letter from a “new” Selmer Centered Tone owner

February 25, 2015

pict08Dear Sherman:

I became the owner last September of a beautiful Henri Selmer Paris Bb clarinet,  Staff at the orchestra have been unable to provide any information about this instrument’s history. This clarinet has a distinctive octave vent with a 6-sided vent hole cover. It is a seven ring clarinet with alternate Eb/Ab and C#/G# fingerings. Can you add anything to my understanding about this particular clarinet?   I.S., LONDON, ONTARIO    

This question with its implications is reminiscent of many years of my own clarinets and even a good part of ny career. For me, the six sided vent key saved an entire concerto for me, and one that will never be forgotten. In the mid 60s, I was a Fromm Fellow in and at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. Actually, I had just gotten married and we spent our honeymoon summer on the Lake near Tanglewood, looking at a small faamily of Canadian geese who also chose to live near our cottage on the lake. I remember it as a beautiful, even pristine summer. We had a lovely dog, Taffee, a Shetland sheep dog, rescued from the spca in Lenox and she stayed with us for 15 years. At the beginning of the summer, I had auditioned in order to play the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto during the festival, conducted by Gunther Schuller. I won that audition and played one of the first prformances of that work. It was on the first night of the Festival of Contmporary music . This was no ordinary work, terribly complex and technically challenging as well. I remember only one thng about that concert, and frankly, it was not the Concerto, it was however, the six sided octave vent key. Directly before the Concerto, I was swabbing my instrument. I don’t remember the direction of the swab, but it stuck, and the more or less that I pulled on it, the more stuck it became. Picture yourself. This had never happened, before or after and momentarily I panicked. I passed the clarinet around so that the others sitting nearby could see my problem. In a few moments, another clarinetist opened his case and took out several small wrenches. One of the wrenches fit the six sided vent key cover. It was cleared of the swab in a few moments. Things proceded as expected, but I have never ever thought of the work since, only the panic of that big selmer swab stuck in the top joint of my Centered Tone Clarinet. Somewhere 808 sometimes listed as a Mazzeo System clarinet.your description, you mention the 808 model, I studied with Mazzeo and played this system of clarinet for many years, and found them superb and excellent., and totally reliable. I can easily imagine the possibility that your instrument was once a Mazzeo System instrument. Not everyone was as happy as was I and there was only one reason. The system was unavailable from any other clarinet manufacturer and this was the time of others, especially in orchestras. Selmer has always been at the forefront of model changes and innovations (think of the 10G and other models)

The hypothesis is possible. But, so are others

In any event, what is important is the quality of your instrument, its response and your enthusiasm. Thank you,



“Gladiator” was life affirming Nathan Friedland

February 24, 2015

When I told my ten year old daughter I’d bought a ticket to see “Gladiator Live” at Place des Arts, she responded, “Daddy, why would you pay 120$ to see a movie that’s like 15 years old when you can see it on youtube for free?”
Part of the Montreal en Lumiere festival, “Gladiator Live” featured the film shown on a huge screen with all its music played live by an orchestra of 82 players with a choir and a female soloist conducted by Justin Freer. The challenge: how do you keep a massive orchestra in time with a film that has so many action scenes and so many cuts that the music must be accurate to a split second with what’s transpiring on the screen? Not to mention that this must be done in front of a massive crowd of roughly 3000 people in a jammed Salle Wilfred Pelletier theater filled with fans who paid as much as 150$ to see the show go on without a hitch? This was a massive endeavor.
As the show began, and I watched a film I had seen 15 years ago at the movies, I remembered that back then I was not married and did not yet have a child. My father, a musician, teacher, and conductor, was well back then and when this film came out, he considered an attempt to play it live with his former orchestra from Concordia University. As a child, I remembered him conducting concerts at Concordia, but never really understood what the audience got out of watching a bunch of people play a bunch of seemingly unrelated notes. He used to say “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
As the film unfolded and its themes about family, home and honor took shape, with a magnificent soloist echoing a haunting theme while a massive orchestra backed her up, I looked up at the conductor and realized what my father meant. I was there to see him. It reminded me of my youth when he seemed like a king on stage. I was there to see where I had ended up. I began to cry as I had realized that perhaps through music, I had become what I am now: a father, a nurse, a husband, and then, just after the intermission, it happened.
Up until that moment, Justin Freer kept the orchestra in time with a small computer in front of him. It played the film but with small captions and a white dot that flashed periodically to be sure he could keep the music dead on with what was happening on the audience’s gigantic screen. All of a sudden, the computer went black. He did not panic but began shaking his head pointing at the screen attempting to signal someone to try and fix it and 3000 people now knew that because technology had failed him, he was flying blind. The action continued and he kept his orchestra in time by looking up at the massive screen and remembering what notes they had to play, exactly when they needed to. A technician crawled up onto the stage like he was a sniper in a jungle. Flat on his belly, he was at the conductor’s feet, fiddling with wires as Russell Crowe battled for his freedom. The technician failed and the screen stayed black. For ten minutes, Mr. Freer and his orchestra wowed the crowd with their impeccable timing that seemed accurate to a split second and I thought to myself :”My Dad could have done that”. Magically, the computer lit up, there was a brief pause in the score for the time being, Freer wiped his brow and the orchestra had not even missed a beat.
The film’s ending features a heroic death of the main character and a soaring moment of music that is life affirming. I watched it until the very end then 3000 of us stood and gave a 5 minute standing ovation.
I realized that my Dad is a hero, and that maybe I am too.

