My meeting with Benny

March 27, 2007

One hears the legendary BG stories ad infinitum, and “the Ray” is quite well-known, especially one guesses, if they were the recipient of this slow malevolent look. He was a perfectionist on the stand, I have heard.
I did meet him, played his concerti with the Milwaukee Symphony prior to his arrival,(Debussy Rhapsody, Weber Concertino). I picked him up at the airport, him with his huge green felt hat, and it was the answer to a kids dream.
He talked black, called me “kid”, asked if I played any Jazz, and had his picture taken with me and the second player. I attended his rehearsals with the pickup group. There was a pianist whom he didn’t like at all. He hollered out to me in that empty Civic Auditorium, “Hey kid”. When I got to where he was, he whispered into my ear, “kid, where can I get another pianist?” I didn’t know, so he went on with her, after asking her not to try to play like Teddy Wilson, and further with “a little peppuh, honey!”.
That is mostly not very nice, however he treated me respectfully, tried my horns, and asked me to listen to the balance of a concert he was playing with Rachel,his daughter at the Gardener Museum in Boston, a benefit for Fontainebleau. That rehearsal in itself, was thrilling. The only pieces I remember were the Martinu Sonatine and the Poulenc Sonata.
The stories abound, however what happened when I met Benny will always remain with me. He was a nice guy, the best of clarinetists, and a very particular musician.

Sherman Friedland


Blasting in Bands……………………mistake

March 25, 2007

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Thanks for your reply, and sorry that I didn’t respond sooner. I was practicing several hours each night for the past week to prepare for our concert. Remember the youth orchestra that I mentioned? Well, the music wasn’t that terribly difficult after practicing so much; I even had most of it memorized. I was mostly practicing making my embouchure. I realized that I was using too much of my lip and too much mouthpiece. I can play with my upper lip near the tip of the mouthpiece and my lower teeth lined up with my upper teeth rather comfortably. Also, I was clamping down too much on my mouthpiece. I’ve been making a my corners slightly tighter and that helps, too. Does the position of the ligature matter? Because I tried moving it down more and, well I don’t know. It just seems like it sounds better and it’s less restricted.

I’m also a tad bit frustrated with my school band. I mean, I can certainly project my sound better after correcting my embouchure, but our band is just way too unbalanced. About half our band is brass instruments who over blow (they’re sharp, too, somehow). The flutes and oboes and their shrill out-of-tune-ness can be heard over the entire band. And the saxophones are just loud. We have eight clarinets. Three of them are bass clarinets that you can never hear. Three of them are second clarinets that are different degrees of flat, but that doesn’t matter because you can never hear them, either. And then there are the two first clarinets, which would include myself, who try our best to project and play the right notes in tune. If listen veeeerrrry closely to a recording of us, you can just barely hear a clarinet sound, mixed in with the deranged flute sound. You can barely hear the clarinets when we have a soli; the trombone section is too loud when they play a harmony part. Do you have any suggestions for this situation? Thanks, again.

Sincerely,
A Progressing Clarinettist
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Hi Anon.
I can tell you the very best thing about playing in a band made up of bad loud players. Never try to blast your way through. It will not work and the only thing you will accomplish is damage to your ears and your mouth, I dont’t know in which order.
I spent most of my early playing years playing in bands,and while some were good, with many good musicians, it is no use trying to blast your way through. I would practice thoughtfully and quietly while you are in rehearsal ,then make sure you go somewhere quiet and play for five or ten minutes to be sure you have retained the ability to play correctly.
Believe me, there is no sarcasm here.Bands do not exist for clarinets, at least not in the US.
The only band I ever played in which was beautiful was the New England Conservatory Band,back in the late 40’s conducted by Georges Moleaux, who was principal bass with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and, very curiously had won first prize in double bass, and in clarinet at the Paris Conservastory.
There were 20 firsts and 20 second clarinets, in other words, something like an orchestra but with clarinets instead of violins.
The rest of my experiences were less pleasant and musical than that first one. Good luck to you.

sincerely, Sherman Friedland


Mazzeo System Centered Tone ….no riddle

March 25, 2007

Professor Friedland,
We have had some e-mail correspondence in the past and I value your expertise and experience with the Mazzeo system horns. As the owner of 3 Selmer Paris, 2 Selmer Signets and a spate of Bundy Mazzeo’s ( as well as one Stubbins) I have a question about a pair of horns recently to make at least 3 appearances on e-bay. They were a pair of Selmer Centered Tone horns. I had not previously encountered this combination and wondered whether perhaps they had been sent to the factory to be retro-fitted with the Mazzeo mechanism. In your experience, have you encountered Centered Tone Mazzeo horns? I was reluctant to bid too great an amount on these horns as I have not previously seen this combination. Would you be able to shed some light on this subject. Your sage advice on this subject would be most appreciated.

