The demon caller

February 5, 2016

Each morning, for as long as ican remember, at exactly 4:30 AM, my phone rings exactly once, and only once. And, Idont have any idea who is the caller. Now, can it be someone whom I know? Or, someone who is unknown? Is it to remind me of something which has left my memory? I have always prided my self concerning memory.

But as these calls continue, always at 4:30 AM.and only once, doubts are beginning to multiply. Natrully, it could be anyone. About anything, and I dont have Åny clue.

Or, can it be some indication of actual old age? This is disturbing. I am living in a place where screams can be heard at any time, without warning, where this is much dimentia present, coming virtually all day and night, with no warning of any kind.

What does one do? Tell a support worker? I dont think so. That would draw attention to no one else but me. And somehow, that is troubling. Anyway, I feel the need of a coffee, If you are actually out there, ring more than once. If so, I may answer the ring, but now, I am not so sure.

sherman at Heartwood.


storm in buffalo philharmonic woodwind section rages

June 7, 2015

for those even thinking of the orchestra business, look elsewhere, for there are fewer positions and much better ways to sustain oneself,  musically,during our time.  

stay well, sherman

 The accusations might seem insignificant – even trivial.

The sweeping gesture of a musical instrument. Hitting a flat tone. Or playing too slowly at times.

But to some musicians in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, it smacked of sabotage.

And it cost Pierre Roy his job as principal oboist for the orchestra.

Not even an apology to the orchestra or his skill – by all accounts he is a highly talented player – could mend his relationships with the principal flutist and the second oboist, among others.

Normally, the ins and outs of a workplace squabble aren’t news. Most everyone knows what it feels like to work alongside co-workers who don’t get along – or are hard to deal with. But this infighting played out in one of Western New York’s highest-profile cultural institutions and affected the performances and moods of its members.

In workplace disputes, people often don’t like to talk on the record, and that is the case with the orchestra, where hard feelings drove a wedge in the wind section. The Buffalo News reached out to lawyers for Roy and the orchestra, offering an opportunity for anyone involved to speak. Roy’s attorney spoke. No one from the orchestra responded. So The News pieced together what happened by reviewing court documents, including an arbitrator’s report and the emails, letters and testimony from musicians and orchestra managers that leave no question about the turmoil inside the orchestra

Several musicians supported Roy, citing their good relationships with him and admiration for his musical skills and professionalism.But others felt belittled or annoyed by what they called his distracting behavior in rehearsals.

“I felt like he was mocking me when I was sitting there,” flutist Betsy Reeds told an arbitrator, of several occurrences. “Just the tone. I felt like he was making fun of my tone and my movements when I play.”

After orchestra managers investigated complaints against him, they fired Roy in July 2012, ending his nearly 17-year career at the orchestra.

But Roy won’t go away quietly. In March, he filed a petition in State Supreme Court, hoping to void the arbitrator’s ruling that supported his firing. He wants to be reinstated. The case has since been moved to federal court.

e hall and the musicians were warming up.

“Why did you hit me?” Roy asked him.

“That little bump?” Christner replied, according to Roy.

“Then he said … ‘If you want to start something, go right ahead. But if I would have hit you, I would have knocked you (down),’ ” Roy recounted.

The confrontation happened in view of the audience, though it’s unclear if anyone in the crowd could hear what was said.

Christner, in his testimony, said he tried to stop the argument with Roy.

“I said this is no place to do this,” Christner said. “If you’re having an issue with me, don’t do it on stage. It was just inappropriate.”

Six months later, the orchestra sent warning letters to both, citing Roy for pursuing Christner on stage and Christner for his remark to Roy.

Mimicked and mocked

Musicians reported more incidents after that, but only one occurred during a concert. Second oboist Kate Estes testified Roy played “extremely under the pitch and very much behind the beat, almost half a beat behind the rest of the orchestra” at a concert in January 2012.

“I didn’t know whether I should play with him or with the orchestra,” Estes said. “I decided to play with the rest of the orchestra. There was no way I could match his pitch level at that point.”

On Feb. 11, 2012, Davis filed an email complaint saying Roy had mimicked her movements during a rehearsal for the Broadway Rocks concert.

Roy testified that he was cleaning reed shavings off his lap. But Davis didn’t buy his explanation.

