it takes two
A few weeks ago during a break in rehearsal, the music director of one of my symphonic wind bands asked me if it would be possible to work something up – quickly – for a feature in our upcoming Spring concert. “OK,” I said. “How about a bass clarinet duet? That’s something you don’t see every day. And it’s just daft enough that it might work…”
My good friend and fellow bass clarinettist @SophieRansby, who I know will not mind me saying is just about as daft as I am, also thought it was a great idea and agreed to be involved. Since she’s a very busy bunny running the Southbank Centre’s Gamelan programme and was also up to her neck in organising the all-female orchestra for their Women of the World festival at the time, I set about finding some pieces that a) fit in with the programme and b) that we could get up to performance standard in, frankly, not very much time at all.
Thankfully, I already had one piece in mind: a few weeks previously, the fantastic bass clarinettist Michael Lowenstern – who, if you are a musician of any variety, you can watch and learn from and if you’re not already you absolutely should be – had featured a double-tracked version of Tico Tico as a bass duet on his YouTube channel and plugged the arranger, Tim Goplerud, who had sent it to him. It was a great arrangement with some really complicated-sounding intertwining between the parts, and since we also at the time had Fiesta Del Pacifico with its Mexican & Spanish flavours in our programme, it fit perfectly. We were also keen to have a go at the arrangement of Maple Leaf Rag which we knew the book contained; together, the two pieces made a really nice fun mini-programme that would slot in well to the concert.
The book was being sold by self-publish outfit Lulu, so I ordered it straight away but when it arrived, I discovered a mahooosive flaw in Lulu’s business plan: while they print musical scores, they don’t print them with a pull out part for each instrument, so sadly the book was useless in terms of performance since we both would have had to crowd round one stand and the page turns would have been impossible. This is a real shame, since there must be thousands of self-publishing composers/arrangers who could benefit from, y’know, actually having their work printed properly and in a fit for purpose fashion. A gap in the market, surely.
One refund from Lulu later, I got in touch with Tim Goplerud via his website, explained the problem we’d had with Lulu, told him what we needed and he very, very kindly spent the weekend creating PDF copies of the book for us in return for nothing more than a promise to honour his request to send him a copy of the programme if we performed any of it – what a nice man! I paid him directly for his arrangements and cut out the middle man (far preferable in my view, anyway) plus a bit extra for his extra time on the conversions, and we set to work.
Soph and I have played together for many many years in the same wind orchestra and were standmates on first for a long time before I switched to bass, so we already had a good musical rapport and can read each others’ playing without having to think too much about it; a good basis for a duet, but the challenge was moving it over to bass, which is a bit of a different animal to the Bb. For this performance, we only had time for two rehearsals and one run-through at band last week. That meant no time for notebashing, so we spent most of the limited time we had together working on timing, dynamics, and making sure the two parts bounced off each other nicely. Since these arrangements were originally written for Bb clarinet and not bass, we also spent some time rewriting and rearranging a couple of bits to take account of the idiosyncrasies of our respective bass clarinets. My bass – good old Brenda – for example, is notoriously temperamental at the best of times and simply refused to perform the A4 –>F5 leap without grumbling just a little bit toooo much for performance for my liking, so the A was substituted for the D above it in the same register and the problem was solved; Soph’s can be a bit dodgy on the high notes so she spent some time finding workarounds for that.
We performed the pieces on Saturday night in London, and I got the recordings this morning. I’m so pleased with how they turned out considering we had so little time to put them together, and I’m really chuffed with the timing and how we’re bouncing off each other; there are times when if I didn’t know the parts I’m not sure I’d be able to tell who’s doing what and that’s great. In the end we decided to just relax on the night and have fun with it and as a result we got a pretty decent performance which we had a *lot* of fun putting together and that both we and the audience really enjoyed – what more can you ask for, really?