All technical problems are rhythmic in origin

I recently wrote a response to a clarinetist having problems with staccato, specifically problems having to do with speed of staccato, a frequently discussed topic among most clarinet students. It is not usually discussed among clarinetists who are let us say, fiscally secure. (i.e. they have playing jobs). The reason for this is simply that it is a problem mostly of perception more imagined than real, and easily soluble.

When a very young student I was given “Reverie” by Debussy for a lesson. The triplet in quarter notes spread over two beats confounded me for years, really years, mostyl because my teacher sang it to me and I repeated it by rote. It was only years later that I learned that briefly, a common denominator must be found , in 3 and 2, that number is 6, and dividing either three or two into six is really easy.

This common denominator is the same one used to divide 11 notes among five beats, or in any run at all, specifically for this entry the runs in “Scheherazade”, the scale in Eb that diminishes up to the high C in the Debussy “Rhapsody”, the Cadenza in the “Contrasts” of Bartok and any number of specifically rhythmic problems couched in technical terms.

There is another example in playing certain articulations on the clarinet or in any instrumental part.

Staccato is a mater of rhythmic understanding and execution of that rhythm, execution means playing staccato of understanding of the actual rhythm, and definitely not the speed.

Speed becomes inconsequential wih understanding of the rhythm, where those precious beats fall and how frequently the occur.

Luckily, I was able to study these things in a practical way with Fernand Gillet, Principal Oboe of the Boston Symphony, who was my practical solfeggio teacher at the New England Conservatory. By practical I mean that we played the usual solfeggio book exercises but were also drilled in executing rhythms in actually orchestral situations.
Gillet told me one time in a rehearsal of the Beethoven Quintet, “I like zat staccato”. I have never ever forgotten the comment,uttered by Gillet more than 50 years ago. When a fellow with his experience and understanding says that to you, you do remember it. He could figure out any rhythm usuing simple means.
I once performed a work by Carlos Chavez, the prominent Mexican composer, who came to NEC to actually conduct the rehearsals and performance of this little woodind quartet.
At one pont in the rehearsal, Gillet also in attendance got up to speak with Chavez, a heated discussion concerning execution of a dotted eight and sixteenth note. It turned ugly , voices rose, but Gillet won the argument with ease.
He was head of all rhythmic problems on any instrument, and he knew everything. Think of how many premieres he played the first performances of by the great composers of the first half of the 20th century, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev, the list is endless but he was always up to the problem whatever it may have been and most of them were and remain rhythmic in nature.

A simple answer, always subdivide when necessary, or even when not necessary But as all fine players know, it is always necessary.

play well everyone.



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