“Pierre mimicked and mocked everything I did for the entire rehearsal, from brushing lint off my pants to how I was sitting in my chair, to taking the hair off the back of my neck, to how I was cleaning my flute,” she testified.

Several musicians noted Roy’s gestures, which surprised them because they described Roy as a player with minimal body movement.

“It wasn’t a gesture that I had ever seen before in the orchestra and I wondered what was happening, and then I saw Christine brush something off her pant leg and immediately afterward Pierre Roy did the same thing but in a very big gesture,” Estes said.

Yet another long-tenured musician, in court documents, said she did not witness anything unusual or rude in the behavior of Roy, or any flaws in his playing, during this time.

Later in February 2012, Davis again complained to managers about Roy, accusing him of aggressively swinging the bell of his oboe into her space, in a side-to-side movement, during rehearsals for John Adams’ “Lollapalooza.”

She said he consistently made the gesture at a particular place in the score where she was having trouble with an entrance.

“When we got back to the same place to rehearse, Pierre Roy made a very sharp movement with his oboe, pointing his bell at me,” she said in an email to the orchestra manager, Hart.

Mattix, the horn player, testified that Roy made similar gestures toward Estes.

Once, “I was concerned because I thought he was about to strike her instrument with his instrument,” Mattix said.

Roy denied making such gestures. He said he was cuing the principal clarinetist. But after Davis’ complaint, orchestra managers installed a Plexiglas shield between her and Roy.

In his testimony, Roy said that he felt Davis was a “very dangerous person in the orchestra” because she would complain and write letters about others she was not happy with. He said she was “sort of like the orchestra police.”

Fallout with Falletta

During rehearsals for the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 in March 2012, several musicians noticed Roy “playing flat,” according to the arbitrator’s report.

“They concluded that this could only have been deliberate,” the report said.

“It was really horrifying,” Falletta told the arbitrator. “The playing was deliberately out of tune, which, of course, creates a situation that is completely confusing for everyone. A person of Pierre’s level, skill and professionalism would only play that way intentionally. It was something I’ve never heard in my life. I can’t remember another situation where a musician would sabotage a rehearsal like that.”

g, she said, “is just not the way things are done.”

Roy and Falletta seemed to have a good relationship for a long time. In court documents, he talks of her support for him over the years, and her kindnesses to him with words and tokens.

“I think she’s been very complimentary to me throughout my history with the orchestra,” Roy said.

They talked about music, he said, and Falletta told him at times “how much she has enjoyed my playing.”

Yet, Falletta by March 2012 issued a warning letter to Roy about his employment.

She cited an episode in early March that year, saying Roy played during a rehearsal with “a marked lack of musicianship.”

 He said he didn’t think that was fair, and that it seemed like more was being required of him than of others.

Personality conflict

While the arbitrator said he admired Roy’s musicianship and spirit, he ruled out giving Roy his job back.

“He never came to terms with his anger problem,” Rabin said in his Dec. 1, 2014, decision. “He engaged in unacceptable conduct that made it difficult for the musicians around him to do their job. His return would cause unacceptable anxiety.”

 


Legato, getting even; the how

December 23, 2014

I have always considered the Debussy Rhapsody, for clarinet and piano to be one of the most challenging of the repertoire, even though the Mozart is more difficult; total transparency for the entire half hour of performance. And it must all be beautiful, from beginning to end. I have played it many more times than the Debussy, but never perfectly.There is always something about which I am not happy. Sometimes one note out of place. And you remember that one note forever.

After playing our clarinet for over 60 years or more, i have come to the conclusion that there but three notes on the instrument that pose the most problems in all of its considerable repertoire. Only three notes. Those three are heard at the very beginning of the Debussy Rhapsody for clarinet, written in 1909. You see, I had previously selected the three notes, and then came to the rhapsody, thinking to myself, Why did Debussy choose those three notes to begin this gorgeous little work? (Which,incidentally, nobody plays perfectly.) Virtually nobody, I only wish I could hear Harold Wright do it, for I consider him to be the finest musician clarinetist of my lifetime. But, I never heard him perform the work.

