used as a quaint, folksy sound, not unlike primitive flutes used throughout Europe. Music of a martial quality is also suited for the Piccolo, although this is a very stereotypical role.
I like to think of the Piccolo as a gentle instrument with a great voice. When played quietly, it is the most quaint and delicate sound, but at loud dynamics the walls of Jericho itself come a-tumblin’ down.
Please note, that the Piccolo never possesses the bottom C and C-sharp.
Evidendtly, that above statement is no longer true. As of 2010, Braun, a flute maker in Germany is producing a high quality Piccolo with a low C. This appears to be the instrument now used in the Berlin Philharmonic.
Of historical note, there is also a Piccolo pitched one half-step higher in D-flat.
Stars and Stripes Forever
Parable XII by Vincent Persichetti for solo Piccolo
Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony 3rd mvt. Listen to how little the Piccolo plays, but how big of an impact it has. Note: this excerpt is considered extremely difficult.