“You Get What You Pay For” Yes, or no?

July 30, 2008

You Get What You Pay For”.

This is a slogan, meaning it really is a means of expressing another thought, which does not represent exactly what is stated. Slogans are interesting because they are used so very frequently, and further that they are used for advertising purposes, which of course, translates into selling the product. The whole point of the slogan is to sell the product or to popularize something.
There does not have to be any relation to the truth at all, actually it is the perception which counts more than anything.
In the case of the slogan, ” You Get What You Pay For”, the implication is that the more you pay for a product the better it is, OR,”You get What you Pay For.
What its meaning  real is “YOU PAY FOR WHAT YOU GET.” Which reduces the impact of the slogan completely making it simply a statement  of payment, rather than theft or a gift.

I use this particular slogan because it is used so frequently by those who play costly clarinets which seem much more a fad than that of purity of tone or intonation. Let us say, you purchase one of these for 3500 or so(sometimes considerably more). You try between five and ten of the same model and you may get one or two that play well, or that you may wish to use to get to a further step in the elimination process. When you finally purchase one, then and only then do you begin to tinker with its intonation and speaking capabilities.

After you and/or your technical assistant get through fixing it, you have your clarinet.

You Get What you Pay For?, is really more of a question than anything.. You pay for what you get. Clear and simple. Don’t be fooled.
The more you have to pay for an instrument, the further into the woods you may be taken.
Nobody will find you because you have already used all of your breadcrumbs and have nothing to scatter along the way.

For those of you considering a purchse of an instrument, get as much advice as possible from perhaps your teacher and/ or a fine player. Do not be confused by the thought of an expensive instrument that does not have that much quality, tuning, sound, stability.There are many instruments available that may cost much less than that very large amount of money and provide you with a much better product.

Good luck and investigate thoroughly.

Sherman Friedland


Choosing a career. Music? Veterinary Medicine??

July 26, 2008
Dear Mr. Friedland,
 
I am a sophomore in high school and have been playing the clarinet for 7 years. I would consider myself to be an above intermediate player. Recently I have been having trouble choosing my career. I have taken career compatibility tests and they have all suggested that I should be a veterinarian. I think that I would enjoy being a vet and would be very good at it. The problem is that I like playing my clarinet just as much as I like animals. I considered going to college to become a professional player but I was persuaded not to by the high competition and unstable salary. Now I am reconsidering becoming a professional player but I don’t know if I am good enough or if I am up to the busy work schedule. How did you decided that becoming a professional musician was the career for you? What is the life of a professional musician like? Thank you so much for your time!
 
     

Hello Bryan:

 Thank you for your letter and for your question as well. The whole thing about music as a career is somewhat of an unfortunate situation and becoming no better with the passage of time as more and more clarinetists search for a niche that will provide them with security for a lifetime.

In my own case, I must say that it was a different time, more than 50 years ago and much less competitive. At that time there were only a few symphony orchestras that provided year-round employment. Meanwhile Music Schools and Universities became more organized and attracted more students, organizing curricula, ensembles, and the incoming students. But there was not an increase in the number of positions available, creating even more competition. Now it has gotten much worse with even more students who play very well and without more money being out into the industry. The resultant atmosphere for the young person seeking to be a performer is bleak at best.
In actuality, Europe treats its musicians better. Musicians there are more subsidized by the state, which has not happened in the US.
But wait.
Is there anything to keep a person like yourself to become and excellent clarinetist? No. Nothing at all.
Is there anything that would prevent you from studying to become a veterinarian at the same time? No, there is not.
So Bryan, here is my sincere advice. Become a veterinarian. And while you are studying you may increase your skills as a clarinetist as well. You will find many ensembles in which to play and you will be just as happy to play without having to worry about making a living by playing the clarinet. Life is much too short.
I do not know when I decided that I must have music for a career. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I quickly learned that I would be happier doing many things in music, which I have done, rather than just playing in any orchestra which many find indeed ordinary, even boring.
Besides the playing the industry of music is or can become quite unsavory. I used to think that because music is so beautiful , it is the business of it which can be rather ugly.
So, I did many things all within the realm of music including performing as Principal Clarinet of a major American Symphony, teaching University, conducting an orchestra for many years and playing all of the major repertoire for the instrument within the realm of chamber music as well as some music administration. For me ,it was fine, but I can readily see and understand a person who is faced with a decision in this world to choose to become a veterinarian and still to become the best clarinetist that they can.
So that is my advice to you and I hope it will be of some help.
Good luck Bryan, always, 
Sherman Friedland
                                                                                                          