Additionally, I have never found an Eb Mazzeo system, although a person selling an Ab on e-bay claimed to have been offered Mazzeo’s personal horn. (By the master himself) Obviously, there must have been some. It seems strange to not have encountered at least one over the course of the years. As always, your informed input would be greatly appreciated.

With thanks,JG
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JG:
Yes, indeed I have encountered Centered Tone Mazzeo System clarinets, which were made in the late 50s early 60s. I owned and played on a set for a number of years, and these that I had were excellent, an extra pair that Mazzeo himself had. Of course, no one can tell the actual quality,however I would get them the next time you have the opportunity. I think I know where they originated, which if I am right, was in Boston.
No, the Eb you heard mentioned was probably not Mazzeo’s own, implying that while Eb player with the BSO, he used that one. The answer is no, because when he played Eb, it was much earlier, perhaps even in the 30’s. I never ever heard of an Ab, and I would have, since I was a student and friend of his for a number of years.

best wishes, and stay well.
Sherman Friedland


The Anonymous Musician

March 18, 2007

Hi Sherman,

I started reading stuff from your website lately, and I’ve found it to be really useful. I’ve been playing the clarinet for about three years (since my first year of middle school), and I just recently got a Van Doren B45 to replace the piece-of-trash plastic mouthpiece that comes with your instrument. I got out my tuner, which I rarely ever used before, and tuned my clarinet. It was awful. At first, I was up to 40 cents sharp in the lower register with my old habits. Those habits would including putting the top of the reed (Van Doren size 3, by the way) over the mouthpiece, making an insanely tight embouchure, and making my throat in an “ih” shape. I was having to pull out maybe 2 mm at the barrel, middle, and bell each.

Then, I started trying some different things. With the reed slightly under the top of the mouthpiece, a looser embouchure, and making an “oh” shape with my throat, I can play in tune by only pulling out 2 mm at the barrel, 1 mm at the middle, and not touching the bell at all. The girl that sits next to me in symphony and church who always tells me to pull out didn’t tell me to pull out at all today. I just wanted to know if the changes that I made are alright and if I should continue to use them. I read that you should make your throat in an “ee” shape, but that doesn’t really work that well for me.

Along with all that, I recently noticed that I’ve been tonguing on the tip of the reed with a part of my tongue a bit behind the tip. Should I stop doing that? I just feel that using the tip of my tongue makes the sound too sharp.

Oh, and how do you make your tone sound “dark” or “bright”? I mean, I’ve heard that a dark tone is more pleasing to people around you, but a bright tone helps you to project. How do I alter my sound to make those tones and which do you recommend?

Also, do most adults just have lower standards for children who are musicians? Because I’m first chair in my band and in the lower level of the county youth orchestra, and I’m in the higher level of the youth orchestra (not first chair, of course). I also participated in a solos and ensembles music festival recently, and the judge gave me a 1+. He said that I played expressively and that I had good articulation and tone. Honestly, I thought I sounded like a car horn that could crescendo. And my private lessons teacher just tells me that I’m better than his other students, even when I completely mess up my lesson. This just sort of concerns me.

Thanks in advance for your helpful reply.

Sincerely,
Ananymous

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Hi Anonymous:
I am pleased that you are learning things from my site, for it is certainly for you and students like you. I have been responding to clarinetists questions for many years and there are over 400 essays and articles on the site, the size of a large, comprehensive book. Interestingly enough I just found a very useful feature of the site that makes browsing it much easier, and that is the search aspect, which by simply typing in the subject matter you can receive the answer to your particular question answer . This digital index is very useful for a large website and I suggest that you make use of it, if you haven’t already.
It is always difficult to respond when one does not hear the student play.
When I hear the student, I hear the question without you stating it, somewhat like an experienced mechanic hearing an engine run and knowing what needs fixing.
This process has taken me more than 60 years to learn and I am still learning every day.
You sound like you are doing one thing very well indeed; really, you are going from the quality of the sound you are making, meaning you are correcting yourself and searching for ways in which to improve.
Tongue and reed placement are both matters that one corrects by listening, then fixing, and it sound as if you are able to do this, or at least try, rather than buying gadgets and all manner of things which do nothing for your ear.
In general, listen to good clarinetists play, on record, and when you find one you really like, get his or her sound in your head. Keep it there, and it will become your sound, or your interpretation of the sound you are hearing. Follow diorections on my site for reed placement and embouchure adjustment.
And sound is the most imnportant thing n learning to play the clarinet.
Good luck and thank you for writing in.

best regard, anonymous,
sherman


Legere synthetic reed, and what to play it on, and how, and what to change.