We know that as the new president of the Conservatory, Debussy was asked, by Gabriel Faure, to compose two works for the prize consideration, and the two were the Rhapsody, and Petite Piece.  Did he know the clarinet intimately? No, he did not, but somehow chose those three notes, open g, throat Bb and C to begin the piece. And I have come to the conclusion that the three comprise the most difficult problems of the learning of the instrument, especially in the delicate context in which they appear.”piano, reveusement”(quietly, dreamlike) And that context is legato, with small “crescendi and diminuendi”. How did he know? He didn’t ,I reasoned; but, my friends, I do know, and indeed, so do you.
The open g on the horn is the very first note one learns. It comes out sounding either as a noise or a thin sharp note similar to an open string on the violin. I am sure you all remember, and some, like myself, will never forget . It becomes easy and later becomes the note you try your reeds with. toot toot toot on that first Van Doren,or Rico, or who only knows what. That is the note upon which you will gauge your progress. Your embouchure will form itself around tempering that thin sound and blending it with all of the other notes you will learn. And you will determine that going from that open g to all of the following notes will be the most difficult, the first note to  travel to and from is the thin sharp g,to the throat Bb. Easy enough to approach ,like holding a chicken wing with the left hand. Easy to make, but comes out sounding like a chicken wing , or even worse. First, it is by its very nature a bad thin and sharp note and not even the correct fingering, but an incorrect fingering. It uses the register key which makes for the tuning, and so, depending upon our ability to hear, or perhaps our talent, we learn to negotiate that very difficult incorrect fingering. And the first giant problem with which you are confronted is moving from the throat Bb to the clarion C on the third space. Easy enough to finger, but going back and forth is almost impossible. Unless, of course, you try a gimmick or two or three, like holding all of your fingers down as you move from the Bb to the C. It seems to work or to make it easier, but it makes it impossible, because the tuning of the Bb is changed as you hold everything down  in trying to make actual legato. What you are doing by holding extra fingers down Becomes your undoing, and most,or many do it. (which makes their Debussy clumsy sounding).

We spend so much of our time looking at every instrument made, any way of moving the toungue or the fingers faster, choosing ligatures and barrels and all matter of ways to achieve  an imagined technic, always having to do with speed, that we neglect the basic reason for the clarinet, a single line instrument which emulates the voice. We see our teachers moving back and forth during lessons, always encouraging the students to “sing”, to bring something special to the music, to make it sing means to achieve a quality of sensitivity in our playing.

And the word that helps to define this sensitivity is seldom found. It is most difficult to achieve, and there are no words to sing. We have to play a melody seamlessly, smoothly, with understanding and direction. Legato is the most important way in which we express the intent of the music. Much of legato is written into the music: forte, piano, pianissimo , sforzando, and all combinations thereof.

Getting back to the Rhapsody, how do we learn to play those three initial notes? We make a musical context by making the three notes blend with one another: the g must be in perfect context with the Bb, and the next clarion c is the most difficult note. Not to just play, but to play so that the three sound totally connected, exact same timbre, quality and dynamic. In listening to the many fine players who have recorded the work, few do it with absolute seamlessness. Perhaps they may have been nervous, spending more time encountering the actual difficulties which abound in this little 9 minute work, but they seem distracted enough to almost ignore this first measure, which actually sets the context for the entire work. Legato is its secret, stage presence is also part of the mix and control of these difficult moving notes. To take the audience with you as you open the piece becomes the whole work. And so, while not being g, Bb, and c, it is the way we from one note to the next: the same sound as we move from and to each note.
There are a myriad of ways to achieve a seamless and beautiful legato, including by rote, actually copying what you hear , or are made aware of, listening to those around you, but copying is what should come naturally, though not completely.