            

Sutermeister “Capriccio” for Solo Clarinet

July 25, 2008
H. Sutermeister is the composer of the Capriccio for Solo Clarinet (in A). Composed in 1946 his is one of the more accessible solo works for the clarinet and also one of the better made from the standpoint of the writing for the instrument and for the form. 

I had a note from a student in New Zealand who asked for information on the work that he could use for notes, hence this post, but really because it is my feeling that it is a great piece to work on because it helps the player to learn about form , contrast and expression, to say nothing  pacing of the work. But first and foremost, the ball is always in your court, which means that it is up to the player alone to sustain all elements of the work, keep it “up”for the audience. What to use when playing by yourself? Contrast, in all things, sounds, speed, dynamcis,repitition, all the same elements that a composers uses, and you have no one else, just you. That is important.

Back to Mr. Sutermeister for a moment. He also wrote a concerto for the clarinet and really devoted himself to being a composer,composing several Operas which were performed during his lifetime and even some work for radio and television.

For the clarinetist performing solo works, there are several problems which must be faced immediately, the first being the sustaining of the sound for the duration of the work and also maintaining the musicality and contrasting the various parts of the work. Because there is no accampaniment, the sound, articulation, and various expression marks take on more importance than in an ordinary for clarinet and piano and or any combination of instruments.

There are two or three main sections of the Capriccio which are alternated and are in contrasting moods and tempi.

First and foremost, do not conceive of the work as a tour de force for technic or for velocity. While there are many virtuosic sections, none need to be played at a breakneck tempo.

It helps if one establishes their dynamic levels prior to performing the work because again the clarinet can only play the single single, indeed the singular rhythmic figure and obviously can play only one dynamic at any given time, though one can become louder , softer and accelerate as well as ritard. While these seem simple , in performing a solo work, they are quite complicated.

The idea of performing solo works is one which bears study. You are udertaking something other than an ensemble, say for clarinet and piano in which you can depend upon the other instrumentalist for rhythmic and melodic support as as for contrast. When you are performing alone, consider very carefully if in fact , you are up to this kind of task. It is a task which is different from an ensemble, which I always suggest first, prior to taking on a solo work for the very reasons outlined above.

I try to tell the student to establish the dynamic of forte at the beginning of the Capriccio with the first three articulated notes, establishing as well the tempo. What you demonstrate to the listener is your forte, your articulation as well as your sound, and for yourself, the tempo must bring you to the first pause or fermata.

(There are several recording of this work avilable on Youtube, and they will demonstrate one case of a tempo which was too fast for one of the players and another tempo which was not a tempo, merely a kind of struggle to get through the work.)

What do I mean by too fast?This student squeaks in the middle of the phrase. For me this is or was a case of a tempo which was too fast, for any error is something which can be prevented, however in solo pieces they seem to mean so much more, so never play any section of the work faster than that which you can easily negotiate.(that goes for all music, all etudes; remember it and you will play more concerts.Tempi are after all, all relative.The first three notes of the Capriccio establish your tempo and  you maintain this tempo unless you are asked to accelerate or ritard. There are many who will start the work at a very quick tempo, perhaps 92 for the 1/4, a big mistake. Think of the work in eighth notes and you will come much closer to the control necessary.