New Orleans, La. Mardi Gras 1955

February 18, 2015

This is not Canada, nor Monreal, nor New York or Boston, or Paris or Fonainebleau near Paris.

Come back with me 60 years to the time of my bandsmanship, to one of the most briefly exciting moments of any year, Mardi Gras, 1955, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Some think of it as simply Mardi Gras, or in French Fat Tuesday, but it happens to be the very day before the start of the Lenten Season, the forty days during which many resolve to further resolve, be it diet or alcohol, kindness, love, and any or everything of this mark in the year.

Lent is very serious, contemplating the very birth of Christianity. But one day before, you, we, may do as we please, and celebration is one of the great things we do. It is the joyous day to celebrate the coming of the Lenten season, the coming of Christ.
The U.S. 4th Army Band

Ft. Sam Houston
San Antonio, Texas
The U.S. 4th Army Band (FAB) was one of the finest service bands during the Korean and Vietnamese Conflicts. The Commanding General at Fort Sam Houston in the early 1950s was Lt. General I.D. White who endorsed appropriate music for all occasions, a tradition which was followed for more than two decades. Warrant Officers Dawson McElwee, Emil Krochmal, John Parrott, Homer Tampke, Alexander Difronzo and others were able to obtain qualified musicians to provide fine military, concert, jazz and string orchestra music for the many requests. Of paramount importance was a weekly radio program, The 4th Army Show (Concert In Khaki beginning in 1953) a 30-minute show that included military features and the finest concert literature, broadcast throughout five states of the Southwest. On Sundays the band was found in the Quadrangle on the Post in a formal Guard Mount and concert setting. The FAB traveled to Houston in 1952 to honor the 1st Armored Division from Ft. Hood as they left the Houston Harbor for assignment in Europe. In 1954 all the bandsmen were fitted with smart “dress blues.” The FAB participated in the annual River, Fiesta Flambeau and Battle of Flowers Parades in San Antonio. The “Turkey Trot” celebration in Taylor, Texas was a frequent gig. While playing for a Boy Scout Jamboree on a ranch near San Antonio in 1952 a raging bull took offense and charged through the band. Fortunately everyone survived. Armed Forces Day always found the FAB in a Texas community for a special event. Governors called upon the FAB to march in the Inaugural Parade every four years. Falcon Dam was a Texas/Mexico flood control project on the Rio Grande River dedicated in 1953 by President Eisenhower and President Cortines of Mexico. The FAB represented the U.S. contingent. President Eisenhower was very complimentary regarding the band’s participation. The FAB was sent to New Orleans three times in the mid-50s. They led the Rex Parade at the Mardi Gras in 1955 and 1956, and were flown to New Orleans in 1955 to perform on the pier to welcome home a division from Korean service. The band performed at two movie World Premiers in San Antonio, and as a concert band performed as the official reading band annually for the Texas Bandmasters Association. The FAB String Orchestra performed for visiting dignitaries, including the Secretary of the Army and Mexican generals.

