Courage! Remember what B. Davis said

April 30, 2008

Hello AA:

At age 80 I am having arthritis problems with my hands, particularly my 2
index fngers. The distance between my index fingers and my ring fingers
seems to be shrinkng! I’m wondering if key covers (like on plateau
flutes) on a few keys would help. Or do you have another suggestion? I
warm up daily on the Klose Mechanism exercises–helps slightly but not
much! I really don’t want to give up my clarinet. I tried Bass Clarinet
(no open holes) for a few months but typical band music wasn’t very
exciting. (I licked one problem but gained another one). Thanks. I
appreciate your Clarinet Corner articles very much. If you recommend ring
covers, where might I find them?

Congratulations on playing at your tender age. I am not so much younger than you and I am playing a concert this Sunday and can well empathize with you as I believe this problem is a function of the process of aging. The most important thing for you to do is to keep playing because I have found that if you do not not, the problem will get worse. One can find a plateau clarinet. Leblanc used to make them for people with smaller or shorter fingers, however it has been some time since they were discontinued. They pop up on ebay every once in a while and the idea would be a help to you of course, and there have been rather expensive plateau clarinets around but never terribly popular. Practice even more than before and do not try stretching fingers as it can lead to trouble you may not care to visit. Think Robert Schumann the great Romantic composer and pianist who developed a contrivance to stretch his fingers and wound up being unable to play a as a result.
Medications like “Aleve”, (naproxin) or “Motrin” (ibuprofen) are available without a prescription but must be taken carefully as they can cause bleeding of the stomach. They are effective however. I would suggest the ibuprofen.
I will close with a quote from Bette Davis: “Gettin old aint for sissies”
I wish you all the best with your clarinet. My right hand hurts all the time but I use a ten-dollar rubber thumb holder which is remarkable. Called a “thumb saddle’ ( Ridenour).

Stay well.


Space between teeth and embouchure

April 19, 2008

Hello sir

I just read your article “Movable Teeth, And A Suggestion”. I was very interested in the article because I have what they called parted front teeth.. that is, I cannot completely bite.

I became really concerned lately about my open bites because I started to take private lessons and my teacher commented that I have really good sound (“you sound like a clarinet”). That’s when I became very concerned about my open bites; my opinion is that because of the open bite, I cannot have a stable sound (I have to bite more than I would need to if I had normal bite) and adequate technique. My mom is really concerned about my teeth too, but her suggestion was to quit playing clarinet. I said no way, and this argument is staling still (it began 2 years ago). I really want to start on braces to fix my bites, but I also heard from rumors that braces will REALLY hinder your playing.

So the question is: does open biting matter when I’m playing clarinet? I read your article several times, but it seems to me that even if you had lost several of your teeth, you at least had a complete bite. Would open biting mette rfor playing my clarinet correctly? I’m assuming you at least had three student who were suffering from the open bite during your decades of profession in clarinet.

Many thanks for your interesting letter concerning your embouchure and the fact that you have what is a space or spaces between your front teeth.I have had many students who were suffering, but none from “open bites” as you say. First and foremost, that does not matter. What does matter is that your teacher says that you have a nice sound. This means that indeed you can play with your teeth the way they are. There are many fine players who have the same configuration as do you and play the clarinet beautifully. Straight “together”teeth do not play the clarinet. You play the clarinet.
As far as braces are concerned, from the moment you have them in place you will have problems playing and your dentist will most probably suggest that you stop playing, as your mother has as well.
All of us are different and we learn to fit our differences to the instrument, whatever the configuration of the front teeth.
It remains entirely within your own desires as to what you achieve on the instrument. You want healthy teeth, which are not necessarily straight.
Good luck.

