Hands Across the C

October 20, 2014

Sherman concert Donald and Sara, and me. (2011 or so. I have a new aortic valve, and 40 less pounds) A young clarinet player really has very little about which to worry, least of all, the hands. I never had a single concern about my hands or their ability to manipulate the clarinet. Never did I ever think about my fingers. I played the clarinet , then bass clarinet,then just about all of the saxophones, especially playing baritone in a big 20 piece “big” band while in school in Texas. At age 16,I saw an ad in Downbeat magazine for   scholarships for “Dance Band” musicians. There were full scholarships available,and they wanted a recording as an audition. I borrowed an alto, went to a studio in downtown Boston, and recorded a couple of banal tunes; just the melody,no improvisation. It was almost a lark. But it became an incredible education. What about never having been presented with a big book of lead alto parts in a section of five  saxophone players.One can read well in lessons or in band, but a big band, with its manuscript parts, bad copying, falling pages, to a young kid who was actually a clarinet player, it was literally  insane . And, I was playing lead alto, With a full scholarship which included tuition and a few other things.( For me, leaving home and going to the west was the most exciting thing.) Of course, I was to return to Boston later to study the clarinet for many years. But Texas, for a kid from Brooklyn, was a real adventure. It remains in my mind forever and actually I was to meet my best friend, Duncan Hale there.Now, we grow old . me in Canada and him still in Texas. But hands? and fingers? The furthest thing from the mind. I played everything I could find, first , playing saxophone, until one day in a part for alto, I had to switch to clarinet. “Wow a real clarinet sound”, was what I heard, and that story continued . I first began to get pain in my left hand midway into my teaching at Concordia University, where I began to play many   chamber music concerts. The pain began to really get my attention and I started exercising the hand by squeezing a small rubber ball, then wearing very tight gloves for pain then, I finally went to my doctor who told me that I was suffering from an elderly ladies syndrome having to do with”pouring too much tea”. (great doctor) The surgeon to whom I was referred diagnosed the problem as DeQuervains SyndromeDe Quervain’s tenosynovitis (dih-kwer-VAINS ten-oh-sine-oh-VIE-tis) is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. If you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, it will probably hurt every time you turn your wrist, grasp anything or make a fist. Although the exact cause of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis isn’t known, any activity that relies on repetitive hand or wrist movement — such as working in the garden, playing golf or racket sports or playing the clarinet or lifting your baby — can make it worse. And it got worse. I started buying all kinds of gloves, braces, anything I could find to help ease the pain. The surgeon had an assistant make me a piece of plastic material which held my hand in a tight grip, but , to no avail. He then scheduled me for a simple day surgery. What this consisted of was him , making a small cut on my left wrist. The prep took a long time, including many baths and cleansings, it seemed, but the surgery was as simple and was done with no pain and no anesthetic. It was over in a minute or so. “You’re cured”, he said. He then told me that the scar tissue would allow the tendons to move more freely and the pain would be gone. And , it was gone , quite quickly. My left hand is still ok, unless I wear a large heavy wrist watch. Spooky little thing, that scar, but I was left in peace with that hand. And so, the years went by and I was testing and buying as many clarinets as I could. For about ten years, perhaps a bit more, I played the Mazzeo System full boehm “centered tone” clarinets, had a set of them. They played well and I think I played them for as long as anyone. From the standpoint of technic,they are a terrific advantage, all fingerings are pure, and anything is possible. They were good instruments, as well. BUT, all those keys, 23 and seven rings were heavy, to say the least. I removed the big low Eb key , but that helped little. And, my hands are small, fingers as well. During the last ten years, I started writing articles about thumb rests, simply picking them to pieces, because of what I said was too big or too small or unadjustable, or just plain lousy. But, dear friends, it was my right thumb, which began to ache terribly after a couple of hours of playing. I would simply have to stop playing and rest, as it really ached. Not only that, but it hurt and really damaged my control of legato. I retired from University, and we left Montreal for Cornwall, a smallish city in Ontario, where the taxes are much less and the Province is run with a modicum of sense, if not much more than Quebec. I found the most beautiful clarinet I have ever heard. It wasn’t the make, it was the clarinet itself. The c clarinet weighs less than the Bb and is intrisically, better sounding and feeling, much more vocal than the Bb, and better in tune. I started playing the Schubert Sonatinas for Violin, opus 137, and I absolutely loved them, and all the violin music I could find. Then the Pistolesis, friends and colleagues for years, formed a trio called the McConnell Chamber Players. He is a cellist, but also plays piano, and Sara his wife, a violinist, violist and a soprano as well. We payed the regular clarinet repertoire, but on c clainet, probably the original instrument for the Mozart Trio and other works, and yes, I played the Schubert Violin Sonatinas. Finally, my right hand was eased because of less weight of the instrument, but , not forgotten. I still became fatigued because of the pain in my right thumb,   hurt legato, perhaps the clarinets most beautiful feature. I went for weirdo expensive electronic therapy, with promises of it growing new tissue for my thumb. No help at all, all those lights going on and off. My thumb hurt terribly after a brief rehearsal. I tried a neck strap, to no avail, until my answer was given to me. The tip of the thumb wherein you hold the weight of the clarinet , is the weakest part of the wrist, the thumb having the most uses of either hand. I found a gadget, please don’t neglect this thing, as it may help you.I am reluctant to mention its name. Why? Because it becomes a gadget to try. These gadgets flood the musical instrument business. But, if you really love your horn and it is uncomfortable because of your right thumb, the Tan Koiman thumb rest can save your life and your phrasing. If not, it is not needed.   it transfers the weight of the horn to the joint next to the wrist, allowing a childlike freedom of every movement in your right hand.

