The Leblanc Episode

This is a true story. It has to do with a clarinetist and his first encounter with a major manufacturing company. While it is still in my memory, it occurred about a half century ago.

During the first year of a young clarietists hire as principal of a major symphony, many things transpire.
There is the first meeting with the other colleagues in the woodwind section, indeed the whole orchestra. This turns rapidly to the first encounter one has with the instruments and the tuning of these instruments with your own and the first experiences of tuning together. This was actually more an adventure than anything of which one can think. But it was especially for me as I was playing the new Mazzeo System clarinet, a set of full-boehm Mazeo System Centered Tone Selmer instruments, actually a set of Mazzeo’s personal instruments.

Things went well. We had a woodwind quintet, made up of the other principal woodwind players and as part of our schedule , we did concerts at schools,helping to spread the word of the symphony orchestra and introducing these different sounds and repertoire.

About a month or two after it all began I received a message from the General Manager of the orchestra. The message was extremely influential in the nest part of my career in every way possible. I am relating it for the first time because enough time has elapsed and all the people involved have passed on.

Another major clarinet comany,The Leblanc Company, located in Kenosha ,Wisconsin, had made an offer to the General Manager of the orchestra. If I would play the Leblanc Clarinet, and if the woodwind quintet wold be known as The Leblanc Woodwind Quintet, Leblanc would contribute $25,000 to our orchestra.

Well, there was I, a young man embarking on a principal clarinet job being asked to change instruments. This was especially interesting and exciting because the Companies of Leblanc and Selmer were competitive to say the least. Furthermore, I was at the time also a clinician for the Selmer Company. I had visitd the Factory in Paris many times and I had a friendship with Jean Selmer and his father, Maurice.

But my slosest relationship was with Rosario Mazzeo, who had been my main teacher for more than 6 years. He was also my friend.

First, it was several days of dilemma because being a young man, at a different time in the development of the orchestra in the US, this situation, unless resolved could have lead me to either leaving the position or agreeing to the proposal, which was at the time, a change of everything I had come to know. In the symphonyh at the time even Selmer was an unusual name.Most players played the Buffet clarinet. Regardless of the many national advertisements to the contrary, the well-known clarinetists in those advertisements all played Buffet. Boston was the only large city in which all of the clarinetists in the Symphony played Selmer .

I decided to tell Rosario through a long letter and stayed worried until I received a replay, which came quickly and made a bad situation even worse. He was higly angered by the proposal from Leblanc and while he did not direct me, it seemed clear what my choices were. Personally, I felt that if I turned down the proposition, I might have been fired, as it was not a time of unions. While they existed, they were largely ineffectual and genrally the tools of management.

So finally,I told management that I would not consider the proposal from Leblanc.

I waited and nothig ever happened, except that I worried for a long while.

The very interesting thing about the episode is that laer on in life, I discoverd the Leblanc clarinet, and found it to be one of the best clarinets made , better in my mind than Selmer, a more refined and even an instrument with really a better scale and general tuning than Selmer. But that was perhaps 20 years after.

At the time this happened the rumor around was that Leblanc was literally throwing their clarinet at players in symphony orchestras, which may or may not have been true, but in my case, it was true.

Presently, while the instruments are being made, Kenosha Wisconsin and Elkhart,Indiana are no longer the US centers of the distribution of these instruments, now controlled by the conglomerate Conn-Selmer

Sherman Friedland


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