You must choose the note on the clarinet that gives you most pleasure to simply play and hear. Perhaps it may be f on the 5th line of the staff, Is it your best quality of sound? Your very best. Play it, listen to it and enjoy the pleasure it gives you. When you know f is the note, carefully go up one half step to f#. Carefully duplicate the same quality of sound. It must be perfectly the same, save for the pitch. Then, connect the two notes noticing no difference whatever in the quality of the two. If you use the fork f#, there may be a slightly more brilliant quality. Try to make the sound, the timbre, exactly the same, even. Here is where you begin to strengthen your embouchure, your actual perception of the sound you are making. Now, for this apparently simple process, much time may be needed, listening, before you begin to notice the results. No movement of your mouth should be seen. (yes, keep a mirror on the stand). While any music book can help, the Gaston Hamelin Study of Scales can be one of the better. Somehow I feel that the French legato is more preferable.Or perhaps it is Hamelin nimself, who is considered to be the father of the so-called American School. This is the same Hamelin who was Principal Clarinet of the Boston Symphony, who happened to play a Selmer clarinet made of metal, a full-boehm instrument. His contract was not renewed by Serge Koussevitsky. conductor of the BSO, so, he returned to France, and happened to take a few students with him, among whom was Ralph McClane, who became Principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was the beginning of the so-caled american tradition of clarinet playing. *(the story goes that there was a standing ovation given the BSO, and when Hamelin stood, he waved his clarinet, and when Koussy saw the photo, he took offense)
Back to “getting even”. this comparing of each note as you slowly go up and down in half steps is part of the process of developing a perfectly even legato. This becomes more difficult when encountering notes that are more difficult to connect smoothly.
It may be news to some, but pianists have the very same problem, as the keys can be terribly uneven as played. Many concertizing pianists have their own piano, which they simply play at every concert. Horowitz was one, who also would only play at 4:00 PM on a Sunday. Perhaps that can be called an eccentricity, however here was aplayer who still dominates the world of piano, even though he has been gone for several years.
Most other pianists simply have to deal with different actions with totally different timbres.
As the sound of a soprano has to have an even sounding range, so too, does the clarinet/It is one of the facets we look for when acquiring a new instrument.
This kind of evenness throughout the clarinet is the thing for which we strive.
Getting even, is developing a totally smooth production of sound. HAMELINS scales can help, though your ear is the final judge before you audition.

stay well,
sherman


Clarinet Connect/ Debussy Rhapsody , Petite Piece, Garde Republicain Band

December 17, 2014

But, wait a minute! In order to set the story correctly,let me tell you about my early years as a young student who fell in love with the clarinet. I had a really great teacher who knew the value of playing and not just practicing. On day, he told me about the New England Conservatory band. I thought, well, a band is a band is a band. After all there was the high school band , but this band was no high school band, It was a band shaped along the style of the famous Garde Republicain of Paris. Total different instrumentation than that of our high school band.Actually, it was more like an orchestra, with large sections of first clarinets and seconds, roughly that of an orchestra, with clarinets instead of strings. Now, the conductor of this conservatory band, meeting on Saturday mornings was Georges Moleux. He was at that time principal bass volin of the Boston Symphony.Actually, he had been a first prize winner at the Paris Conservatory in both double bass and clarinet. For me, that meant everything, as I thought nothing further could be achieved. This was my beginning of learning of the great growth of the clarinet in FRance, due to the grandeur of the Napoleonic WARS, THE TRIUMPHANT BANDS THAT WERE A PART OF THE NAPOLEONIC TRADITION . It is one thing to mention the Dixieland tradition, but quite another to realize the immense growth of he clarinet in France as a direct result of the napoleaonic war tradition.

Debussy: Première Rhapsodie, Petite Pièce

The breakthrough as a composer came for Claude Debussy (1862-1918) around 1909. The premiere of his opera “Pelléas and Mélisande”(Score of which is at the New England Conservatory)in 1902 received a rather cool response from the public and press, but the performance in London’s Covent Garden on 21st May 1909, was received triumphantly. The performances of “La mer” and “Prélude à L’après-midi d’une faune”, the previous year had been a great success.

Now his music began to find recognition in Paris and as a result Gabriel Fauré who had been director of the Paris Conservatory since 1905, nominated Debussy into the “Conseil Supérieur” (Board of Directors) of the institution.

One of his first tasks was to compose two mandatory pieces for the conservatory’s clarinet competition. In December 1909, Debussy began writing a rhapsody for clarinet and piano which he finished a month later. On 14th July 1910 the jury, which included Debussy, judged the performance of eleven candidates and the following day he wrote to his editor, Jacques Durand:

“The clarinet competition went extremely well and, to judge by the expressions on the faces of my collegues, the rhapsody was a success. […] One of the candidates, Vandercruyssen, played it by heart and very musically. The rest were straightforward and nondescript.”

