Dear Mr. Friedland,
My name is Ben and I am a clarinettist in Melbourne, Australia. I just read an article that you wrote which was a reply to a student that you wrote a few years ago concerning reeds and reed strengths. I agree with everything you commented on but I am still trying to learn more …
You mentioned that clarinettists like Harold Wright and Larry Combs use Medium – Medium Light reeds. How light a reed do they use? Could you compare the strengths that they use to a Vandoren reed strength? I’m asking you these questions because I feel that you know a lot about this matter, that I being a student do not. I am continuing to learn more everyday however asking questions like these (and getting replies) help me a lot.
AUSTRALIA, that’s wonderful. You know Ben, years and years ago my teach Rosario Mazzeo went to Australia. He came back having met all kinds of wonderful folk with whom he corresponded, had some special work down on one of his clarinets and seemed enamored. I remember going to the Boston Airport with him to pick up a clarinet which he had had completely resprung with jewels for pivots … anyway, I have had other requests from your country and am happy to respond. Your is an interesting question because it goes further and so I feel like responding to it right now.
Yes, those two are amongst the most flexible of orchestral players in the US, and unfortunately Buddy Wright has passed on, a few years back. For me he was the best, for it was not just pretty, it was a gorgeous and perfect sound, but the phrasing was all tapered, subtle and the more you listen, the more you learn about real music. think that he made the Schubert Octet with the Boston Symphony guys back in the early 80s. GET IT. It is available on CD and cassette tape and you will not find a more perfect player.
There is a point to this about reeds. You would find that he used a very easy reed on which to play, that and his double lip embouchure and of course, his head, is where all that imagination came from. But remember, he had to have the perfect setup for him to release him from the agony of fighting the system. I played a mouthpiece, supposedly the same facing and must say, it played, almost by itself, it was that easy, hardly any resistance. You’ll find that Larry uses a slightly harder reed, at least he did when I knew him.
They are the best players on the planet. BUT wait, something else has come upon the scene in the last 10-110-15 years. 5 years.
The SUPER HARD reed, yes, there are guys, in an effort to produce what they describe as a “dark ” sound use a reed that I can make hardly a sound on. The quality is noisy and seems quite upsetting, but on records it is quite acceptable if not beautiful. Check out Franklin Cohen of the Cleveland Orchestra. And of course, there are others. But, interestingly enough, there was a guy who also played in Boston in the earlier days of the orchestra who had a gorgeous sound and used a cut down number 5 Van Doren … I mean hard. The sound he made was exquisite. He used a Selmer “A” mouthpiece, the closest one they made: Manuel Valerio, 2nd clarinet BSO, first in the Pops. His A clarinet was longer than he, I thought, but did he play!!! Old recording by Leonard Bernstein of the Stravinsky Octet and L’Histoire du Soldat is the one to try to find.
Well, then the answer seems consistent: there is really no ONE particular setup, vis-a-vis reeds that is THE setup. For the player is the greatest variable there. His sound ideal, his basic teaching and his gift, those are what produces the special sound, however it is not JUST the sound, it is the understanding of the player as he interprets this music. The amount of flexibility that is acceptable is enormous, and wonderful to know that it can be done differently.
The most flexible mouthpiece, the most flexible reed and the most flexible head, that is the story. Sorry I cannot be more complete. Hope you enjoy.