Extraordinary.But putting it on the horn. confused me, I finally discovered the way, after carefully avoiding the instructions that came with it. I put it one with only one screw, and it is miraculous for anyone who has this fatigue and pain. I do not think I will play Bb again, mostly because the C is so beautiful, and I am ordering a c clarinet from Tom Ridenour(the best designer of clarinets), tonight, if he will attach the gadget before shipping me the horn. That is what I call it,  a horn;Most do. Keep practicing, it doesn’t keep you young, but it keeps you. best regards, sherman


Mute, but costs and interest rates abound. The sky is the limit.

October 16, 2014

Once and for all,a clarinet doesn’t have a sound, regardless of the hype.the salesman,the necessity of his income, or anything else.
What is important is the total drivel of the mistake that is the clarinet mystique.

I love my readers. and they are very important to me, as is my experience, abilities,but, what is most important is truth.

Let us face it, very very few of you will ever be in a professional situation; on the line, eight services a week and producing with at least, perfection.

And, I will say , that it is normal to have pride in your instrument, regardless of your abilities. Playing in a church orchestra or a community band or any music is what is most important, the quality of the horn being ephemeral at best.

What is of great concern to me, is the student.

This has happened many times: A student arrives for a lesson and says that his horn doesn’t play well. I fix the horn, straighten the keys or replace the pad.
The student thanks me and then says, “I would have that new Buffet the director said I needed so desperately, but my father, who is a bus driver, is still awaiting the bank loan of 5 thousand dollars, (at 18%).

This is what hurts me,makes me weep. It is so false, the stupidity of the director in recommending a horn for a child, one that is inherently very uneven. usually not well in tune, and is made of wooden joints, which are prone to fusing together after hours of rehearsing and or marching. There are some colleges and universities that actually have “techies” on STAFF to remove joints fused together. There are even some band directors who tell their students to leave the barrel “out a bit” so that it would not come together and remain there.forever.

The pressure that is exerted by the music director for his student to own the best clarinet is criminal, and I feel there is money and/or gifts changing hands when these recommendation bear fruit.