When you reach the first slower and contrasting section, you must really plan this carefully, again, so as to be in control. You will notice the second section is in two parts, almost antiphonal in nature. These must be brought out by contrast in sound, dynamics and tempi, which at these points in the work become somewhat thoughtful and lyrical in nature, contrasting with the more scherzo-like tempi.

Finally you come to what is essentially the recapitulation or the  restatement of the original thematic material.

By using contrast in dynamics, tempi, repitition you can both make the work more interesting and bring it to a successful conclusion.( You will know). Record it first and listen carefully and with great criticism to the playbacks. For your benefit, the recording must be perfect. Strive for it, for you will certainly desire perfction in front of a judge and/or the audience. Do not fail to take solo works very seriously for your success.

Best wishes, and practice.


More on Hard Rubber, the Ebonite response

July 25, 2008

One would expect that some definition be given for terms used concerning materials used for clarinets, specifically the Arioso and the Lyrique.  and others made of hard rubber and the response is what is different, not the quality of the sound itself, which is indiscernible from wood.(based upon my “blindfold” tests and recordings I have made.) However response is frequently presented as “the sound”. The response differs. The horn is slightly less resistant to blow and the sound is rounder in terms of even quality of the basic scale or up into the second or third octave, no question.

You will not get a wooden response, or let us say, a grenadilla response from a hard rubber clarinet. But like myself, I suggest you try the horn for a few days or weeks. What you will get is a sweeter quality, and slightly less loud,per say.What I “felt” response-wize was thin and slightly strident in the grenadilla instrument initially, and so back I went to the Lyrique and let me say, it is better as far as the response as well as  intonation. The keywork is however substandard , and  not overly finished. However it is not soft, nor is it bendable, no more than that of a French wooden horn, but it is not finished as well, let that be clear.

No, I have not played the loud place in the first movement of the Brahms 2nd, (you know, the one answered by the second clarinet) with a hard rubber horn,  But I would given the opportunity, as well as anything else on the stand.

As far as the Arioso is concerned,  they were not as a rule, set up by the designer.as many were advertised a few years ago by many music stores under the Arioso name.This I imagine was when the company,  was changing hands.

The Arioso I bought was terrific, though with the above caveats. Ridenour  fixed some of  these problems.I bought and tried at least 10 or 15 Allora clarinets from 123 and/or WWBW, and frankly I found them to be astoundingly good. I finally bought an Allora A which I still use along with my Lyrique B.  

Again ,”now” anything called Arioso or Allora would be from a different company and perhaps unreliable as far as the kind of scale for which the designer is famous.

But again and finally, it is the response which is different in hard rubber, not the sound. I have found it never to get thin or strident, and the reaction to the tongue is equal. If asked I would say that this is a rounder more even sound than any wooden instrument I have played. I did have a set of Opus (perhaps they should be called Opera),  which were in fact designed by Mr. Ridenour, which were superior to finish and from he standpoint of intonation. The highest standard of any clarinet.

Keep practicing.

Sherman


Your sound: “setup”, or sense?

July 19, 2008

Just thinking about David Glazer, looked his name up and found that he passed away last week. Brother of Frank, (perhaps a more well-known pianist), David was the clarinetist with the New York Woodwind Quintet at its prime and made many recordings and appearances with them. (Sam Baron, Flute, Ronald Rosenman Oboe, Arthur Weisberg, Bassoon, and John Barrows Horn.) It was at the time, simply the best ensemble of its kind.David Glazer was a player of rare ability in that he was able to blend i with a chamber ensemble with a wonderfully sensitive musicality. David also concertized with many orchestras mostly in Europe. In the early 60’s he was in residence along with the Fine Arts Quartet at the University of Wisonsin, (Milwaukee). I went to see and meet him one afternoon. He played a Goldbeck mouthpiece with a metal inlay and we immediately tried each others mouthpiece(and clarinet). At the time, I was playing a Selmer S, a very bright mouthpiece and I thought his sound to be quite thick . Within about 5 minutes, he was sounding like David Glazer on my mouthpiece and I like, my bright self, on his. He had retired in 1985, and is survived by his brothers. (Now, I learn that David died several years ago. Still, it is a loss regardless of when one learnes of the loss.)

