Not an Unknown Clarinet, just one of many

March 22, 2006

The following is in response to a question concerning aclarinet listed for sale on Ebay, a Stubbins configuration manufactured by Leblanc in the 1950s
Dear Mr. Friedland
I was very very VERY tempted to own this clarinet, but I guess i took the reasonable way out and politely stepped back. I know that you have had experience on selmer clarinets, but i was just wondering if you know anything about the Leblanc Stubbins clarinets?

All I know is that I dug through the clarinet bb board forums and
discovered some thing about them.

I was Fascinated about the open Bb keywork system, and the possibility of removing the stuffy Bb key is really something amazing. but I wonder, if the keywork opened up the Bb stuffiness, why was it never applied to modern clarinets? Was it a cost effect issue? Is it possible to shed some light on this unknown clarinet?
Hi my friend:
Not only did you take the reasonable way out, but the intelligent way as well.
Why anyone plays one of these or any other configuration or juxtaposition of pieces of metal on a wooden pipe is beyond me, and I speak from long experience, for I played the Mazzeo System Clarinet, with the full Boehm configuration, everything , heavy , low ebs on both sides of the instruments, a cofiguration wherein you could play a G#-C# with the right hand little finger, heavy, and all the stuff you can imagine, and I know that I achieved the most with it that was possible at the time and I played everything on it, but finally I play regular Boehm system and find that I can do more with less, have much less trouble with varia and being in general able to do everything I need to do and to have the freedom to color fingerings with regard to timbre and to pitch which cannot be done on that system of fingerings or Stubbins , to which you refer when you talk of Leblanc or the Marchi system, made also by Selmer, (which still looks gorgeous to me, because there is no keyworkmanship that is better than Selmer), when you speak of a French maker.
Do not go near anything that purports to give you something unless you know exactly what you are getting with the gift.
Or as they say, more and more these days, “Be careful what you wish for”.

I have written many pieces on the Mazzeo System Clarinet and I know the Stubbins and most of the other stuff, and I still grieve for the Macintyre Brothers who lost all their money on their clarinet and simply ceased to exist. I do not know what possesses anyone to have the temerity to think they can improve on what is still an instrument which was made and came to fruition in the Classical Period in music history, really made for that period of time and still uses the same basic ways of playing, and plays by and large the same music.
Many years ago while a grantee of the Rockefeller award for New Music, I was part of a group of people who did nothing but play new music. I received a phone call from a certain person, a violinist and composer, let us call him PZ, for those are his initials.
He said, “I need a table of fingerings for every noise you can make on the clarinet” Not fingerings mind you, but noises, you know those things we teach small children to avoid.
He, as a composer wanted a listed of these squeaks so that he could employ said noises in contemporary composition.

I once got into a horrendous fight with none other than Gunther Schuller (at Tanglewood) because I refused to take the mouthpiece off my clarinet and sing somesong into the clarinet as part of a piece of new music. I called it nihilistic, and let us say that I was “persona non grata” at Tanglewood, at least while Gunther was there. Big deal, right? No, not at all, my name still apears in Musical Quarterly stating that I played more new Music more works as than anyone else those summers
The only other person who heard the argument was Donald Martino, (the
composer of “A Set for Clarinet” and others of its ilk.) Donald simply stuck his fingers in his ears in a kind of “Hear no evil” kind of gesture.
Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony and scene of many many fond performances and fights, remains at least in my mind and you have now read about it, but there is a point, and that is, please do yourself a favor and stay away from all of this complication out there.I learned more fingerings from playing the three-keyed classical clarinet.
Why? Because there was no other way to play them and they work and I still use them every day I play All so-called alternate or trill fingerings are manipulations of the harmonic series which is why they work.
So CW, stay well, and play well, and let these guys rest in peace with their systems and confugurations. Practice is still the only answer to our clarinet problems.
best, sherman

Looking for the mouthpiece at the end of the rainbow

March 22, 2006

Dear Mr. Friedland,
We have visited before, and I really appreciated your help and insightful information. I have played clarinet since the 1950’s, and I still have the Selmer HS* mouthpiece that was recommended at that time.In spite of the
fact life gets complicated when you turn 21, I always managed to have an oldclarinet around. Even during my service years in the Navy, albeit I chose
an electronic field instead of music…and that would be another story, for a different time if you are interested! With work and family my playing was tenuous at best, but never totally neglected. In my youth I listened ad nausium to Goodman, Shaw and many others. I loved trad jazz and the sound of the Dixieland clarinet, and the notes stayed in my head. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to play jazz and standards again, and it has beensuch a joy for me. I have met and worked with some wonderful players, and
continue to learn from them.