March 9, 2007

This entry was first written in 2007. There have been many changes in all of the synthetics available. Legere itself has produced other cuts and models, its newest being its best.I have found a synthetic which for me, is the closest to cane, without the inconsistencies of cane.

To those readers who have an interest in Legere, here is a candid story from a doubler who has given Legere a very comprehensive try and has had some good results, also my own response, which as you know, was a bit different. I hope that this can be of some help in discerning whether a try of this synthetic would be of interest.In the end, I have reached a slightly different conclusion on this product, one based upon a long trial and comments such as those of Mr Aldridge.
The conclusion is quite simple: If you are searching for a reed that will allow you to play without preparing the reed prior to blowing it, this reed may be for you. You can put it right on , blow and it will play. Now, as to what contortions you may go through and also put your equipment through before becoming satisfied, that is quite another story.
The sound is only acceptable for a few minutes, then you begin searching: mouthpiece,ligature, reed strength, even instrument. If you have to alternate reeds in order to play them you are in the same ballpark as cane. Just what is it that you are doing? It plays immediately. So?
I myself, prefer cane reeds. I have never been kept from playing no matter how many times I have given clinics or taught while playing because of a dry or weird reed. I usually speak durng the performance of a concert of chamber music without fail. It is a way of becoming friendly with the audience and it is also informative. Never has a cane reed stopped me from speaking, or demonstrating.
best regards, sherman
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Sherman,

Speaking from my personal experience, I ended up changing mouthpieces and ligatures in order to get the best possible results I could with Legere reeds. I discovered that Legere reeds work better on some mouthpiece facings than others. When I tried Legere reeds on some mouthpieces the results were absolutely terrible. But, on another mouthpiece….hooray.

Most of my performances are in doubling situations. In this context having a synthetic reed that I truly like is like a gift from God after years of picking up a clarinet or saxophone from the stand to find a dried out reed. I first discovered the potential of Legere reeds on clarinet. If I had not seen that potential early on, frankly, I would not have bothered with them and the Legere reeds would have gone into the trash can….following the path of every synthetic reed I tried over the years.

As I mentioned in a previous message, it took me several weeks to become comfortable with Legere reeds on clarinet. But, it took even LONGER on saxophone. I quickly discovered that Legere reeds (regular cut) sounded terrible on my primary mouthpiece. I then went through a period of trial & error to see if I could find a facing that gave me a better results with Legere. Long story short, I hit pay-dirt with the Ralph Morgan 6C saxophone mouthpiece. For whatever reason, this facing and mouthpiece design works in a stunningly beautiful way with a #2.5 regular Legere.

I experienced similar mouthpiece issues on bass clarinet. I had been using a Morgan D. Cane reeds work fine on it. But, with Legere response went to hell in a hand basket. I then tried a Walter Grabner LB mouthpiece with a #3 Legere and it was like finding the promised land. I was amazed at the differences the Grabner mouthpiece made.

After getting such good results with the Grabner/Legere match on bass I then HAD to try a Grabner mouthpiece on soprano clarinet. Walter suggested his K14 Kaspar-style piece. I tried it with a #3 Legere Quebec and was deeply impressed with the improvements it gave me over the previous mouthpiece I used with Legere.

Along with the trial & error I was having with mouthpieces, I also discovered that the ligatures I used quite happily with cane reeds were problematic with Legere. So, more experimentation with Ligatures! UGH….. But, again I hit pay-dirt — this time with the Vandoren Klassik string ligature. Remarkable improvements!

Looking back, I shudder to think about all of the work I put into finding the best possible match between myself as a player, my equipment, and Legere reeds. I would NOT have done that for a different cane reed! However, I’m extremely happy with the results I’m getting on each of my instruments. I can honestly say that I’m happier now with these set ups than I was before. However, it’s also clear to me that Legere reeds are not for everyone. If one is happy with cane reeds on their particular mouthpiece and equipment why change?

Best Regards,
R A

Reply To Message

R:
Many thanks for your interesting and thoughtful reply concerning Legere reeds. The clarity with which you speak and the intensity of your search is impressive. I didn’t think there was that much to be gained, and it was perhaps my own problem, however I’m quite delighted that you are happier now.
see my article on Leger on my survey elsewhere in the archives.

s.f

Here’s a thought: as the field becomes more crowded and the product more consistent, players may always find tiny differences, which will exacerbate the problem…..all over again. There has been a perceptible change for the better with the appearance of the newest of the Legere reed. I will have to check the name. It does play circles around the others for the most part, however please give the poor players  a break on the price, which is around 30 bucks a pop, taxes in.