The official premiere of the Rhapsodie was on 16th January 1911 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris with Prosper Mimart as solo clarinetist and it was to him that the piece had been dedicated. Debussy was so enthralled by his interpretation and commented quite spontaneously that this was one of the most pleasing pieces he had ever written. This enthusiasm would have encouraged him to adapt the work for clarinet and orchestra in the same year and it is this piece which is well known today.

It was published as “Première Rhapsodie”, but a second rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra was never finished.(But, it was finished and has been recorded with my dear departed friend, Felix Viscuglia, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boson Symphony)

The second mandatory piece was “Petite Pièce”, a work of only 36 bars and lasting just under two minutes. For the Rhapsodie the candidates had several months preparation time, but this piece was to be played “prima vista”, that is, by sight. The technical difficulties, therefore, are not so great, but the jury would surely have expected correctness in the execution of the punctuated rhythms which run throughout the entire piece. As a composition that was intended “only” for an exam, the “Petite Pièce” is a wonderful and charming little work, not to be taken too lightly.

The Republican Guard is the heir of the various bodies that preceded it in the course of French history whose task was to honor and protect the high authorities of the State and City of Paris : Gardes Françaises of the Kings, Consular and Imperial guard of Napoleon, etc.. Its name derives from the Municipal Guard of Paris, established on 12 Vendémiaire XI (October 4, 1802) by Napoleon Bonaparte. It distinguished itself in battles of historical significance, including Danzig and Friedland in 1807, Alcolea in 1808 and Burgos in 1812. (yes, there was a battle Friedland, and there is a street with that name running from L’arch du Triumph ((I was a bit too young))
In 1813 it was dissolved following the attempted coup of General Malet and replaced by the Imperial Gendarmerie of Paris and then, under the Restoration, the Royal Guard of Paris and the Royal Mounted Police of Paris. In 1830, it was recreated, and again removed after the Revolution of 1848 in favor of the Civic Guard (which proved to be a transient institution).
June 1848 saw the creation of the Republican Guard of Paris, including an infantry regiment and a regiment of cavalry. It received its insignia July 14, 1880. It took part in the First World War and saw its flag and banner decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honour. During the Second World War, it reported to the police headquarters and took the name of Guard of Paris. Part of its staff rallied to General de Gaulle and the Guard was involved in the fighting alongside the FFI at the liberation of Paris.
In 1952, the guard was renamed the Legion of the Republican Guard of Paris and took part in the Indochina War, which earned it the Croix de Guerre.

At one period during its growth, there were no less than 126 clarinetists studying in Paris at the conservatory. Many of our predecessors were among them. including Georges Moleux, Alexander and Henri Selmer and many more. During my years in Paris I was taken to lunch several times by the Selmers, riding out to Mantes in their big Peugeot with the air suspension.

happy Holidays  keep practicing

sherman


Acker Bilk, 85, dies after lengthy illness

November 3, 2014

Mr Bilk was a clarinetist, whose few popular sellers were shown again and again in trailers for movies. His “sound” was unusual and seemed to be derived from that of Sydney Bechet, who was a great player, and made a number of recordings, playing both clarinet and soprano saxophone. His influence was felt by Bob Wilber, who performed frequently in clubs in Boston reminding me of the many times I heard him at Storyville and other clubs in the area

Bilks most famous song Stranger on the Shore was the UK’s biggest selling single of 1962 and made him an international star.

Born Bernard Stanley Bilk, he changed his name to Acker – Somerset slang for “mate” – after learning to play the clarinet in the Army.

His last concert was in August 2013.

Pamela Sutton, who was Bilk’s manager for 45 years, said he had “been ill for some time”, adding: “He was my great friend and his music was legendary.”

Stranger on the Shore was the UK’s biggest selling song of 1962
Born in Pensford in Somerset, Bilk tried a number of different careers before borrowing a clarinet and copying recordings of famous jazz musicians while in the Army.

He formed his first band in Bristol after his demobilisation.

Known for his goatee, bowler hat and fancy waistcoat, Bilk was awarded an MBE in 2001 for services to the music industry.

He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000 but recovered and continued to play concerts, the last of which was at the Brecon Festival last year.

US number one
Bilk told the BBC in a 2012 interview that when he wrote his biggest hit Stranger on the Shore, he did not immediately realise it was special.