In 1955, I was a member of the 4th Army Band, designated as an eb clarinetist. That designation kept me from playing in the 7th Army Symphony, the passing of which earned an entire page in black in the national magazine on music,  Musical America. It had been a good orchestra, comprised of many  trained players, who at the time, toured Europe creating nothing but good will and good music for the hundreds who saw and heard the concerts. The cost per year for the 7th Army Symphony was the same as one medium tank. To have to cut the services and good will generated by such a group seemed completely without logic. When an actual opening did come through,the first sargeant was quick to tell me that the only other place I would go would be to Fort Hood, Texas, a very different place for a musician to be located during those years,(and these remembering the massacre of several years past by the jihadist psychiatrist). That was scary then and even now.

We were a Headquarters Band, serving the 4th Army Area, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, located in San Antonio, Texas, a lovely city, a wonderful climate, and, of all things ,dozens of used car lots, the place to exist for a bandsman, who was virtually free to roam the city. We used to regularly attend the Pearl Brewery, which made several presentatons a day, complete with refreshments of an alcoholic nature. Ditto for the Lone Star Brewery

Our duties were to play and record one radio broadcast per week. (Vic Damone was stationed with our band), play an occasional parade and not too much more., an ideal place to be.
That Tuesday morning, we were mustered to Lackland Air Force Base, loaded on a large transport by 5:am to be flown to New Orleans in order to lead the Mardi Gras Parade. It was a relatively short trip and we arrived early enough to start and lead the long parade. It was esitmated to be 13 miles long, literally dozens of ensembles of all numbers of musicians from every service branch. We lead the parade , a pivotal and importsant spot, for we were directly behind several horses, determining the exact course. Jose Mendez, a tall trombonist held that corner of the marchers. He carefully changeddirections avoiding the continuing obstacles caused by the animals.

Because of the length of the parade, there was a continuous spasmodic accordion motion, This was of course greatly enriched by the overwhelming presence of alcohol, frequently given or shared by everyone. I’m saying everyone!
After a few moments of marching, the groups began to slowly diminish in size./ After an hour, the parade began to diminish in size. As more time passed, the formations became spread apart as they diniinished in size. By the end of the parade, there were few bands fewer marchers and a final. rather shaky diminution.

Stay well, do not give up practicing for Lent.


The perfect clarinet mouthpiece. The ultimate test?

January 4, 2015

As is the case with all clarinetists, indeed, all instrumentalists, we go through “mouthpiece phases”. We learn , early on, the clarinet mouthpiece is a crucial part of the process of learning music, playing the clarinet.simply everything, including auditioning, and getting a job.
There are certain graduate schools or , even undergraduate schools, wherein a new student can be subjected to a kind of bizarre musical test concerning the mouthpiece he or she is playing.
I have had many questions concerning a kind of “hazing” that goes on in some schools. One has to play a certain type and/or brand of mouthpiece.

Questions like, “when are you going to get a real mouthpiece, not the piece of junk that you are playing”? This usually means a period of a considerable outlay of money spent for trying vitually every mouthpiece made, and sometimes even paying thousands of dollars, with no direction in which to go, outside of continuing to repeat the unanswered question, “which mouthpiece to play?” Whom do you ask? and , how do you differentiate?

We all know of or become familiar with all of the makers, Kaspar, Chedeville, whose work can cost hundreds of dollars, and the price remains the same, regardless of how many times the mouthpiece has been changed. There are even many who refaced or even created “copies’ of these pieces and resell them for even more money.

In the undergraduate area, it becomes, “when are you going to get a real clarinet”? And, many of us have gone through that absurdity at an even more ridiculous outlay of funds, or their parents have.

But, in the final analysis, if we go down these many routes, how do we choose? I have seen the ads, the recommendations, which are all finally just commercials for the instruments and the mouthpieces. And, while there are many honest educated musicians and mouthpiece makers,(or craftsmen, as they call themselves) there are just as many who are not, Or who obtain a really good blank, let us say, a Zinner, from Germany, and simply put their own name on the blank and call it their own, at the usual inflated price.

The younger player can hardly go through this without considerable amounts of energy, worry , and angst.