My dilemma, if you will, results mostly from trying different mouthpieces,and never finding the perfect one! Obviously my expectations are notrealistic, but my first question when I meet another clarinet player is:”what mouthpiece, what reed”. For reasons I’m not sure of, or perhaps when
I started playing again, the old clarinet I purchased had a Selmer
(student)Golden tone 3. Not giving a lot of thought about it at the time, it has a nice bright (not too bright) sound. The upper register is somewhat difficult but not impossible. Later…my friend (world class player) Scott Alberici was playing an Obrien five star, so I had to have one of those.
Wow!The most beautiful tone I can get is with this mouthpiece! However,it is much more difficult to articulate the upper register, and the ower notes are soft and do not have the carrying power. This mouthpiece requires a large bore instrument, or short barrel. Having said that, this is awonderful mouthpiece for doing beautiful old ballads and standards in a club setting. This is especially true with a quartet or small group, and the
clarinet being the only wind instrument. Another friend uses the Vandoren B45, so I tried one of those.My understanding is, the mouthpiece replace the HS* to give students a less edgy sound? I also have a Mitchell M4 anddo not notice a lot of difference from the B45.
adly, now when I try to play my old HS* it seems difficult to get nice tone! And I consider that to be the most important part of my playing!However, when I do find a decent reed that works with the HS* it is amazinghow effortlessly it plays, and allows one to articulate all registers with great speed and facility. My question, and I apologize for taking so long,please forgive! A wonderful legit clarinet group called: The Roadkill Clarinet Quintet with Mr. Russell Coleman, you may know of them. After oneof their performances we discussed mouthpieces, and he uses the Portnoy BPO2. Naturally I’m wanting to try the BPO2 now, but wonder how it may
compare to the B45 and others I have tried???
I hope it is ok if I follow up later with a few more questions, and
thoughts? It is just unbelievable to me that I could have such a
wonderful source as yourself for information. Things I havwondered about for 50 years I suppose.I came from meager beginnings living in a really small town in N.E. Missouri. All I had was an old Bundy 1400 and one of he old original H.Klose’ books. It was like a video game for me, playing all the finger busters.

Much thanks,

First and foremost you are more than welcome to write in as many questions
as you would like, it will give me pleasure to respond.
As to mouthpiece, everyone has a different choice and we all change from
time to time, changing reeds changes the equarion, so do reed strengths,
I do not like the selmer mouthpiece any longer and feel there are better
ones out there.
Portnoy was a performer in the Met Opera Orchestra if memory serves, but his
mouthpiece may suit you. All you have to do it try it or one like it once to
know. The problem is that every mouthpiece from a particular m aker or will
play differently to an extent, so by trying more you will always get
yourself into a situation wherein you stop playing out of confusion or
frustration, so my sincere recommendation is to pick a mouthpiece that
immediately plays better than the one you had or have. Then stick to that
mouthpiece for as long as it stays practical, forever being ideal.
I recommend a very inexpensive mouthpiece made by an excellent maker and
clarinet, Clark Fobes, and the mouthpiece I recommend is the Debut wich is
only about 30 dollars and they all seem to play well, and very close to one
I also prefer Van Doren M13 highly especially if you prefer a brighter sound
and they are well made and in tune.
Frankly I have never played a Portnoy, but if you could try one for just a
moment, you will know.
Daniel Bonade, one of the great teachers said that a mouthpiece must be
medium,nothing extreme in facing and that you must immediately feel as if it
is better than one you are playing currently, ….and I always use that
advice when I am asked.
Keep mouthpiece considerations simple, for there is enough complication in
I also consider if the new mouthpiece plays the most reeds as well.
If one you try only plays on one particular reed, the others less so, dumpy the mouthpiece.
There is one that will play for you, trust me, just be patient and do not get carried away with many mouthpieces. I have friends who do this, always looking for something magic.
There is nothing magic, believe me.