Everyone is “into” cars these days , and they are the real American Pastime. But with a car, we ae prone to either buying or leasing , can usually get a “no interest” loan or extend the loan forever. People who have no credit still want cars, and need them. So, they pay enormous interest rates and are foreclosed upon with great frequency. But, that is North America, and it is not buying a clarinet for five thousand or much more and having the child give it up, while payment is still not complete.

stay well, and don’t stop practicing.

sherman


The most Exquisite Clarinet Ever Made

October 9, 2014

I have ben a clarinetist, professor of chmber music and a conductor and other varia, having to do wih a University,studyimg and playing in Europe and other places. During these years, I was known for knowing and/or having played, a great variety of chamber msic from all eras. Also I have 52 works composed for me by various composers. Nobody famous, but who knows, maybe some day.
All of my clarinetists life, I have searched for the most perfect clarinet, and, (by the way) mouthpiece , ligature and of course, reed, including reeds made of every conceivable material, and I made my own for a while. During these many years, I have always read of the clarinets of former virtuosi and also many “wanna-be” virtuosi. Like many of you, I have competed with everyone I could find in Conservatories and all other venues frequented by hungry clarinet players. Like many of you, students and graduates and those waiting to audition for a piteously diminished job market, thoughts of making a good living were always obscured by the desire to play in an orchestra . I auditioned for many and did get a principal position, which I first enjoyed, but then was terribly disappointed,the repertoire being thin ,the conductor, even thinner and without knowledge. The salary was nowhere near commensurate with the years of study I had invested. During this long period of study,
I remember my mother telling me that “Lipsky was making 300 a week.playing popular music.” I was terribly hurt;I moved out of the house and into a small basement apartment which were frequented by rats of all kinds, including a couple of other students. We practiced, fought, and stole each others food.

I did a lot of freelance work in Boston , managed a small music school, and existed, as many of you did. Many auditions followed. I won the audition for principal in an orchestra in a foreign country, but was asked if I would agree to share the position with a local person who had been there for many years. I refused. And, all these years, while striving for perfection, I also searched for the perfect clarinet and accessories. I cannot recall the exact count , but it was many many clarinets and even more mouthpieces and accessories.
As  ayoungter, I had hear that the late Beorge Bundy was doing researh on a reed made from sterling silver and became fascinated with that idea,which of course, went from reeds to clarinets themselves. I asked myself the question, “why do clarinets have to be made from wood? There were already instruments, though of a lower qality, made fom plastic and metal, for students, the quality of such being rather poor. So I wondered if it would be possible for one of these companies to make me a set of instruments of another material, a material not so terribly unstable as the wood,the standard clarinet material for a fine instrment since the time of it first appearance during the time of Mozart and before? I had played “Classical” clarinet, three,keyed models up to 8 keys, made of boxwood, and they were and are not in tune, not withstanding the early music movements towards playing music on early “out of tune” instruments. Always however, searching for the perfect clarinet.
Yes, I have listened to every clarinetist of my tme and as many as before my time. They are written about frequently, always with the name of the particular excellent player, never as only “the perfect clarinet”. That dear friends, is the point ofthis writing. I knew the playing of Marcellus, Bonade, Gennusa, Cioffim Drucher Combs and all of the others, both personally and from their recordings.Never the perfect clarinet without the players name Why? Because there is no such animal, nor clarinet. Unto itself the clarinet is totally mute, making no sound. All of fhem. So let us continue to talk of the wonderful players, but please no more talk of the qualities of beauty in a piece of wood. There is none.

Personally, without a doubt, the finest clarinetist was the late Harold Wright, who was principal in Boston for 23 years, making outstanding recordings of most of the solo repertoire and chamber works as well, with the Casals Festival the Marborough Festival and, on many recordings.

Richard Dyer, of the Boson Globe said of him “Although Harold Wright is a consummate virtuoso of the clarinet, you don’t so much listen to him as overhear him as he steals sound from silence; drawing us into a volatile private world of thought, feeling and dream.” Wright only possessed an understanding of making the sound of music better than any other of any time. Conception? Imagination? Ear? It remained  during his time.

Of Heifetz, it is said When his admirers remarked how beautiful was the timbre of his Strad, Heifetz opened the instrument’s case, listened, and said ” I don’t hear a thing “

Play well and cover up for winter.

best, sherman


Mueller Clarinet, and but who was Iwan Muller?