As a clarinetist, like you who reads this, I’ve thought about sound for as long as I have played the instrument. From my first efforts, when I heard my first teacher play, it has remained paramount in my mind and certainly whenever I play, (sometimes to great frustration), perhaps as you have as well. So, when I remember the playing of David Glazer and that afternoon in Milwaukee so many years ago, I realize that most of my sound must lodge somewhere in my head, resting in my conception of what the clarinet ought to sound like. Music and the musical phrase have always been more important to me than the basic making of the sound, however that sound does come first. If David Glazer was able to make his sound on my mouthpiece, (and mine on his), what in the world do the things that many students and professionals talk about all of the time have to do with the sound we make on the instrument? NOT all that much, which is basically the subject of this posting. 

I am almost overwhelmed by the amount of words I read and hear about mouthpieces, instruments, “setups” and even ligatures. It is enough to make one overcome with the selling of equipment, for that is what it is.

There are folks who market all of the above at prices which are inconceivable to me. Mouthpieces for five hundred dollars! I am especially bothered by the so-called “stepup” products for that is pure and utterly ridiculous guano! A player of the clarinet can make a beautifuly sound on a Bundy mouthpiece, or one of the myriads of Kaspar mouthpieces, (knockoffs and otherwize) for sale out there for hunreds of dollars. And that doesn’t get close to the clarinet itself.

I am maddened by the price that students must pay for what they thnk or are told is a good clarinet, one that has that special sound or ping. Anything near the ballpark of three thousand dollars (or more) is wrong. Wooden instruments are not necessarily better than plastic or hard rubber. The Buffet Greenline clarinet is essentially a plastic clarinet and it is about three thousand bucks! Is that right?  Hard rubber is as good a material as grenadilla or even more exotic woods. These weird woods are much more prone to cracking than hard rubber and the sound is essentially the same. The Lyrique clarinet, (which I play) costs about a third of the price of a wooden instrument and the essential scale is better in tune. This is not an advertisement for my clarinet, for I have never met the man who designed it, nor spoken with him. But I know we feel the same about the hurt we experience when we know a young student or the father and mother of that student have to go and get a loan to buy the youngster an instrument that will run them almost four thousand dollars.

So think about the late David Glazer and me that afternoon. We played with our basic sound on each others mouthpiece (and clarinet). Take it from there when you look at a setup, a step-up, a horn, mouthpiece, ligature or the rest of it. Use your head and your ears. Make sure you are not being set up.

Stay well, and keep practicing.

Sherman


More on the metal clarinet of Gaston Hamelin

July 10, 2008

Here is perhaps the finest metal clarinet ever made. (see below)
http://www.uark.edu/ua/nc/NCCollectionPage/Page/SelmerMetalFullBoehm.htm

It was the model played by Gaston Hamelin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Serge Koussevitsky. In 1931, Hamelins contract was not renewed by Maestro Koussevitsky, specifically because Mr Hamelin played metal. Hamelin went back to France and Ralph McClane went to study with him. (We know that he returned to play Principal in Philly until he died from cancer. He produced some of the beautiful sounds ever made on our horn.)

The clarinet was later taken out of Selmers catalogue with the caveat that it “damaged our prestige.” The late Wm McGibbon of Milwaukee, (who was my techy while I played princoal in that orchestra)gave me part of that information and I trust it to be true.

In any event, that was one of the reasons that the metal horn became extinct.

My first clarinet was metal. It was all shine and spiny and I loved it and vowed that after my first disastrous lesson, I would never squeak again.

I didn’t. At least not for a while.