A “Legerexperience”

April 17, 2008

Mr. Friedland:

I read your website frequently because I enjoy the information you offer to those to ask. I’ve noticed that you’ve been working with Legere reeds lately. I just wanted to share my experience with them. I first tried them in college, and I don’t think they had the Quebec cut yet. I found the reeds to be too thin in the heart (standard cut Legere), and I gave up using them. A couple years later I tried the Quebec cut. I liked the tone better, but I never could get a good response in the altissimo. I tried going down a 1/4 strength like many suggested to me…response was a little better, but I just didn’t feel I was getting it at the level of my best cane reeds.
I’ve since started using Tom Ridenour’s ATG reed system, and I’ve found it works well on Legere reeds. I started with some reeds that were slightly on the thick side and worked them down to my liking. I found that I really needed to do some work on the tips of the reeds to get the response the way I liked, but since I started with thicker reeds, I didn’t lose the tonal depth I wanted. I’ve had good luck with a Grabner K13. My wife and I just finished playing a show this past month. She’s heard me play Legere before I really got them working well. I didn’t tell her I played them for this show until a couple days after it was done, and she was surprised that I was using Legere again!

I don’t know how they’ve been working for you, but I thought I’d share my story!

J. W.

Hello J. W .:
My story with Legere reeds has been that they’ve always worked for me, but they have never worked enough,meaning that I cannot get the quality of sound with the the flexibility that I desire.
I have tried every kind that I have purchased or that they have sent to me,Quebec cut, Ontario cut,Center cut, and eye of the round , but to no avail. I have yet to ever play one at a concert, but have on occasion at rehearsals, but cannot recommend them because I have the audacity to believe that my playing expresses a certain lyric quality,a vocal quality,which I cannot achieve with a plastic reed. I believe that it may take a player in the wrong direction to use plastic.
I know that Richard Hawkins, of Oberlin uses them and he is excellent,a great player. But alas, I cannot. Thank you for sharing your “legerexperience”.

Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Symphony Hall

April 14, 2008

Here are three anectdotal (but true) little stories about recordings, which do not render any opinion I don’t have. There is a recording of the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Munch conducting. Every clarinetist knows the first movement solos, the sweet little solo preceded by all of that syncopated tutti , which is repeated becoming a bridge to the slower section. On the recording, which was issued, the first solo played by Gino Cioffi was never put into the recording. Who knows, the tape(at that time) may be hanging up in some studio somewhere.

Number two happened to me in Symphony Hall. I went into the hall to see my teacher who was at the time Rosario Mazzeo (the personell manager). I stopped and opened a door to the hall and saw the orchestra playing. They had taken out all of the seats and the members were seated in pairs,(woodwinds and brass) each pair with a separate microphone. They were recording. I was transfixed seeing them in pairs.

Someone grabbed ne by the collar and neck and dragged me out of the hall. It was Peggy Burke, Mazzeos secretary who had gotten nervous about me coming in. Out in the hallway whe screamed in a whisper to me.”Sherman, don’t you know if you were caught in there, the orchestra would have had to be paid!” I said of course, ,”no”.
She went on telling me that when Koussevistsky had been the conductor he was so abusive that they passed the regulation to save aggravation on the players .
One more story. (true too)
The were recording Til, back in the days of 78s. Koussevitsky was conducting. At the time, an entire side had to be recorded. No editing was available. The first horn cracked (Wilhelm Vulcaneer). Koussy would not re-record. On the way out, Vulcaneer opened the conductors door and said, You Son of a bitch.
Koussy replied.”It is never too late to apologize”
(Story told to me by a dear friend, Tom Kenny, who was Szells first horn as well as Paul Parays for many years.

Movable Teeth, and a suggestion

April 10, 2008

Many of us experience movement of teeth from playing or because of any number of things.And there are those who have marvelous teeth and never need a thing done to them, stictly a genetic inheritance issue.
Get ready for the other side of the tooth. Here is my general dental history: I have had a successful life as clarinetist A few pertinent facts: I have had bad teeth, especially the front teeth all of my life since losing a front one when I was 13. Pain, absess, lost teeth, then the round of replacement of this or that. I once had a bridge carefully measured by an excellent dentist who was sensitive to the fact that I was a professional clarinetist. When he placed the appliance in my mouth, I felt a shock of pain which subsided almost immediately. He then, out of the supposed kindness of his heart charged me only half of what he would have, he said. The pain was the fact of absess upon the placement. More than several years later it came to life ,swelling and painful until rectified. I was Principal in Milwaukee at the time.
And so it has gone. Dentists don’t like things in the mouth that get in the way of “proper alignment”, and the clarinet does just that. I have had many students with braces, writing to me with what the dentists have said. Dentists first job is making teeth healthy and they suggest giving up the clarinet.
You love the clarinet, right? You have most probably receding gums or weakness because of any number of reasons.
They’re two different things, at least to you. If the clarinet is important, practice it, but not to the point of pain, (which is what I did). When in the US Army, I went to the dentist and asked him to take out all my teeth. Of course he refused, saying that I only needed a root canal, which he performed. I played that night, “Afternoon of a Faun” of Debussy, arranged for band, playing the flute solo on clarinet, blood running down my chin. (truth).
Call me an idiot or a masochist, whatever, but I have found out that I really love the clarinet. There, you have my experience to share. Good luck. Keep praticing, but do care for your teeth.

