Memoires/early 60s/reeds

During that summer, as usual I was having terrible trouble with reeds; I would spend hours at the Van Doren room and factory choosing reeds which were unmarked and cost .10 each. (It was located at 56 rue Lepic, directly next to a house which bore a placque stating that Joseph Conrad had written “Heart of Darkness” there. After you had completed your choice, someone would take away the tray and one could hear, “marquez son boite”, or something close to that. The reeds would reappear marked with the familiar Van Doren superiore inkstamp on the back, one paid, and off you went, back to Fontainebleau where I spent the summer in a room in a small hotel built in 1624 and situated directly adjacent to the castle, which had been a hunting lodge of Francis I. The Conservatoire Americain was located within one of the wings of the castle. I lived in a small room in the ramshackle old place, but had asked the lady who ran the hotel to allow me to use the living room in which to practise, and she had graciously allowed. There were bullet-holes throughout the room and when I asked her, she screamed “les Allemagnes” over and over again.I had had no particular system for choosing reeds at the time and I cannot imagine how I chose, it must have been insane. I have since devised so many systems which have helped me enormously in this practise of choosing a reed, a practise which is really insane. To return to paris, as I was saying, it was horrible, trying to find a reed, or several to choose to play. Although I was a good player, considered professional, I really understood so little, hence my difficulty. On this particular morning, after about an hour of choosing reeds that either played or didn’t, a man came into the room; I learned later that this was a Van Doren, one of the owners,; I think he was Robert Van Doren. He smiled and saying hello, showed me his hand, on each finger of which was a Van Doren mouthpiece. I had no idea of what they were like, for at that time the importation of Van Doren products into the US was only beginning to emerge, mouthpieces especially. (Later, the reeds began to become so popular that the company hit upon the idea of allowing their purchase and importation with Van Doren mouthpieces. This a indeed a good idea for two reasons: the mouthpieces were excellent, and they played the reeds better…they just fit and sounded better.) Robert offered to have me try the mouthpieces, my very first time , and I found them first very very different: staccato seemed less immediate to me, they seems a bit more resistant, and later, only a few minutes laters they began to emerge as something special indeed, and they accepted more and more blanks than my Selmer mouthpieces ever did. ( I think I played HS*) at the time.I purchased several and off I went , back to Fontainebleau and with the excitement that a young man carries within him when he thinks he has made a musical point, I was happy indeed.Now for the record ( and 50 years later), I never really stopped using VD mouthpieces , except for one too short time when I really expereinced magic on a mouthpiece. But that is a story for later.

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