Goos luck and stay well.

Repertoire: Petite Piece, Claude Debussy

March 18, 2006

Let me preface this article with the fact that this is number 269, and as long as you keep writing in, I am very happy to try to help. They are all contained in the archives, listed on the site page.

This little classic, usually overlooked by most of us, is one of the more delightful, easy-looking works from one of our greatest composers, Claude Debussy.
First thing is the rhythm which must be exaclt as Debussy states, that is to say the dotted sixteenth and thirty-second run throughout the work and must always be accurate, not one crooked rhythm must you permit. This is the intent of the composer and the piece, to play these rhythms and yet to be as smooth as only french legato can be.
Written for the sight-reading part of the Conservatoire exam, it is usually purchased today along with the magnum Opus , Premiere Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano. The clarinetist will always attempt the Rhapsody and avoid the little piece. Both are relatively short but the Petite Piece is only about five minutes, which believe me can be harrowing, though terribly simple to look at.
The key is bad, the register is worse and the effect must be as smooth as an afternoon cocktail of something very very French.
I love the beginning note, throat g#! What could be more fun, the questioning quality of that first phrase. It is really easily performed and played, but if you play is with an absolutely seamless legato, you will find yourself momentarily lost in a swamp of the throat at its worst.
In pianissimo you must easily and deftly play mid D#, C and then back to our favortie g#, all in a loveey little french line that can be daunting.
That is the whole thing in this music, the legato is not only the embodiement of the french style of playing the clarinet at the time but incredible training for the Rhapsody itself.
The Petite Piece is too brief to write much more about, however it will please you greatly and your audience if you are able to easily negotiate this “little piece”. It is perfect to program it immediately prior to playing the Rhapsody and you will be warmed up, believe me.

stay well, sherman

Clarinets: Which to use, Bb or A?

March 15, 2006

Talking about the A clarinet got me to thinking about the clarinet in the orchestra.It seems to me that most of the parts are for Bb clarinet.
But orchestral friends have told me that it’s not unusual to be given a part for C clarinet, as well as A clarinet.

My question is, is Bb clarinet the rule in orchestral playing? If
so, when did it become so, or has it always been the rule? If not, how often (generally speaking) are the other clarinets involved?
Hi J:
There is no rule for which clarinet in the orchestra. It is not merely convenience and since it has been common within the orchestra since the time of Mozart or so, it is as foregone conclusion as the double case they come in.
Every serious student has to have an A regardless of the fact that he may not play it for a while or even ever. You have or had to have a case cover as well, at least when I was in school.
But a discussion of the use of clarinets in different keys: Bb, A, C, Eb, and D and their use in the symphony orchestra is an interesting topic for discussion, very muich so.
Initially the clarinet was a three-keyed affair in Bb or so. Then , in order to play in keys employing complicated key signatures, an extension that consisted of another joint made your Bb into an A of sorts.(Pitches were vague back then) As soon as you are in the A clarinet the key is simplified.
Almost all of the playing of C clarinet parts is done by transposition and a good player can and does do it at sight. You can either do by adding sharps, taking away flats or by using the clef system wherein you simply play your part usuiong a different clef.
Many players do that and many saxophone players do so that they can easily play alto parts on tenor, etc
Back to the clarinet in A. it has improved dramatically since its inception and now many players switch clarinets even when not called for.
A good A clarinet has a special sound which may be employed at will and is very attractive, and many others switch from A to Bb when not called for in order to play passages in a more secure manner.
Stravinsky, in his Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, suggests that the player play the first two on A, and the last on Bb and it works that way quite well.
If you have a good A clarinet you almost prefer to play most things on that instrument because of the increased depth of sound.
Of course the mouthpiece is an issue as well. Originally a different mouthpiece was called for for each clarinet, but most clarinetists use the same mouthpiece for each and it is a concsideration when choosing a mouthpiece.
One always plays the Eb or D clarinet part on the Eb clarinet, the most famous of which is Til Eulenspiegel by Richard Strauss (1894).
The famous clarinet solo in The Pines of Rome by Repighi is played on the A clarinet, but I actually once played it on the Bb (and most would ask why) It was because I had the low Eb on my horn, and the instrument was Mazzeo Full Boehm, an instrument which makes any key the same difficulty, of course the part learned precisely helps as well.
I had a dear friend who played in the Kansas City Symphony in the audience that day and he approved of it on the Bb. If I had to do it again, I would not as it was just an experiment to see if I could , and I did, thank goodness.
One can make a whole list of works in the orchestra where one can change clarinets, playing the Bb on the A and vice verse, just do not make an error and pick up the wrong clarinet. I never did but heard the wonderful Gino Cioffi, principal clarinet of the BSO and one of the great clarinetists do it in a morning rehearsal of Forest Murmurs of Wagner at the Shed in Tanglewood. Unforgettable.
Hope this helps your inderstanding. History is involved and more and more your preference of sound, and your horn and mouthpiece as well.
best regards, sherman

