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  1. #1
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    Unhappy Contra-alto Altissimo

    Hello all,

    I have two high school students who, for their all-region auditions, are required to play an altissimo E (3 ledger lines). I have tried the "cheater" fingering of the over-blown A-key and it just won't work. The actual fingering combination is also unsuccessful. Both instruments are the Selmer rosewood. If you play up to the note then all is well. However, the one time when the note has an open attack is on a fermata and, well, is a disaster. Any suggestions?

    Mande in TX

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    Default Ah, concert band material...

    Only in the world of the concert band would anyone demand altissimo performance on a contra-clarinet.

    Back in the early 1960s, I used a version of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto for my audition piece, specifically for the All-City Concert Band and the All-County Orchestra (in Saint Louis). The cadenza in the First Movement ranged all the way up to altissimo A. As a result, I spent a lot of time figuring out which faked fingerings worked best, and which were the best, intonation wise.

    At that point, bass clarinet playing in the schools scarcely moved above high C, mainly because the horns were all beat to hell. How times have changed...

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    Default

    I've never played Eb contrabass, just Bb contra. However, you've got a lot of similarities. There's an article on altissimo for both contras here, with some recommended fingerings. That might help you out.

    FWIW, while I was never asked to play above 8va on either bass or contrabass, I found altissimo a bit easier to do than on regular Bb soprano.

    As a final resort, you could always have your Eb contra folks switch to Eb alto clarinet for the passage in question.

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    Default

    Use the A and the Ab key together (Throat tone keys). Make sure they have an open voicing.

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    Default

    As this is apparently for an audition, switching instruments would not be an option.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pete View Post
    ...I found altissimo a bit easier to do than on regular Bb soprano....
    You likely found the same on sax. It is much easier to play altissimo the bigger the horn. I find it is easier on bari and bass than it is on tenor. It is easier on tenor than it is on alto, and why the hell would anyone even want to play it on soprano? If you do want to call the dog, Benedikt Eppelsheim made a fabulous little instrument that works way better than altissimo ever will on soprano sax.

    Getting back at the topic at hand, altissimo on clarinet... I can't remember ever having running into altissimo notes on bass clarient in HS. Times are definitely a chagin'.
    One day the bass saxophone will make a comeback and rule the world.
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Helen View Post
    I can't remember ever having running into altissimo notes on bass clarinet in HS. Times are definitely a chagin'.
    It is kinda surrealistic, isn't it. I remember using altissimo to pop D - F above the staff for a bass sax. If I can do it, anyone can. I just fingered the lower not and then changed my vocal cavity and airflow. Fun stuff that.

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    Default

    A lot of the "modern" stuff for bass (mostly in the form of solo or accompanied solo works) exploit every register and effect possible on the instrument. It sound airy and thin, but it is a timbre and effect that the composer can exploit, so it gets used.

    As a ninth or tenth grade student, I learned the altissimo register up to A above C above high C for a solo competition, and once I mastered that little bit of trickery, every audition group crumbled before me. The novelty of a bass clarinet playing clarinet solo grade music convinced every auditor that I was their fair haired boy.

    But, I had my own horn, maintained to my standards, and untouched by anyone else. Our district's musical director, Bob Tobler, told me a few years ago that he would always remember me as the kid who owned a horn that normally only school districts owned. If you keep your instrument out of careless hands (and there are few people more careless than high school bass clarinet players), it's amazing what you can make it do.

    Directly behind our house here in Pearland TX lies a two story home, separated from ours by our eight foot cedar fence.. While sitting in the hot tub one spring evening, we overheard the daughter of that family one night as she practiced her school bass clarinet. The next evening, I had my horn out on the patio, waiting to hear her practice. It was fun to mirror her scales on my horn, and then to look at her peering out of the window, trying to discover what was going on in the pitch black void that was our back yard.

    Face it: it's not every day that you hear a bass clarinet calling to you out of the night...

    The next afternoon, I walked around the blocks and introduced myself to the family, pointing out that I could hear her struggle with notes over the breaks, and offering my assistance.

    Her horn, a modern Selmer pro model, had been given the usual school treatment, and had been badly knocked about on the big keys on the lower joint. We took her and her instrument over to my repairman and had him bring it all into alignment, following which she bloomed on the instrument (as most who have these problems addressed do). By the end of her high school career, she was ripping along on my Mozart bassoon concerto transcription, as well as doing a fair job on the Mozart clarinet concerto, all on the bass.

    And, i didn't charge her a thing for the lessons...

    One of the many errors committed by high school music programs is to assign weak clarinet players to the bass (and, God forbid, alto) slots in their groups. Give an unmotivated musician a hard to manage and poorly adjusted school instrument, and you can't really expect good results. Granted, most of the parts are easy enough to manage - omph-pa-pah and so forth. But, if you then throw a transcription of Bernstein's Overture to 'Candide' at them, you are asking for a botched solo passage, plain and simple.

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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Clairannette View Post
    I have two high school students who, for their all-region auditions, are required to play an altissimo E (3 ledger lines). I have tried the "cheater" fingering of the over-blown A-key and it just won't work. The actual fingering combination is also unsuccessful. Both instruments are the Selmer rosewood.
    Hi Mande, I have a selmer contra and it pops into altissimo E no probs, for me if notes can be achieved by working up or down a scale and not by simply playing then the instrument has leaks, find a local repairer and get them to look at it.

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    Default

    Another thought:

    Sometimes using a tongue "entrance" (I hate the word attack) makes a high note difficult to come in on due to the shape of the tongue when tonguing with the traditional "tah" syllable. You might try having the students try starting the note with just the breath using a fast cold airstream and the tongue in the shape to mimic a cat's hiss. When a note speaks when approached step wise but does not speak when played alone, it can also indicate a voicing problem on the part of the player. Articulation at the extremes of an instruments register plays an important part in voicing the notes.

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