Squeeking

Please Help!! I am not a kid!! (51 years old). I played several woodwind instruments through elementary and high school – clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax and oboe. I never owned an instrument. Finally a few years ago I purchased a used student clarinet and had it reconditoned. (By the way … playing is sort of like riding a bike … you don’t forget the basics)

Here’s my question … I am now playing at my church with a small vocal group for Mass. I usually practice at home before church, then go to church and the group (I am the only instrument) practices before Mass right up until church starts and we play the opening hymn ….no problem. (that is to say no squeeking) (The music is very easy – middle C and an octave or so above)

Now the problem: about half an hour goes by before the next hymn. I cannot play at that time without squeeking, especially when first starting to play. The particular notes don’t seem to matter. Another 10-15 minutes before the next hymn – the problem intensifies. The vocalists like a bit of an introduction which is the worst possible thing because I can tell when the darn thing will squeek and the intro is the worst. If they start without an intro they sing in some random key and I can’t play with them at all.

have tried keeping the mouthpiece in my mouth virtually all of Mass to keep the reed moist and this does not work. I tried soaking the mouthpiece with reed on; also a very bad plan.

(One solution is not to play the oboe…those reeds are even worse!)

We thought about asking the priest to have all the songs together at the beginning of Mass but that is not going to happen!!

I don’t recall in band that this was a problem because in band the clarinets were like the violins … usually playing. I would greatly appreciate any help you might be able to give. Thank you!!!

Most sincerely

Kathy

Dear Kathy,

I must tell you that I enjoyed reading your letter and found it quite entertaining, humorous, if you will. Let me respond succinctly.

a. The clarinet is not the most perfect instrument for a singing choir. One must use a concert-pitch instrument, one that is both stable and consistent in giving pitches: piano or keyboard is best; flute is the only concert-pitch instrument that is dependable.

b. Not attempting to deride your hobby of playing the clarinet in church, I strongly suggest that you do NOT give the pitch to the choir members prior to the beginning of the Hymn. But a pitchpipe, readily available at any music store can give the pitch prior to beginning. (No more looks from singers trying to match a squeak)

c. Start playing after the others start singing (after they get the pitch from the pitchpipe). “Amateur clarinetists should never lead the way in a charge”. You probably have a mouthpiece with a reed that is too hard to get to play; always use a soft reed, and remember that it does not take a panic of some kind to start the pitch. Make your embouchure prior to blowing into the instrument. Make sure you keep a mouthpiece cap on the mouthpiece over the reed. If it has a hole in the top, tape the hole; that way you confine moisture rather than latting your reed dry out; take the cap off prior, just prior to playing. Use an easy embouchure, and most importantly try to relax. What you are doing is very difficult to do perfectly.

I certainly hope that this helps a bit. Thanks again for your note

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