Repertoire: Alban Berg: Four Pieces for Clarinet with Piano

March 14, 2006

Alban Berg 1885-1935 is one of the more important composers of the past century,and  in   these atonal miniatures,(but not yet within the twelve-tone system ),he is perhaps the most important.

Every clarinetist should study and learn these four little pieces because so much of 20th century clarinet technics are exposed for the first time in the early years, and even more, these are pieces which examine the emotional quality of the clarinet like no other work of the time.

All fine clarinetists have to be able to express lyricism , the ability to encompass and understand the technic of the instrument and to be able to convey emotion, expression through this ability learned through the discipline of the instrument. We get by the technical aspects of the instrument and suddenly we are conveying expression. Herein lies the importance of the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano by Berg. These were composed in 1913 and not performed until 1919 at the Verein, the exclusive club that Arnold Schoenberg formed for the performance of new works, wherein no critic was allowed to attend, yes a private club. Interestingly one of the works frequently performed there was the Quintet for Clarinet by Reger, a work which many clarinetists would rather not play.
Reger of course, was the prolific composer who, upon receiving a bad review from a music critic answered the critic with this: “As I read your review I am sitting in the smallest room of my house and your review is in front of me. Soon , it shall be behind me.”I played this great monument to Brahms with the Laval String Quartet for “Arts National”, several years ago.

Back to Alban Berg’s atonal miniatures.
The works consists of only 63 measures throughout the four pieces: three relatively largo pieces, enfused with new clarinet technics at the time: fluttertongue, in the low register moving slowly in the bottom of the instrument; echotones in both the second and third movements and again flutter tongu in the final movement, preceded by stopped staccato, very difficult to execute and violent crescendi and diminuendi, concluded with sharp dissonance percussively struck on the piano, then a C7 chord with the fingers held on the chord, a huge dissonance in the bass and then allowing only the C7 chord to strike in sympathetic vibration with the dissonance. If the piano is tuned perfectly , there is total silence in the hall except for the sound of the C major chord, with the 7th on top. The lingering echo-like quality of the major seventh   is really shocking, especially after all the dissonance. And,in only three or four measures.
All of these effects and these very short pieces have to convey an enormous range of expression, as much on a miniature scale as that found in “Wozzeck”, his greatest work of Opera and the Violin Concerto composed in 1935.
I have performed the work many times and always feel an enormous responsibity to play them with as much expression as is possible on our instrument. If you do, you will be enriched . If you need any tips on how to play any of the many interesting patterns, please don’t hesitate to write.
Published by Schott. Get an accopmanist who has no trouble with difficult rhythms, syncopations and a complete technic .

stay well.