The instrumental made him the first artist to have a simultaneous chart-topping hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States.


Benny Goodman ” Avalon” the whole story

October 30, 2014

Like many of you, Benny Goodman was my inspiration to play the clarinet. Soon after I started, I found him, wore glasses like, listened to all his records, followed his career in swing and jazz and his study with Reginald Kell, his commissions of “Contrasts”, by Bela Bartok, The Copland Clarinet Concerto, Darius Milhaud Clarinet Concerto and all of the others. I listened to the first radio performance of the Copland on NBC radio in 1947, and was a devotee of him and his music for much of his life. AS i’ve written previously, I met him while in the Milwaukee Symphony, and reminisced about his complaints about the local musicians who played in his “pickup” quartet.
I had to play both the DFebussy Rhapsody and the Weber Concertino in rehearsal with the Orchestra. He just came ih, asked me if I played any Jazzand we went to the hall. He said to us all, “playing in this hall is like spitting in the ocean”, and then played with the most relaxed unforced sound I thought I had ever heard.
The version of “Avalon” in this writing is almost the same as he played on his Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938.
I still listen to it quite frequently and always find it quite wonderful. I wish I aged as well as Avalon.
But, wait a minute! there is a very interesting story to tell as well concerning this old standard.
It has to do with another famous clarinet solo, from the Third Act of “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini, composed in 1900. The clarinet solo of which I speak is in the third act of the opera. ” E lucevan le stelle”, which is like Avalon, but in minor. It speaks of the heros love of Tosca, before he is executed and Tosca commits suicide. (yes, it is dark, but one of the most sensually gorgeous works one will ever hear. It certainly affected me in that way.

In 1921, the famous pop singer, Al Jolson, recorded “Avalon”, which became very popular. It is virtually the same melody as Puccinis, but in major, rather than minor. Puccinis estate sued Jolson and the other authors of the pop tune, and Puccini was awarded 25,000, a huge amount of money in the 20s.

If you wish to listen to the Aria from Tosca, it can be found on YouTube, its title,” E lucevan le stelle”. There are many versions. Certainly best is Luciano Pavarotti.

The Benny Goodman  (also found on youtube)version is simply called “Avalon” with Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. and Teddy Wilson, Avalon being a place in California. Somehow the two seem to have  little comparison. But that is not the way the law suit was settled.

Keep practicing. Learn both versions, and play  or listen  often.
stay well.
sherman


Musical Chairs in New York, NEW YORK TIMES, by Gabriel Cohen

July 28, 2014

This is a very special article , which answers many questions for many readers and players. I am publishing it verbatim.

 

 

Beneath the stage of Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater lies a dark space with a low ceiling — a cross between a suburban rec room and a submarine. Shortly before each performance of “Kinky Boots,” 13 black-clad musicians file to their battle stations, each illuminated by a small light attached to a music stand. The expectant buzz of the audience filters down from a narrow opening at the edge of the stage.

As at any Broadway show, the musicians in the “Kinky Boots” pit are expected to play flawlessly for two-plus hours — even those who are sitting in for what may be the first time. During a recent Sunday matinee of the hit show, for instance, four of the musicians were substitutes, called in and asked to unobtrusively join a band grooving at the top of its game. After all, even Broadway musicians may want to take vacations, or spend the summer touring with Sting or the Rolling Stones.

“Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” said Ann Klein, 52, who replaced Michael Aarons, the regular “Kinky Boots” guitarist, twice in July. Ms. Klein has worked as a replacement on Broadway for five years, in five different shows. She has a career as a singer-songwriter and will pick up work on tour with other artists. But substituting on Broadway pays pretty well — like regulars, subs earn union scale, $227.42 per performance — if you can deal with the high stakes. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band,” Ms. Klein said. “So it’s scary.”

 

Brian Usifer, the music director and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” conducting during a recent Sunday matinee performance at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times
“Once,” Jeff Schiller, another “Kinky Boots” sub, recalled, “I got a call half an hour into a show, when a regular was experiencing incredible kidney stone pain.” Luckily, Mr. Schiller, who goes by the nickname Houndog, lives near the theater district. He swapped in between numbers in the middle of Act One.

Thankfully, this kind of quick-change routine is rare. Most subs get some notice before they have to step in.