There is a famous story about Phillip Farcas, for many years the first horn of the Chicago Symphony. They had just performed Til Eulenspiegel, by Richard Strauss. Farcas had played the many horn solos with brilliance.
A young student came and asked him,”How did you play so beautifully”? Farcas hesitated momentarily, looked up and said, “Oh My! I’ve forgotten on which mouthpiece I played!”
This is a slightly different story, not about the struggles of a student, but about one of the finest horn players who had already achieved greatness. he would play many mouthpiece, just for the fun of trying. He had achieved his discipline. Many are still searching.

More than fifty years ago, I was a young clarinetist, out of work, and hungry.
I had been Principal with the Milwaukee Symphony, at first, quite happily. then , becoming dejected with the repertoire, the conductor, and quality, finally leaving in order to pursue more advanced education. For a while, thing were fairly bleak and I received word of a Rockefeller Grant for new music, headed by Lukas Foss and Allan SApp, at the University of Buffalo. I, and about 20 others became Creative Associates, engaged to perform new music and to create the kind of ferment that might lead to more performance of New Music.
This was really a fine group of musicians, players, composers, wildly imaginative, and we were given free reign to do anything we wanted. Somehow, I became the spokesperson for the group.

And, we played any and everything. One of the first concerts included “The Shepherd on the Rock” by Schubert, on an entire concert of 19th century lieder. The official concerts by the group were performed both at the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo, then repeated at Carnegie Recital Hall. Yes,it was quite exciting, and I was very fortunate.

One of the faculty members of the University, with whom I played billiards, gave me the name of a young person , living in New YORK city, and we arranged to meet after one of the first concerts at Carnegie Recital Hall.

We became friendly and continued to see one another when time permitted.

As the first year ended quite successfully, I agreed to return the next semester.
During the interim , I spent some time in New York , and my friend became a better friend.

One hot summers day, we decided to go to the city, find a practice room and play some sonatas together. We started to play the Brahms F Minor Sonata opus 120.
As most of you are familiar with the work, you know that the second movement is usually played much more slowly than the first, myself preferring to play it in four beats to the measure, even though it is written in 2/4 time.

This is one of this composers best works, beautifully written for both players, a melody repeated , with accompaniment in the piano. As the clarinet starts the melody, the piano answers one beat later, a simple note played in the bass of the piano, one beat after the entrance of the clarinet.

The pianist waited a milisecond before entering , and I was shocked literally, by the entrance. The note became an accent by delay, an agogic accent , if you will, and it was both perfect and exquisite. I have and had played this work with many pianists, and this delayed accent was rendered with a maturity, I had never experienced, I was literally shocked, as it was so beautiful. It remains unforgettable in my mind.

And so, a kind of trust began at that very point, based  on that moment.

An accumulation of this trust was continued, and after a little time, we became as one, and we have been together for almost 50 years. We have four grown children , all almost that age.

In continuing to pursue my education I was enrolled in a graduate program in Massachusetts, where our children were born, four boys.(one, in New Hampshire)

During a session, I was given 6 mouthpieces to try. I asked the price and was told 6 dollars a piece. This was well within my budget, and I bought the whole bag.

When I finally had the time to examine them, I found six crystal mouthpieces, all labelled GG. They were made by the Pomarico Brothers in Argentina and had the label GG, because the fellow who sold them was GuiGui Efrain, (the late Guigui),as we later became friendly at Boston University. He was an excellent player, who played everything on a full-boehm Buffet clarinet, in one single piece, something I had never seen .

But, back to the mouthpieces. As we know, one of the brothers moved to Italy and and started the Pomarico mouthpiece company, still very much with us.

Getting to the particular point of this writing,”the Perfect Clarinet mouthpiece’ and how we choose such a thing, we cannot rely upon ourselves. We must seek the advice of someone whom we can trust. Not, some student, or perhaps not even ones teacher, but a trusted confidant.To trust someone with ones very sound is not an easy endeavor.

I was trying each mouthpiece, finding them all quite stuffy and unresponsive, when I got to the third.

From the next room, I heard, “what’s that”? I asked , what do you mean? The answer came back through the wall, “that mouthpiece”, my best friend responded. I tried them all again, and as I got to the third, I would always hear, “that one”.

This musical trust, starting with the Brahms has remained , and it is an important part of us.We are blessed.

As we play , we get much of the sound through bone conduction,and of course, our ears, but we do not hear the sound from an audience standpoint,or even the reaction to the sound from another set of ears not bothered by gauging the response, and playing.