Sherman Friedland

Ebonite , Wood, or Plastic, Metal

April 8, 2008

Arthur H. Benade was an acoustician as well as a musician who gave many a presentation at early Clarinet Clinics and various symposia dedicated to our weapon of preference. He even played the Mozart (the one of which Stadler pawned the score and parts) at one of these on a garden hose. He was regarded rather as ” a village idiot” by many of the club, however he implanted in my very young mind an idea: this was to take two blocks of resonite to Paris and have Selmer make me a set of beautifully made and tuned clarinets. (suffice it to say, I was very young, but I was a Selmer Clinician, (whatever that means), so I thought I had clout, which I did not. Though juvenile, the idea stayed in my mind to have been brought to fruition by the scoundrels at Buffet for more than three grand for a horn. But there are many who love the Greenline and I am happy for them, though not the price. As to hard rubber or ebonite, Anthony Baines who wrote in his excellent “Woodwinds and their History” said that “many fine players though play ebonite which have a sweeter though a softer tone than does wood”. This was first published a half century ago. That idea is quite true. The sound of hard rubber is much sweeter than wood, but not as loud. I play them so I feel that to be true, having come to this conclusion after I started playing hard rubber. But as an aside, the Ridenour A clarinet is unsurpassed by any other instrument in that key for just those reasons. A clarinets are a bit more resistant than Bb for obvious reasons, but the rubber A is a perfect match for my Bb and the tuning is by far the best.
So yes, it is totally agreed that different substances do emit different qualities, call these qualities what you will, but in the case of an A clarinet, I find the material (ebonite) absolutely ideal. It is important to remember the work of Arthur Benade and all those others who have experimented with the acoustics of the clarinet as well as the materials.
Perhaps it is a good time to remember one of our very great clarinetists, Gaston Hamlin, Principal Clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose contract was not renewed by the conductor Serge Koussevitsky in 1931. The reason given: “Koussy” did not like the metal Selmer Clarinet played by Mr Hamlin. Hamlin went back to France. Ralph MacClane went back with him to study. He returned and became Principal in Philadelphia for many years, helping to establish the so-called “American School” The rest is history.
Those very same Selmer metal Clarinets, (full boehm) were removed from the Selmer Catalog. Reason: “It hurt our prestige” Those particular clarinets are now worth their weight in Greenbacks when they appear on “the” venue. (I really wish someone would buy me one, or send me one.)


Clarinet choices

April 6, 2008


First of all, I’d like to thank you for this site. What you’re doing is really helpful and amazing.

Secondly, I’m a sophomore in high school and have been playing on the same plastic Bb Yamaha for the last five years. My private instructor suggested that I move up to a higher-level clarinet; he specifically mentioned Buffet. The problem is, I’d be paying for the instrument myself, and I really can’t afford anything more than $1200. I looked through the Woodwind and Brasswind online catalogue and I’m intrigued by the Andino Grenadilla Wood Bb Intermediate, the Amati ACL 314-O Model 314, the Normandy 4K Normandy 4 Bb, and the Leblanc L1012S Rapsodie Intermediate. After looking at your site, I don’t feel the Buffet is for me; I have huge intonation issues on the Yamaha as it is now, and I would prefer an instrument with better intonation. Which of these do you suggest? Do you have any other suggestions within my price range?

Also, I noticed that you frequently mention the Vandoren mouthpiece playing a bit sharp. What other reasonably priced mouthpieces would you suggest?