October 1, 2014

IMG_0431Dear Mr. Friedland:
I have just purchased a metal clarinet from an estate sale. I am normally a French Horn player and know very very little about clarinets. I even bought it sight unseen! Now that I have the clarinet, I see that the bell is engraved with a half circle which has all cap letters: “The Empire State” – below the half moon in straight writing, it says, “Designed and made by (next line) Walter W. Mueller (next line) Long Island City, NY. On the back, above the bell there is engraved the number 469. The number is also above the cork on the top piece. It looks as though the instrument may have been black originally, but has been worn to the metal. I’ve been trying to research this specific clarinet but am having trouble with this exact one.

I came across your website when trying to find information on this clarinet. I am wondering if I might have found a treasure, or simply a fairly old, very well used, metal clarinet.

I did notice that in 2010, Walter W Mueller sent a note which you posted about being in his grandfather’s shop at 6 or 7 years old and putting the gold crayon in the name for embossing.

Can you shed any light on my new acquisition? Thank you so much for taking the time to have a place for questions on your website.

BJ

Ivan Müller, sometimes spelled Iwan Mueller (1786 Reval, Estonia–1854 Bückeburg), was a clarinetist, composer and inventor who at the beginning of the 19th century was responsible for a major step forward in the development of the clarinet, the air-tight pad.
Müller was born in Reval (present-day Tallinn), at that time a city with a strong Baltic German community in the Governorate of Estonia, part of the Russian Empire. He became a chamber musician in Saint Petersburg before he was twenty. At the same time, he was constantly striving to improve the clarinet, with new types of keywork. At the time, the standard clarinet used flat brass plates covered in soft leather to cover the toneholes. Since these leaked air, the number of them had to be kept to a minimum, which meant that notes outside of the main scale of the clarinet (accidentals) had to be obtained by complicated fingerings which were difficult to play quickly and rarely were in tune. Clarinets would have five or six keys, the bare minimum to obtain an acceptable chromatic scale.
Müller’s solution was the stuffed pad, originally made of kid leather stuffed with felt. These pads would “bulge”, such that in combination with countersunk tone holes, would close the keyholes sufficiently tight to permit the use of an increased number of keys making the “clarinette omnitonique” possible.
In addition to the fingering system and felt pads, Müller is also known as the inventor of metal ligature (that replaced twine, string and wire, widely used in the past and still used today in German-speaking regions), which are used today in almost all single-reeded woodwind instruments.[1]
Müller went on to work in Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig, where he specialized in the basset-horn, a type of low-pitched clarinet.
In 1809, Müller performed to great acclaim on a clarinet made to his own specifications. Müller moved to Paris, got a wealthy patron in the form of (Mr.) Marie-Pierre Petit, and started mass-producing clarinets.
In 1812, Müller presented his new 13-key clarinet with air-tight pads to the Paris Conservatoire, but they weren’t impressed. Nevertheless, Müller’s new clarinet with fully chromatic range became popular and became the standard clarinet for much of the 19th century. It was further developed into the Öhler system, the prevalent system in Germany today. He was also, before the famous Hyacinthe Klosé, principal clarinet at the Théâtre Italien in Paris.

This same Mueller, now spelled in the english manner. Could he have been a relative of that Mr, Mueller who wrote to me ,telling about his coloring names on clarinets? Or, more importantly, can the original Iwan Mueller have been an ancestor of the Meller in New York. We know that the much earlier Mueller was from Estonia and played the clarinet quite well. Changed the pad construction of the pads. Did he have children? Could one of them been the young lad with the gold pencil filling in names on clarinets. Mueller clarinets.

Between you and I, there is probably little chance of that, though it remains a remote possibility.The Mueller Clarinet never came to much, but somewhere in that long lineage could be a real clarinetist.One who changed the clarinet for the better.

stay well, sherman


Ridenour’s Low C Bass

September 29, 2014

lowCbassI have been a clarinetist for almost as long as I can remember, about 65 years, which may have some pertinence to some. As a 15 year old kid in Brookline, Mass, Dick Greenfield , a gifted horn player, and my friend, used to go up to the Band room in Brookline High School, and , we’d just “hang out” as the popular parlance goes. (or, has it gone, yet again?). Corley, our band director gave us the keys,with which went free access.

