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The Care and Feeding of Woodwind Players and Their Instruments

Lisa Canning • June 2021Wind Talkers • June 12, 2021

As a music educator, learning how to care and nurture your woodwind musicians can feel a little bit like trying to decipher the meaning of morse code: Difficult to comprehend. Disjointed. Goes by way too fast to catch it all. Sound familiar?

With the vast array of instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, ligatures, head joints, and all of the maintenance and repair challenges that come with the more complex mechanisms found in woodwind instruments, combined with your students playing challenges, it can be pretty difficult to know what advice to take to best support your students in the development of their ensemble and individual playing. ‘Is that school no-name saxophone worth repadding for several hundred dollars again? Didn’t we just do a lot of work on it last year and why does it continuously fall out of adjustment? Is it the instrument or my how the student playing it is handling it or both? ‘

Without more specific knowledge of the easiest and most difficult mechanical challenges woodwind instruments have, often as an educator you can feel left in the dark and not sure the best place to invest, support or make meaningful recommendations that will help you, your school, your students and their parents be successful in your program with borrowed school instruments or their own.

I hope in this new column, WindTalkers, will help you more easily decipher the care and feeding your woodwind players and their instruments need to produce the results you most want.

My name is Lisa Canning and I have been a professional clarinetist and a private lesson teacher. I have also spent the last 40 years in the music industry. Over the years, my business has evolved from renting out over 5000 band instruments annually and selling and servicing every major brand of woodwind and bass instruments from student to professional, to specialize in clarinets and the repair of all woodwind instruments. Today I am the chief clarinet picker at Lisa’s Clarinet Shop. We have 3 locations: one in Glen Ellyn, IL, Santa Fe, NM and Catonsville, MD. We employ working professional musicians who have been in the classroom and concert hall equally.

In addition to instrument sales and service, our shop also offers a 2-year online master technician training programs to teach the highest quality repair of clarinets, saxophones and flutes primarily because quality repair is in such short supply in so many communities. Too few technicians are passing on their knowledge to help more communities musically flourish and taking their secrets and talents with them into retirement.

I personally think as musicians and educators we have an obligation to pass our knowledge along to strengthen our teaching capacity as well as the students we serve. The more we know the more we can share to build stronger more sustainable music programs in more communities for the benefit of many.

This column is the first of more, on a monthly basis, to come focused on the care and feeding of woodwind players and their instruments. In this column we will provide curated insights, support, teaching tips, techniques, and general advice from woodwind musicians who have worked in music education as teachers, performers, and band directors and whom have a unique perspective on the best way to approach a broad range of topics related to woodwind pedagogy, performance, repair and more.

So often as an educator, when a woodwind instrument is not the instrument we personally have mastered, we rely on one or two woodwind musicians to teach us everything they know. They help us choose what to teach, how to teach it, and what general advice we give to students and their parents. And while its awesome to have a friend or two you can rely on for advice, my hope is by offering a wider array of insights and opinions, from those who have mastered their abilities on a woodwind instrument, and taught many to also do so, you can develop a deeper more well-rounded perspective and approach to teaching woodwind musicians as well as have a few more musicians and educators you can turn to and can count on for advice you can trust.

Countless times I have experienced a seasoned educator, who is not as comfortable with woodwinds, call and say ‘I need to buy 20-Vandoren (insert 1 model) mouthpieces for my clarinet/saxophone section’. Trouble is, no one mouthpiece will help everyone in any of your woodwind sections sound similarly despite what you were told. (More on that this fall.)

While it’s true, becoming more proficient teaching and supporting the advancement of your woodwind section will require a greater commitment from you to surround yourself with more advisors who can help you achieve the results you want, I hope to make it easier for you to do so. It’s my goal to give you 80% of the knowledge and resources you need to advance your woodwind section through this monthly column.

Moving forward, our July, August and September columns will focus on Clarinet, Saxophone and Flute basic repair techniques and tips to help you be prepared for in person learning this coming fall in the classroom. From there we will move on to pedagogical techniques for each woodwind instrument to help you better understand what to focus on and where to invest your time and energy to strengthen your student abilities.

Until next month, if you are inspired to share a topic or question you would like answered in an upcoming column, be sure to drop me a note at lisa@lisasclarinetshop.com.

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