This other set of ears, the most sensitive I have ever experienced, pointed me in the direction of that particular mouthpiece. At first, I found it still stuffy and rather difficult in choosing reeds. AS i got used to the mouthpiece, I became more and more convinced of its beauty, and it began to affect my playing in every way, legato, all articulation, and of course sound, which on crystal is accepted by many as being a preferred material.

There was a lot of new music going on which I found less and less difficult, and the audience responded with me in a very positive manner.

Then suddenly, during the intermission of a chamber music concert, one of the second violinists came to offer me “felicitations”. His raincoat got caught on my clarinet, pulling it off the chair, onto the floor, the mouthpiece shattered.
My home was close by and I went and got another, my spare crystal, with the same reed, and everything went perfectly well.

But the next morning, as I practiced I found anomalies in the response, sound, and everything I had learned to love.

For the last thirty years I have searched for a response and an ease of that crystal, never ever finding one, and have played mostly Van Doren , since then, and the mouthpieces of Richard Hawkins. For a while I had one of Gino Cioffis crystal, sent it to Richard, who refaced it for me, beautifully, but it still wasn’t the one.
Or maybe it is age, or anyones guess. But I did own and love this crystal pomarico, and suggest to anyone, try one, but if you love amd own it, take very good care.

Now, I play a Smith, refaced by Richard Hawkins

take care of yourself and stay well.


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,

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


More: on testing new instruments

November 26, 2014

How many clarinets have you tested? And, have you always used some kind of digital tuner? And, has it caused you endless joy? At the first test? But, less on the second, and sequentially, cause more frustration? Leading to drink? Or some other kind of break? Testing yet another clarinet? Against which one?Did you forget?
And, which reed did you use? Mouthpiece? Do you remember?
What is your teachers phone number? Will they charge for the call?


The whys and wherefores follow: Using a digital tuner, or any kind of tuner to test notes on a clarinet, determining which of any two notes are better in tune with one another, is a losing battle. Believe it or not, most, if not many clarinets are built mostly in tune, save for a few very well known problems:
The lowest e and f on most clarinets are or tend to be flat, considerably so; the throat Bb, not being the true Bb is usually stuffy and sharp. The so-called open g is also slightly sharp as is the G#, all throat notes.

When you use a tuner to determine where these notes are, the initial digital or other response is usually higher by as much as ten cents than the actuall note being tried. Then , the pitch settles to where it actually is. Of course, this is all determined by your familiarity with the instrument and the equipment you are using, the mouthpiece, and reed. More importantly, your clarinet development is crucial.

Have you been playing long enough to have developed an actual correct embouchure, well developed in all ways, and do you have a perceptive ear. This of course, assumes that you are a serious clarinetist, or an advanced student. Having been through these kinds of tests as a young man, I can attest to this searching quality, but even more so, to the extent of which mouthpiece sounded better, going all the way into the whole clarinet. After many years of testing,i am well aware that there are numerous aspects of what can be called musical sanity on display.

But, I have had an long and successful career as an offering in my favor.

Anthony Gigliotti, Principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia orchestra, was a life long player of Buffet clarinets, until of course, he allowed the Selmer company to practically duplicate one of his clarinets, which became known as the Selmer 10G clarinet, and was quite good, though not, a Buffet clarinet. Mr Gigliotti also had Buffet send him 55 clarinets each year. He went through them all, and picked two , which he then gave to Moennig, the famous clarinet technician in Philadelphia, for tweaking, and then he would allow two of his best students to play these clarinets.

Of well known clarinetists of the past, I know in gneral, of their procedures for trying these instruments. Mostly , they played extremely well known folk songs, or perhaps national anthems or very familiar melodies. Why? To determine how these melodies fit into their “ears of acceptance”. If they played a familiar orchestral excerpt like the clarinet in Egmont Overture, by Beethoven, did the interval to the high c, go perfectly smoothly and with the correct feeling in the upward slur. They did not try to determine if any single notes was either in tune or how much deviation occurred. That would have been quite obvious from a simple few notes played .

Of course , we are speaking of players of all levels of development. My specific point here is to well develop your study of the clarinet prior to engaging in testing activites which may be reached more successfully, later in your clarinet experience.

Stay well, and keep practicing to a musical goal.



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