We’d play warmups of orchestral passages, which we knew, for each other, and then we would go into the cabinets where all those new instruments were stored. And, we would party with them. I loved the look of the Bundy flutes, as there was a similarity in the key arrangement to that of my metal Pedlar clarinet. So, I put it together, started to play on it, and “lo and behold”, I made a sound. I actually made a sound.

That was the beginning of some kind of illness. For a kid who could barely play Rose”, #1, I was nothing, but eager.

When we got our first Bundy resonite Bass Clarinet, I was crazy to play it at our first band concert and did.We were playing the first movement of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony, the band arrangement of which starts with the Bass clarinet playing the familiar melody, and there I was , holding my  clarinet, and the Bass, on a neck strap, playing the melody, prior to putting it down and continuing on Bb with the familiar ostinato. That was pure joy. I had gotten the bug and made the rounds of all the woodwinds, save the bassoon, which we had not yet acquired.

For a young kid. it seemed like an achievement of some kind.

But, what it was, it has remained with me,always.I’m sure there are those out there, who may agree.
The fascination for clarinets has never left, except for lately when other things matter more than clarinets.

The Bass Clarinet has always fascinated me. Of course, there is a
story which goes along with this story here , as well. When in high school and playing on this new Bundy Bass we had received, I really thought that I was hot stuff, and , maybe for high school , I was. But here is the story. My teacher, a superb player was asked by Rosario Mazzeo to join the Pops Tour, which was to leave shortly, and he was somewhat bothered by what he considered a nuisance. So, he told Mazzeo that I was the person for the job. And, I had an audition with Mazzeo, who in several years, would become my teacher.

Ready for this?
He asked me to play Bb , asking me to play an E major scale to the altissimo and return. I did, somewhat good, but, with errors and (only the lord knows). It was a short sudition, the shortest I have ever experienced. Mazzeo said, “you have the bgginnings of a good sound” Come back in five years!

I think I had the courage to put the clarinet back together and stagger down the three flights of Symphony Hall stairs.It was of course, unforgettable. I learned more about the business of clarinet playing in that five minutes than I ever did.

Mazzeo was bothered that someone would send a student for a position he himself didn’t need, and reacted normally. KILL the messenger, if you get my meaning.

I learned to really play from that little horror, and studied with Mazzeo for 6 or seven years, was probably one of his better students, played “his” clarinets with great success, all the time realizing that only one brand of a new instrument would never make it. While everyone in Boston played Selmer, really nobody else did. It was known as a “Jazz” clarinet mostly, and remained so until the last five or ten years when their newer models virtually took away that “crown”.

As mentioned however, the bug stayed with me, and I have owned more clarinets than I can even remember, with no regrets.

The Bass Clarinet is a fun instrument to play, especially if you have the good fortune to play “Pierrot Lunaire”, by Arnold Schoenberg, in which you double on Bb and Bass and is a virtual dictionary of 20th Century clarinet practice.

But other than that, and a few other pieces, especially some Opera, Wagner, it is an instrument that is seldom used. There are some lower bass clarinets, but there is simply not that much repertoire of interest, and it remains a costly purchase.

The clarinet pictured above is the best priced, and best  instrument of its kind, and weighs in at less than three thousand dollars, including the whole thing. It is made of hard rubber, meaning it will not bind or crack and keep its pitch and tuning virtually forever, and if you don’t bash your friend in the head with it , or drop it off the bus, you are in business, until you graduate , ot change your major, whichever comes first. And brother, you will change your major, and may even graduate.

It is made by the designer William Thomas Ridenour, who has designed the worlds finest clarinets. I’ve never met him, but adore his instruments. His designs include, the Opus and Concerto, as well as the Sonata and others of the Leblanc  name. These instruments seem to have recently been discontinued, the inside story being incredibly convoluted. I believe the instruments have been reissued in hard rubber by the Ridenour organization. I have the Libertas; less to buy, even less to worry about , and , a great player.

Keep practicing, remembering that music is one of the more beautiful things we have been given to love.

Best, Sherman


Selmer Prestige Bass Clarinet problems

September 23, 2014

Dear Mr Friedland:

Please help me with your opinion in this situation.