My last question, I promise: currently, my higher register gives me awkward and screechy sound. My altissimo register is obscenely bad: screechy and flat where it should in theory be sharp. My instructor keeps telling me to open my mouth more, which I think might help; the problem is, the more I open my mouth, the harder it is to play the note. How can I correct this? Is it my embouchure alone that’s the problem, or could it be an instrumental issue?

Hello Beth:
Thank you for your note. I am happy you like the site.
As far as a clarinet with a good scale and generally the best intonation “out there”, you cannot go wrong with the Ridenour “Lyrique” clarinet. It is made of hard rubber and is much more stable than wood and will always remain intune. It comes with two barrels and a mouthpiece and costs less than your budget. I have two of these instruments and can tell you that they are excellent.
Ridenour was the designer of all of the fine clarinets that Leblanc made for several years including the Rhapsody model. I do think however that the Lyrique wll be excellent and a complete instrument.
I am interested in the Andino myelf , but they mentioned that they are going to send me one to try, but they haven’t as yet. The Amati company makes a very good instrument, though I do not think it is as good as the others you have mentioned.
I can recommend a couple of different mouthpieces which will probably suit you well and will both be much better in the high register than your Van Doren. One is the Fobes “debut”, which costs only 30 dollars or so, the other being the Gennusa made and distributed now by Ben Redwine.
You can find all of these names in your browser as they all have websites. The Ridenour “Lyrique” may be the best deal avaliable at any price.

best wishes, Sherman

Crystal Mouthpiece, and reeds,

April 4, 2008

I currently play on a Leblanc LL clarinet with a B45 mouthpiece. I want to try a crystal mouthpiece. I play in the local symphony but also play some jazz clarinet (I like the big, fat Pete Fountain sound). Any recommendations as to the mouthpiece I should try, and the reed that would go with that? And, any recommendations as to the type (brand) of reed I might use with the B45 (I currently use Mitchell Lurie 3)? Thank you. Steve
Hello Steve:
Thank you for your note about crystal and big fat sounds. There are many who will tell you that crystal is the ideal material for a mouthpiece at least in the sense of the sound emitting quality of the material. I myself have played crystal, specifically a Pomarico, when it was eing imported by Guigui Efrain, the South American clarinetist who recently passed away. We had been together at Boston University may years ago. This mouthpiece was called GG for obvious reasons , but was a Pomarico. At that time there were two Pomarico brothers, one in Argentina, the other in Italy, and the mouthpiece was made by the Argentinian Pomarico. The particular one I had was the dream mouthpiece which did more for me at the time than anything, I thought; until a student accidentally broke it during the intermission of a chamber music concert I was playing, years ago.
That was a good place to stop and a good reason for not buying or treasuring a crystal mouthpiece. If they drop or hit a hard surface it is finished, a very good reason for using hard rubber or even wood.
The reason for the sound of Pete Fountain is Pete Fountain and certainly not his crystal mouthpiece. Of that I am absolutely sure.
As to the crystal mouthpiece these days, there is only Pomarico, but I cannopt vouch for the mouthpiece since its reputation is not as good as it once was. There is also a mouthpiece which is made by James Pyne, but that is some kind of clear plastic, and I cannot vouch for that either.
There are many crystal Obrien mouthieces still around and they frequently appear on ebay.
Another problem with crystal is the ability to work on them by mouthpiece craftsmen. Few are able to because it takes special tools and a diamond wheel, as I have been told.
I recently came across a mouthpiece used by Gino Cioffi, former principal of the Boston Symphony and a former teacher. I had it refaced by Richard Hawkins of Oberlin , who did a great job, one of the best mouthpiece craftsmen anywhere.
It is my personal belief that there are much more amenable mouthpieces than the B45, the M13 being the one I played for a while after playing a B45, and also the 5RV or the 2 RV, but any Van doren moutjpiece plays differently than any other Van Doren mouthpiece of the same facing number,although they are closer than any other mouthpiece as far as consistency within a commercially made mouthpiece. Also any mouthpiece is different from any other of the same make and number, so, in the final analyses, it is an individual choice.
I would not suggest the Mitchel Lurie reed as it is too light in the heart of the reed, will not last and will diminish in quality and high register rapidly, though they do play easily. Gonzalez or Zonda of Argentina are better reeds , better cane, longer lasting and more consistent had been my experience.
I hope that this has helped. Best wishes,
Sherman Friedland