A Career Playing Clarinet?

Dear Sherman Friedland,

I am 23 and pursuing my master’s degree in clarinet performance. I
am somewhat apprehensive about the future- career, doctorate,
festivals, etc. Your helpful advice to clarinetists and sincerety
have prompted me to write. Though I have had many wonderful
teachers to steer me on my course, I still feel somewhat unassured
and confused about where to focus. I received my bachelors degree
in a school playing orchestral clarinet, now in my masters program
I am playing mainly chamber and contemporary solo repertoire. I’ve
become very enamored with the bass clarinet lately, also.

What would your advice be on the best course to follow? Do I
teach, and take a gamble with symphony auditions? I’ve been told
to look into a career playing for the military bands, I’ve been
told to stay in school until I get a job, I’ve been told to do
competitions and festivals and hopefully gain some contacts. I
enjoy school extensively and my opportunities to play are great-
but it is so much debt with little job security. This is a
difficult question, I know – but, do you have any career advice?

Thanks for your time and fabulous contribution to clarinetists,


Dear Katie,

Thanks for your letter. It is probably in the minds of many
clarinetists, aspiring clarinetists, or perhaps it certainly
should be. The clarinet is however such a wondrously capturing
obession that Brahms or Messaein can easily take the place of
consideration of the passage of time: the future.

There are several clues that you give me in your letter: you enjoy
school and your teachers and the opportunities for extensive
playing; it is however debt-producing with little opportunity for
remunerative playing. To complete a letter that would be helpful
to you, I would like to hear you play although that is not
completely necessary. I am sure you are talented and have little
difficulty with the repertoire as you have thus far experienced

You are also interested in teaching it seems, though that can and
will change and then change back again. Anything however is like
that. Perfect consistency is quite ordinary, a bit boring perhaps.
I had a fine clarinetist and teacher tell me a long time ago that
“Playing in a symphony orchestra is like licking letters”, meaning
it can be quite boring. I learned he was right. Unless you are of
a certain mind set, determined to play first clarinet and have the
joys of Tchaikovsky, the Pathetique, Stravinsky, and Strauss
running through your veins, again and again and again. There are
many players who love that. If you feel that is you, as they say,
go for it.

However your letter also speaks of literacy and intellect.
Unquestionably, in my mind, your course is set:

1. Finish your masters and get the quickest PhD you can acquire.
All the while, take auditions to see how you do.

2. You must get some experience if possible, however with a PhD
and your gender now accepted – even preferred – within the
University, that should be your eventual goal.

3. You are literate and intelligent; the clarinet is great, play
and play, but you have more to say than just the clarinet, and I
would prefer not to have you sitting for 8 services a week in
some symphony worrying about reeds and the usual clubs and
conductor adoration and/or detestation which is the life, as they

4. Teaching is wonderful, especially if you love it and it
needn’t take from your playing at all.

5. If you are playing Bass, make sure you play “Pierrot Lunaire”
(where you double on Bb and bass) and the “Hindemith 6-tet” for
ww quintet, bass clarinet and trumpet: fun fun pieces.

Best of luck and thank you for your letter. One of the things you
must be able to do is to express yourself. More important than
the perfect reed in the final analyses.And you already do that

Best wishes


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