Developing a better sound

Dear Sherman –
I attended the Philadelphia Orchestra concert here in Eugene last week. The “big” piece was supposedly Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” with Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” as the first half warm-up act. But I found myself more delighted and entranced by the Mozart. I was particularly taken by the exquisite tone and phrasing of the clarinetist. I’d never heard a clarinet sound so lyrical and delicious before! I looked in my program when I got home, and then researched his name on the internet. Oh, I see – Ricardo Morales is one of the gods of clarinet, that’s all!
I played clarinet in elementary school and junior high before switching to piano and choral music in college, and never looked back. Currently I get my musical pleasure singing in the Eugene Concert Choir. But his playing struck something deep inside, and I’ve been thinking about re-learning the clarinet all week. I listen to Bach Cello Suites and wonder if there are some good transcriptions for clarinet, and wonder how
long it would take to be able to make satisfying music on a clarinet again and play this kind of music beautifully.
To get to my question: I’m pretty familiar with music fundamentals and mostly I want to develop a beautiful tone and enough technique to play good music that’s not overly technical – Bach transcriptions, duets and trios for clarinet and cello and/or oboe (my wife plays both), and trios for the same instruments with bassoon thrown in (a friend). Would it be reasonable to think I could develop a beautiful tone and the ability to “sing” a melody pretty well within a year if I practiced 45 minutes a day? I don’t need to sound like Mr. Morales, but I don’t want to sound
like the plain, rather dreary clarinetist I remember sounding like in my youth. And I don’t have the time to work at it like a music major.
What do you think? Is it a reasonable goal, or should wait until I retire and can practice 4 hours a day? (or just buy a pile of CD’s?)

Hello Paul:
Thank you for your note . It is interesting for me to hear you speak of achieving a better sound rather than that of the dreary clarinetist you remember in your youth. That and the fact that you were impressed with the sound of Morales is kind of step 1 and 2.
I do not think it is a matter of spending several hours on practice each day. But I do know that you can begin to achieve the sound you want or the soud you hear with very careful practice .
You should develop a series of exercises that you play each time you
practice having to do with first, the playing of long tones in the low register of the clarinet. Nothing superhuman, just long full tones in the bottom octave of the instrument, say mezzo-forte or forte for ten or 15 seconds for each note, being careful that you make a clean attack with the
tongue on the reed and the sound commencing more toward immediately rather than with a noise or some kind of sound you find unattractive.
I would begin to look for cleanliness in the sound immediately and if it doesn’t come, which it will not, do not continue until you can get a reasonable sound ing clear tone. Then the next note of the scale; same thing clean attack, long forte sound, though not overblowing. You should begin to feel some fatigue in your lips probably around the corners. This is good. If you feel pain in your lip, you are playing incorrctly, perhaps biting, or perhaps a reed that is too resistant.
Actually as I think about it, if your are talking about Eugene Oregon, you may have the answer right there. You need to have another pair of ears, or plainly a teacher who plays with a nice sound approaching that which you
desire will do a world of good toward producing the sounds you wish to hear.If there is a professional orchestra there, there should be a good clarinetist to help you.
If not, you must proceed in the manner I have mentioned.
To answer your qution, yes, it is possible to achieve a good sound
reasonably quickly. You have already got it in your head. Copy what you hear there. Or, do not accept less or close to less.
There is a good book compiled by Hymie Voxman of Bach transcriptions of solo violin and cello works. I found it terribly beneficial. (publisher used to
be Rubank)As far as duos and trios, if you can transpose you will have no problem, but
there are even many transcriptions of Baroque music arranged for several wind players.
Do not wait until you retire.
Start now.

best always,
sherman friedland


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