Barrels, which to use, buy, and how many?

March 8, 2007

I wanted to thank you again for your help with my previous reed problem. It has been solved.

Today, I do have a question that no player or repairman can help me with.
Is there really an internal bore size (diameter?) difference between a Buffet “A” clarinet barrel and a B-flat?
I know that a barrel manufacturer sells a barrel that they say can be used on both the A and B-flat clarinet?
I was given a Moening B-flat barrel and tried it on my”A” Buffet and the C-3 (left thumb) is sharp, with the other notes
pretty well being in tune. Should I purchase an “A” clarinet barrel instead?

Thank-you Sir–
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Hi Richard:
Thank you for writing in and I am glad that you were helped with the reed problem. As far as the barrel problem, I asked the real authority on clarinet manufacture and repair, designer of many of the worlds best clarinets, William Ridenour and here is his response, which is , I must say about the same as mine:
Good luck, sherman

“This is my observation and I hope it is helpful.
1. most players select a barrel on tone, and resistance while tuning is secondary in their minds, at least on first trial. This is not a particular problem unless the timbre and barrel pleases but the barrel is found, ex post facto, to play flat on the A clarinet. (The standard Bb barrel for the Buffet post 1960 is 66 millimeters. Standard A barrel, post 1960, is 65mm.)
So….the first issue is to make sure the barrel you select is short enough to enable the A clarinet to play up to pitch (A=440 )- you can always pull the sharp barrel to make the Bb play down to pitch.
Once that happens all bets are off. The determining factors beyond that are all personal and subjective so….
2. The subjective issues are concerned more with how well the barrel plays and sounds to the player.
conclusion:
A single barrel for both clarinets must meet the standard of a) playing up to pitch on both clarinets and being aesthetically pleasing, according to the player’s perception in combination with his or her mouthpiece/reed set up.
Selecting a barrel, in regard to the Buffet product, according to some abstract set of bore dimensions is total nonsense. If the barrel meets the two requirements (playing up to pitch and being aesthetically pleasing) it is acceptable.
Let common sense prevail and forget all the know-nothing BS artist that parrot some abstract set of dimensions or some precise number. If it plays up to pitch on both horns , colors well and has an acceptable resistance, take it. If not, keep looking until you find one that does.
Buffet bore dimensions are all over the place. Ergo, those who quote an inflexible number or set of numbers for the barrel while they stuff cotton in their ears are insensible to the real subtleties of performance and should be like the first stage of a rocket: jettisoned as soon as possible, if not sooner.
That’s my take.” William Ridenour


Rayburns Music, Boston, my early years

March 5, 2007

Subject: Clarinet Corner Query:Emilio Lyons

This isn’t anything of substance — I just had to drop a line, because I read your reference to Emilio Lyons on the site just minutes after leaving my clarinet with him. He’s alive and well — a terrific man and a pleasure to do business with. Many many people here in Boston can’t imagine Rayburn’s without him.

Rayburn’s itself has moved across the street from its location around the corner from Symphony Hall — it gave me a shock at first to see the old storefront empty!
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Perhaps nothing of substance to you, but it is my entire adolescence, in that I took many lessons in Rayburns prior to Emilio arriving, used to deal and work for Ray himself and played gigs with his father, Sy who had been the”bolero” drummer with the Boston Symphony, and used to get free reeds from mrs sternburg whenever I went in on Friday for my 5 boxes which I used to go through prior to my saturday morning lesson with Rosario, and that is when there were 25 in a box and they were 3.75 a bx. She used to give them to me for nothing, bless her soul. Simon Sternburg was also a chemist and made valve oil in the back, ….Revelation Valve oil was made by him, true, I swear it.
And I put up the shelves for the sheet music in the back , me and a the french horn player Dick Greenfield, very talented guy, hope he is still with us.
So Ray used to play the marching band job every now and again and prided himself on being a lousy trumpet player. I last talked to him on the phone when he was 83 and living in Florida, but that was about 10–12 years ago.
So, I was there when Emilio started work, and had many dealings with him, so long ago that he was just learning repair, at which I guess he is world reknown now. The kind of reparation by Emilio and the others in Boston was incredible, and you have to leave there to really understand that.
They used to have my picture up in the back (I was a selmer clinician for 30 years) and then everybody in Boston played Selmer, because everybody in the orchestra played them
So, it means much of consequence to me, M, and I thank you for sending it. And I will never believe that they moved, unbelievable. It remains for me the greatest music store, always will be. Please give Emilio my fondest regards.

best, Sherman