Mr. Schiller, 55, has filled in on more than 40 Broadway shows, including “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Book of Mormon,” and he says that most productions follow a similar system. Each regular musician is required to name five possible substitutes, who learn their parts through a process called “watching the book.”

“If there’s room,” Mr. Schiller said, “you go in and sit in the pit and make a recording of the regular.” Then the subs go home and play along.

A regular works eight performances a week, but subs can do more if they’re playing in more than one show at a time. Indeed, Mr. Schiller has had 10-performance weeks. Part of what puts him in such demand is that he’s proficient on saxophone, flute, clarinet and a raft of other instruments. This flexibility, known as doubling, opens him to a wider range of work — not to mention extra pay.

Unfortunately, there’s a major downside to the sub lifestyle: There’s no guarantee of when you’ll play next. Mr. Schiller averages two or three jobs a week, but there are weeks when he gets none. That’s why he and Ms. Klein would love to receive regular chairs.
As recently as the late 1980s, playing in a Broadway musical was not considered the most desirable gig for a musician. Most professionals sought better-paying work in jingles and recording sessions. But as that work dried up, due in part to samplers and digital-audio software, the ace musicians gravitated toward theaters near Times Square.

But just as the competition for spots in a live Broadway orchestra has increased, the pit itself has contracted.

“The average number of full-timers per show has gone down by half since the 1950s and ’60s,” said Robert Meffe, director of music at San Diego State University, the author of a paper on the shrinking pit orchestra and himself a former sub.

According to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, there are only 349 full-time players on Broadway now. That means that all players — regulars and subs alike — must be in top form. “There’s a lot of pressure,” Martha Hyde, a frequent substitute, acknowledged.

“I subbed on ‘Matilda’ today — mostly flute,” said Ms. Hyde, who has been doing this work since 1988. “Tomorrow I’m playing second clarinet and second flute on ‘Phantom,’ and the next evening I’m playing alto sax and lots of clarinet solos on ‘Chicago.’ ”

“It’s a little bit like landing an F-14,” she added.

“But your job is not to stick out or make a big statement. You emulate the regular; you have to be willing to be a chameleon.”

Brian Usifer, 33, the music director, conductor and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” makes sure his subs fit in. Every replacement starts in an audition phase. On a sub’s first night, though, he tends to allow the occasional error to pass. “It’s O.K. if a few mistakes happen early,” he said. “It breaks the tension.”

 

Also substituting in the orchestra that afternoon was Ann Klein, on guitar. “Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” Ms. Klein said. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band.”
Both cast and orchestra can see him in the video monitors, he noted, saying: “I try not to show it in my face if something goes wrong. But when you have a sub who is good and who everybody likes, I don’t have to worry about them.”

Though the pressure and lack of job security are challenging, Ms. Hyde sees some advantages to subbing. “It forces you to keep your skills razor sharp,” she said, “and you play with more people.” That can mean more contacts for future jobs.

Even so, most subs supplement their Broadway stints with other work. Mr. Schiller has worked as a composer, arranger, touring musician, copyist and instructor. Ms. Hyde is a member of a chamber trio called the New River Ensemble, which sometimes plays live to silent films by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

The route to a regular gig is not predictable, as seniority does not necessarily determine who gets those jobs. Contractors, hired by producers to put together orchestras in tandem with music directors, make those decisions, and personal connections can trump other factors.

Despite the competition, Ms. Hyde says that she has found much camaraderie on Broadway. She has been a regular four times, in shows including “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “1776.” Whenever she gets a chair, she hands out sub slots to musicians who have helped her in the past, but also makes an effort to aid hopefuls. “If no one gives the new people a chance,” she said, “they can’t break in.”

Tino Gagliardi certainly broke in: He played trumpet in and out of Broadway pits for 30 years, as a sub and as a regular, and now he’s president of Local 802. “Being a sub is far more difficult than being a regular,” Mr. Gagliardi said. “Regulars only have to know one book.”

“Once,” he said, “I was subbing on five different shows and was so busy that I actually walked into the wrong theater. It’s a very hard way to make a living.”

But those F-14s still need replacement pilots. The goal, as Ms. Hyde put it, is “to make it as seamless as possible.”

“If the other musicians across the pit don’t notice that there’s someone different playing the part,” she said, “you’ve done your job.”