A bandestrator visits TMEA

Late last night, I returned home for the Texas Music Educators Association’s annual convention.  I had a blast there listening to concerts, shopping for new music, and trying out new instruments.  Going to a convention like this is something that I recommend for everyone wanting to write for any kind of instrument.  It is your best chance to put your hands on virtually any instrument you want.

Day 1

The first day started out with a mini concert.  The performer played on Ophicleide, Over-the-shoulder Bass Saxhorn, Euphonium, and a brand new French Orchestral Saxhorn in B-flat.  I loved these instruments – the Ophicleide in particular.  If you haven’t ever heard one, I highly suggest looking at some of the YouTube clips.  The sound can be incredible.  The new Orchestral Bass Saxhorn was interesting to hear.  It was the first time such an instrument had been played in the US.  It does have a lighter sound than the Euphonium, but not too much.  I got to talking to the performer, and I’d love to interview him for the blog and maybe even write something for him.

On to the exhibit hall.

The exhibit hall is massive,  nearly 12 acres in size,  and crammed with music vendors and thousands of people.

Instruments tried.

There is no way I could play everything there.  Not going to happen.  But, I made sure to play some of the unusual ones.

Bass Oboe

It’s been about a decade since I last laid my hands on a Bass Oboe.  How I love that horn.  I tried a Fossati.  The unusual feature was a Heckelphone-like bocal and not the Loreé type with the extra curves.  It played fairly well down to the low B.  My oboe chops are not up to speed to get the higher notes.  But an enjoyable horn.

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Tenor Bassoon

Next door, was a Wolf (Howarth) Tenor Bassoon.  I miss my old Tenor, but this new instrument is an improvement of my horn.  It played much more in tune even though it was a simple student model without the normal professional keywork.  There are still some acoustical deficiencies, but it is a step forward from where it was.

Contrabass Trombone

I tried blowing a few notes on the Thein Contra, but I simply cannot play low brass.  But, standing next to the pro who brought the instrument was a humbling experience.  Wow!  What a force to be reckoned with.

Alto Trombone

I’d never touched an Alto before.  It really does feel different than the Tenor.  I could easily play up to high E-flat with a fairly sweet sound.

Alto Clarinet

I got to play a brand new Buffet Alto Clarinet.  If you’ve ever disparaged the Alto – stop.  This plays just as well as any other clarinet.  A beautiful sound.

Day 2

I came back for more madness the next day.  I though I had seen all the rarities – boy was I mistaken!

Basset Horn

This was a first for me, a Leblanc Basset.  It really does sound and feel like an Alto Clarinet, but a little more refined.  You’d be hard-pressed to hear the difference between the Buffet Alto and the LeBlanc Basset.

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A-flat Clarinet

Not only had I never seen one, I never thought I would see one!  What a little treat.  It was an Orsi Boehm system A-flat.  I happened to have reeds that would fit it, so I gave it a whirl.  It’s not edgy like the E-flat, but rather sweet sounding.  I was able to play up to a written F6 sounding D-flat7.  This firms up for me a big question about the A-flat that heretofore has never been resolved – how high can it play.  Obviously, those notes must only be played in forte, but it can play up there.

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Alto and Bass Flutes

My flute chops are beyond weak, but it was nice to get my hands on these beauties.  Bass Flute was not as weak sounding as I remember (but it is still weak!).  I need to develop my skills more for next time.

Conn-O-Sax

I’m saving the best for last.  The Conn-O-Sax is a mythical beast.  It is a straight F Alto Sax with an extension to low A and keyed to high G.  The bell is shaped like that of a Heckelphone.  The sound is out of this world.  It is by far the most beautiful saxophone sound I have ever heard.  It is almost equivalent to an English Horn.  It is rich and reedy yet sweet and flexible.  It’s also a museum piece that costs roughly $100,000.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I was literally shaking after playing the instrument.  It costs more than some houses do.  Also, there are only about 20 of them left.  But, what it does show my, is that the F Alto Saxophone is sorely missed and needs to make a comeback soon.

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Final thoughts

If you are looking to get to know instruments up close and personal, get thee to a music convention.  I came away brimming with ideas and inspiration and a considerably lighter wallet.

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One thought on “A bandestrator visits TMEA

  1. Alex Kindel

    I found it difficult to get a handle on the nature of the A-flat clarinet through what’s available about them online. At least one manufacturer of the instrument says it has a sweet. I figured that could a less-than-honest attempt to assure customers that it doesn’t have the unpleasant qualities one might expect it to. Firsthand accounts from people who have played one usually seem to say that it’s even shriller than the E-flat, and the few YouTube videos I’ve found bear that out. But then, what you say is more in line with the manufacturer. Perhaps there are instruments out there from different manufacturers, with drastically different characteristics?

    It makes it difficult decide whether the instrument would be useful to me (in a theoretical exercise like your own Alfheim Symphony, since it’s a moot point in a piece I intend to be practical). The best I hope for from it is an upward extension to the range in which the clarinet family can play beautifully and without strain. The extent to which the A-flat clarinet can be refined enough to be beautiful is unclear.

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