Serpent Stand

Choruses usually practice in a place where
there are chairs so people don’t have to stand all the way through
a long rehearsal, but when the group is going to practice any long stretch
of the music, they will be encouraged to stand up, because
the breathing muscles work better that way.

Bands (non-marching) and orchestras, on the other hand, have a lot of
instruments that are usually played sitting down, like cellos and
tubas, so they just have chairs for everyone who can play sitting
down and the people like the percussion and string bass players
who pretty much have to play standing up stand in the back.

Most of the people who play serpent come from a band
background. There are two ways to hold the serpent, and the one I
learned (French, or vertical style), requires putting the weight
on something underneath the instrument. So I was taught to
balance the weight on my calves, and to play sitting down.

A few years ago, I found that when performing with the Cantabile Renaissance
, I was having to switch between singing and playing
recorder and playing serpent, and I prefered doing all of that
standing up instead of switching between standing and sitting, so I bought a tuba
so that I could play the serpent standing up.

Last year at the Boston Recorder
, we were in a room with terrible chairs that angle
back so that the knees are higher than the hips. These are even
worse than normal chairs for the breathing muscles. One meeting,
the coach suggested that we all try to play standing up (I was
playing cornetto on that piece, so it wasn’t a problem) and we
agreed that it sounded better that way. Only two of the seven of
us kept on doing it, though. After that, I thought about the
previous meeting when I’d been playing serpent on the bass line
and had been completely unable to produce an in-tune low F. It’s
not the easiest note to play with a focused sound, but I don’t
usually have trouble producing the slightly fuzzy sound at the
right pitch. So I started bringing the serpent stand to those
meetings and playing everything standing up.

Last week I had a rehearsal with a flute player who has decided
she plays better standing up, so we all tried standing up, and it
really did help. I had warmed up the serpent very badly, and I
was having problems making some of the leaps the repertoire
demanded, but the notes I got were in tune in spite of the bad

So I decided to play both
last weekend with the serpent stand. It involves
carying more stuff, but the convenient bag to pack the serpent
stand in is a duffle bag, which ends up weighing fairly close to
what the serpent case with serpent in it weighs, so although I’m
carrying more weight, I feel better balanced with the stand than
with just the serpent case and my other stuff in my backpack.

I was still badly warmed up on Friday. I’m getting more
comfortable playing the bass lines on the serpent, and we did have
one tune where I managed to do something with the melody, so it
wasn’t a total loss as a serpent performance, and several people
said they enjoyed it, but I felt better about the recorder

On Sunday, however, I had practiced both serpent and cornetto
quite intensely in the morning, so the serpent was really ready.
One of the visiting directors from England went out of her way to
tell me how good I was sounding. The bassoon line I played wasn’t
embarrassing at all. So I think I’ll keep on using the stand.

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