Are you an orchestral piccolo player? You may understand some of the following truths, whether you’ve played for year or for many decades.
If you can relate to any of the following, be sure to share them with your piccolo and flute friends!
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1. You Sit Around a Lot
It shouldn’t take long for you to realize that you won’t play on everything. I’ve had multiple piccolo parts that were short compared to the flute parts. For example, the piccolo only plays in the last movement of the Beethoven Symphony 5.
This summer, I’ll be playing another symphony where the piccolo only appears in one out of four movements. Some pieces don’t even have a piccolo part. Of course, that means you can easily get bored in a long rehearsal.
But you do get a pretty good spot to listen to the rest of the orchestra. It’s almost like surround sound.
2. You Get Put on the Spot Just as Much
While you may have plenty of time to rest or fall asleep, there are quite a few times when you have to be ready to play. I haven’t played it in an orchestral setting, but I’ve learned the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony excerpts.
Not only does the piccolo not play in the first two movements, but when it first does play, it has a huge solo. That means you have to be ready to play well, and you have to sit around for a long time without warming up.
Even if you can warm up, you can still feel like you’re on the spot. It’s an exciting rush at times, but it can also be extremely stressful.
3. You NEED to Protect Your Hearing
A lot of orchestral piccolo parts go pretty high. So high that playing without earplugs can be uncomfortable. If you don’t protect your hearing, you could lose it, and you won’t get it back.
Even if you’re playing music that doesn’t go very high, you should still wear at least one earplug. You sit behind the violins and in front of the clarinets. The horns also aren’t too far away.
Sitting in the middle of an orchestra can be particularly damaging to your hearing. Fortunately, you can find earplugs that still let you hear a bit as they mostly dampen the sound.
4. You Have to Be Good at Flute, Too
Some concerts will only require you to play the piccolo. However, there can be just as many programs that require some flute playing. You can’t just quit playing the flute to focus on the flute.
My graduate flute professor is a piccolo specialist, and she always emphasized the importance of playing the flute well. Then, you can focus a bit more on playing the piccolo.
If you need to audition for an orchestra, you may need to play both instruments. And even if not, there are some flute 3/piccolo parts that require you to switch back and forth.
5. You Have an Edge
While you do have to practice the piccolo and flute, that means you have a bit of a leg on up flute players who don’t play the piccolo. You may be able to get more gigs in and outside of the orchestral world.
If you just look at an orchestra, consider that there are three parts in the flute section. One of those parts will definitely require piccolo. Even the second flute player may need to break out the piccolo occasionally.
So if an audition comes down to you and one other player, consider if they also play the piccolo. If they don’t, your odds of getting the gig may be a little better.
6. You Need to Manage Your Money
Buying a piccolo can be cheap, but it can also get expensive real fast. The piccolos I’ve purchased have cost anywhere from less than $300 to more than $5,000.
If you’re at the orchestral level, you’re probably looking to spend in the thousands. Sure, you can get away with a cheaper piccolo, especially if you maintain it well enough.
But you might reach a point where that piccolo is holding you back. To prepare for that, you need to manage your money and start saving now.
7. You Own and Reference Multiple Excerpt Books
From Orchestral Excerpts for Piccolo to Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Piccolo, you probably have a large music library. And a big part of that library includes materials that cover orchestral excerpts.
Maybe you have individual excerpts and piccolo parts that you’ve downloaded from IMSLP. Or you might have copies of the scores of pieces you’ve played in the past.
Since you are so exposed, it’s essential to have and practice the excerpts you might need to play. Then, you won’t have to stress out when you only have a few weeks to prepare a piece for performance.
What Truths Did I Miss?
There are a lot of truths behind being an orchestral piccolo player. If you’ve played in an orchestra, what truths have you experienced that seem to be common for players of this instrument?
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