I purchased a new Selmer Paris Low C Bass Clarinet for my son in April from a company here in the USA. There is crack in the wood on the upper joint and Selmers solution was to replace the upper joint and do a key transfer. There was also a problem with the silver plating coming off two keys.I have two concerns:

1. A local repair man told me the two joints need to be from the same location and matched or there could be other problems like binding when the weather changes. It sounds reasonable, but i have no expertise in the mater.
2. I paid over $12,000 for clarinet that now has mismatched serial numbers. It seems like this will have an impact on the resale value (not that i have any plans to sell it, he is 15 and has lofty aspirations). I have no idea how much but I purchased a new instrument and i think and accelerated depreciation should be covered by either Selmer or the vendor.
One question:
Is it typical for the finish to wear off that quickly.

Thank you,
JM

Dear JM:
Plating on keys can and does wear off, depending upon the body itself. I have had students and know of many players whose silverplated finish can be worn away from the very beinning, depending upon the particular acids what are part of all of us. I myself, have never ever had this situation. When I have had silver plated clarinets, they remained new looking for my entire ownership. But, there are those who have the very opposite experience. Some is dependent upon normal pressure exerted, but most is simply something that happens with some, but not others. Personally, I have always admired silver plated keys, and while playing Selmer clarinets for a long time, my keys were a point of pride, and as a result, I suffered no such problems. Arguably, Selmer makes one of the very finest clarinets, having played them all.
As far as mis-numbered joints, that is both inappropriate and unacceptable, especially to a new owner, purchased from a Selmer dealer. I could not accept such a poor compromise, which is unacceptable. Depending upon original purchase,, Selmer should be contacted directly for resolution. If purchased in some other manner, there is no such connection. The crack is easily repaired, though there are several different methods, and keys are also easily replated.
All joints can bind with weather changes, and should be handled with considerable care, and correct lubrication. “lofty aspirations’ can disappear quite quickly at that age. A new instrument, purchased from the dealer is unacceptable with the variants offered.
Proper care and lubrication is necessary on a daily basis.

Good luck.

sincerely,
sherman


Atlanta Symphony locked out, again

September 8, 2014

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Locks Out Its Players, Again

The following is tragically serious. Having been trained as an orchestral musician and having had the privilege
of performing in such an orchestra, it is painful to see the above.

Even more painful, because though excellent, this is one of our smaller orchestras, not known for many recordings and, though, in a culturally rich area, we all need this and other similar ensembles.

Yes, like many of you, I think of the joyful hours learning all of the orchestra parts of which I could think, playing al the chairs in numerous Boston ensembles, auditioning many times, sometimes failing, and, after resigning, seeing no less than 200 players auditioning for my job. That is what I wanted, and what I got. My own personal principal position turned out to be fraught with unbelievable difficulties: a desire, I thought for justice, repertoire, salary. and work condition. For all ambitious clarinetists, please note the above. It is all much less than the solo in symphony #6, with a great reed.

“The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra began its second lockout in two years on Sunday when the ensemble’s management and its players, who accepted deep pay cuts two years ago, failed to agree on a new contract before a midnight deadline.

The orchestra’s management said in a statement that the impasse “may delay or cancel portions of the 2014-15 season,” which was supposed to be a celebration of its 70th anniversary.

The musicians said in a statement that the orchestra’s management had refused to budge from an offer “under which the musicians would continue to hemorrhage income and lose orchestra positions.”

The musicians accepted pay cuts of more than 14 percent and agreed to reduce the size of the orchestra after a lockout two years ago, to help right the orchestra’s finances. But the orchestra continued to have a $2 million deficit last year, management said.

The orchestra’s management said that its most recent offer to musicians would have raised their pay by 4.5 percent over the course of four years, but musicians said that those gains would be more than offset by the extra money they would have to pay for health benefits.

Last week the orchestra’s music director, Robert Spano, and Donald Runnicles, its principal guest conductor, wrote a letter urging management to recognize the sacrifices that the orchestra’s players had already made. “The A.S.O. is a jewel, which should not be lost or compromised, and the current conditions threaten that loss.


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