What is your position on clarinetists using vibrato? Thanks.

Thank you for your interest and question; outside of jazz and/or popular music, where it is more frequently used than not, vibrato certainly has been most pertinent for many years, and I think it will remain.

Vibrato for the clarinet is very frequently of musical service. That is to say that first and foremost, it must serve the music. One ought to say, after hearing a clarinetist use vibrato, “That was beautiful”, rather than, “My, he (or she) uses vibrato”.

How do you make the vibrato? With the lip, the throat, the diaphragm?

It can be produced in all of those ways, and produces a slightly different quality. Within the orchestra, where most clarinetists find their way in music, vibrato is usually not used and is the expected way of execution, unless of course, you are a well known, perhaps reknown player, such as the late Harold Wright, principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I heard him play when he was much younger, in the National Symphony. Surely, I thought there was no more beautiful sound in the universe. Never a hint of vibrato. In Boston, he used it frequently, and I think, never very convincingly. But that is only one opinion. Most orchestra performers do not use vibrato. It is used most frequently in chamber music playing and/or solo playing.

Sometimes, it is the style of the times: when I was a student, there was Reginald Kell, a very wonderful and popular player who not only used vibrato all the time, but developed a free and interesting way of using rubato and vibrato. He made many records and was quite the topic of conversation in those days. Benny Goodman, a wonderful player and the person who served to inspire more people to the instrument, classical and jazz, than any other back in the 40’s and 50’s studied with Reginal Kell and, of course he used vibrato. It was however, controversial in those years, and I think it remains so.

My own position on the utilization of vibrato, after studying and using it on and off for years, is that the clarinet sound is the most beautiful of all the woodwinds, and can be shaded and colored in many ways, so I guess I would suggest that until your sound is exactly that of your desires, or the desires of your teacher, if you have one, is … No. The sound of the clarinet is just too pure and too much fun to somehow change it. Better yet, keep the quality of sound expressive and human, never machine-like.

Thanks and good luck.


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