Shooting on Blanks

March 11, 2006

My goodness!
I have been a clarinetist for 60 years (almost) and the learning is becoming more and more extensive, deeper and somehow more meangingful. That is to say, if one reads most of what is out there on many aspects concerning the clarinet.
The latest thing which absolutely compels me to write about is blank. Well then, blanks! The expression “shooting with blanks” is well-known and not without humor depending upon context.
But the material from which a mouthpiece is made, the blank as it is called has become a hot topic of conversation and of thought.
Most all of the blanks from which clarinet mouthpieces are made are made of either hard rubber or acrylic with a smattering of other materials thrown in. And all of these materials, whether it be sulphur or whatever, have a particular ring or sound…..did you know that? ( I exclude wooden or paper moouthpieces)Crystal is unique.
And there are many who say that certain makers of blanks make a mouthpiece sound better or differently. They do, and the current controversy is about the blanks made by Zinner, (in the black forest or someplace near there, I think) They are very good, there is no question, however are they the best thing out of which to make a mouthpiece?
I do not know. I have had three mouthpieces made from Zinner blanks and I do not play on any of them.
Stay tuned.
For years I played and loved fervently a Guigui “minus 1” mouthpiece, made of crystal.
Guigui Efrain was a friend of mine in Boston during the late 50s. He was a fine player, using a one-piece full-boehm instrument and a crystal mouthpiece. I did not particularly like the sound so I had no interest in the mouthpiece. But he did import a mouthpiece with the letters GG on it, from Argenitina where lived one of the Pomarico brothers. The other lived in Italy.
While in Amherst, and playing on my usual Selmer mouthpiece, an HS* no doubt, that I had occasion to try six of these GG mouthpieces. I was still unimpressed until on the 4th one, my wife in another room said, “whats that?” I replied that it was one of the GG mouthpieces. She told me that it had something very special, and it did really; it was simply the best mouthpiece I have ever played, before or since. I have one recording of a concert on it and it still is impressive.(during those years Rosario had broken his mouthpiece and asked me if I had any. I sent him the other GGs.)Needless to say it was broken by a student on that very concert night and the mouthpiece I played on was my GG spare, and it still sounded terrific.
The reasons for that are arguable and manifold.
I have tried perhaps a hundred crystal mouthpieces since and only found one, supplied by an interested friend(GH) that played nearly as well. I do not use that one either.
After the GG break, I switched to virtually every Van Doren mouthpiece ever made and still have many. There is a story there as well.
I was playing on a Selmer mouthpiece, probably an S, trying reeds in the Van Doren Shop on 56 Rue Lepic (yes that is where the name comes from) and I was getting nowhere fast. You could try as many reeds as you could have energy for, then they would take them, mark them and charge you a franc apiece for them.
So after an hour or so, a fellow comes down with a mouthpiece on every finger of his right hand and the thumb. . He introduces himself as Robert Van Doren and suggests I try one of this mouthpieces. I have played on some kind of Van Doren since, not with terrible happiness, I might add. But all the Van Dorens from that day played better than my Selmer, except I might add for the C85, (which has has been said before and was especially good on the Recital set I owned.
I like the way that these commercially made mouthpieces look for most are very even looking, but I have only had one that I have played on for any length and that was an M13, which I still have and sometimes play, but now it is a bit on the bright side. The material of their blank I think is hard rubber. Whatever the sound is or isn’t these are mouthpieces which remain stable through almost anything, although I am not pleased with the sound.
I do not know the actual composition of the Zinner formula for the blanks, however they too do not carry me away.
I am finding out now that there are some custom-made blanks that Zinner makes.
Clark Fobes claims to have an especially made Zinner blank which differs from the norm.
He is an excellent mouthpiece maker and he is a gifted writer as well.
He makes an acrylic mouthpiece which he will send you for nothing. Just put his name into your browser and you will see the free offer.
It is the “debut” and acrylic mouthpiece made basically for students and hand finished. Those are nothing short of excellent especially for a price of 35.00. A free one is even better. They have his facing on them and the similarity between them is remarkable.
He also makes all grade of mouthpieces in hard rubber and with the specially made Zinner blank, in the style of Kaspar. I have yet to get one , however I have 4 Debuts and two Novas and am still trying them.
Ignatius Gennusa is another very important name in mouthpieces. He was the esteemed Principal Clarinet of the Baltimore Symphonby for many years and he produced mouthpieces as well. His was also not made of rubber, or was but had other things as well, and I do like the feel of any Gennusa mouthpiece I have played.
While alive, Gennusa claimed that he had experiented with material used in making the blanks and it does show with the playing of any of the older ones. The current owner and Distributor of the Gennusa mouthpieces is one of his students,  Ben Redwine. He will and can also copy your mouthpiece. I recommend Mr. Redwine. Here is a quotation from Ignatius Gennusa:

Ignatius Gennusa 1920 – 2003

�I�ve spent a lot of time in trying to improve this monster called the clarinet mouthpiece. During the period of my symphony career, I discovered many mysteries about the clarinet mouthpiece. These have to do with the measurements of the facing, the baffle, the bore, and so on. Even the type of rubber is important. So I made lots of notations and eventually designed a mouthpiece according to specific measurements that work. I think I�ve come up with a combination of measurements that go together to make an excellent acoustical cavity for the mouthpiece. My mouthpiece design is basically a copy of the Chedeville I played for years.�

It is interesting,his use of the word, “monster”. From a player with the stature of “Iggy” that is quite a comment.

I found a Gennusa mouthpiece packed in with a used clarinet I had purchased . It is a great sounding mouthpiece, a very dark quality compared to my usual brighter sound, so presently I am looking for another Gennusa. I do think from the quality of his blanks, that he was “on to something”.

It is truly amazing the amount of variables we have to look at in playing the clarinet. Next time you are trying mouthpieces see if you differentiate between the variables of materials used in the blank, that is if you can find two mouthpieces of the same facing that play exactly the same.

stay well.

Rico Grand Concert Thick blanks, reeds, and geegaws

March 10, 2006

Mr Friedland
I just wanted to write and say thanks you a thousand times for your kind and thorough advice! I did get together with my accompanist last night, and it looks like your tips, along with a few strategic cheats we found as we worked through the “Jesu” piece, will work well for us.

Yes, I’ve been befuddled in the past by the sheer number of geegaws available for the clarinet. I’ve been around long enough now to know that most of them are pure hoke, but once in a while I come across a ligature or a doodad that makes my playing more comfortable if not actually better — often enough that I still flip through the music catalogues.

A recent discovery I made is that the much-maligned Rico reeds (Grand Concert Select thick blank, in this case) actually respond better for me than my Van Dorens — that is, they’re rich and resonant and responsive right out of the box, whereas my Van Dorens need considerable time to “break in.” The Ricos seem to get mushy faster, but perhaps that’s a trade-off. Instant break-in vs. longevity. Unfortunately, the purse-strings often dictate my choices, and I may have to yield to longevity. Does the search for the perfect reed ever end?!
Hi Mike:
I can’t agree with you more on the Rico, Grand Concert Thick blank reed because they are great.
If you want to make them less mushy slower, let them dry out after playing them for a few minutes, rub them down evenly until the grain becomes smoother and let them dry on a smooth glass or the like.
Also a thick blank reed that is better than the Rico is the Gonzalez, which is made in Argentina and is supposed to duplicate the old Morre reed, which is what Robert Marcellus is supposedly to have played.(Marcellus is a clarinetist who actually had a larger,wider kind of sound than most. Listen to any Cleveland Orchestra with Szell and you will hear, also he has about the best Mozart, with Szell.)
Be that as it may, this reed is the best for fine response, playing in general and longevity. It really is so much better than the VD (my affectionate connotation). One reed which I have found to be less than the hype is the Xyleba. (That may be spelled incorrectly.) A couple of people play on them with good results, but I tried two and just did not feel like trying any more of the box. They look terrific, are made in Valencia, Spain, but they are a bit “conflicted” is my word.. Yes, it comes down to how they play, right?
There are many answers to reeds “out there” so to speak, and Legere Plastic is one.
Read my test results over a six month period. I cannot recommend that reed, although it does play and for long periods, however they too get mushy and there is a lack of humanity about them that I found disturbing. Sound is a very personal thing, is it not?
Reeds are still cheap enough not to strain one too much. Alternation is a good idea, not allowing oneself to get “married” to a good reed is another.
The “period of adjustment” can be forever.

There is so much to learn and I never learn enough. Reading about the instrument is simply not nearly enough.
Stravinsky said, “there can be no dialectic about music without music” and that is especially true about playing.
Statistics are as numerous as ligatures and reeds, but those who really know, play, learn , and then know.

stay well, sherman