Of course after this somewhat disastrous event both Selmer and metal becme somwhat of a pariah within the business of orchestral clarinet playing. It is my belief that this event started the move toward other clarinets, (specifically Buffet, by both players and orchestra players) Selmer continued to make fine instruments and still does excelling in workmanship and tuning and consistency but lacking until recently a polycylindrical bore.) The Selmer 10G was supposed to be an exact copy of Tony Gigliotti’s Buffet, but many say it was not and didn’t play half as well.

But McClane and Gigliotti spent hour with Hans Moennig tuning and voicing their instruments and getting them to the level that we still emulate. Of course Bonade, another wonderful player played Buffet. Did he play Buffet because of what had happened to Hamelin? We cannt ask him but we can surmise. Moe recently there have been actual cases where Selmer players wond auditions to major orchestras and then were hooted out with great anxiety when they played Selmer and not Buffet. This is true.

Interestingly, the mantle of the fine clarinet will fall on the heads of those who have designed superior instruments of hard rubber and even grnadilla-dust and carbon fibers, speaking of the Ridenour Lyrique and the Buffet Greenline.

Sherman Friedland


The most natural embouchure for playing the clarinet

July 2, 2008

Dear Sherman,

I am writing this email as I feel it’s finally time to confront my clarinet demons. I was a very successful clarinet student in my 20s: I attended the Royal Academy of Music and then took a year out in Bloomington where I was lucky enough to study with some great teachers. My ability was soon recognised in Indiana and I found myself having to cope with a pretty rigorous albeit ‘prestigious’ playing schedule. It was during this time that I began to realise a few things about my clarinet playing. In particular, orchestral playing highlighted my tendency to play extremely sharp. I also found it hard to project sufficiently and generally felt that my sound lacked body. Furthermore, I’d always felt that reeds were an issue. They never lasted long and I noticed that playing always seemed an effort – the altissimo range for example always seemed quite restrictive. In general, my reeds felt ‘squashed’ after a short amount of time. I tried raising these issues with teachers but they were never able to help as my overall technical ability often covered up the problems I faced. It’s also difficult for a professor to notice how sharp you’re playing if you’re in tune with yourself. After researching the issue I realised that I was probably playing with an extreme ‘biting embouchure’. Rectifying this however seemed almost impossible – loosening the embouchure made the sound unfocused, and taking in more mouthpiece to soaken up the bite resulted in little respite. My confidence began to wilt and on returning to the UK I decided to give the up. All the stress of trying to sort out my playing issues seemed too much.

I am now 32 and haven’t played the clarinet regularly in ten years. Just recently though I began to play again and wondered if the above issues were ‘fixable’. Having read a few threads I decided to give the ‘double embouchure’ a try. This wouldn’t be permanent, just a means to training the correct muscles. Having attempted the double embouchure for half an hour this evening I noticed that my lips began to quiver ( I was almost losing control) and that air escaped. It was also difficult to focus the sound without biting more….

I guess I’m writing to ask if you feel I have diagnosed my problems correctly. If so, what’s the best way of training your lips to play with a double embouchure, and what ‘side effects’ will I notice whilst training my muscles.

Thanks for your help

G.

————————————————————————–
Hi Gabriel:
Assuming that all the information you have written is correct, you need to be very patient. You need to practice your embouchure and exercises very slowly and patiently, even less than an hour at a time.
With a biting embouchure you will have nothing but discomfort until you get used to not biting. You will need to use a softer reed, perhaps much softer. You will need to play only in the lower register of the instrument and you will have to avoid the thumb F and the high C for when playing those you will have nothing to hold on to and the clarinet will roll away from you.
Practice with both hands on the horn. You may have some pain and you will definitely have quivering. Every rime you put a finger down you will experience discomfort. So,to avoid this discomfort, you will stop biting, and the results after time will be remarkable. Duble lip is the best most natural embouchure, but you must play correctly, and it will take a while for you to acclimatize yourself and your embouchure, you will be beginning to use the most natural way there is to play the clarinet. Give yourself time. And plan to use it all the time. After you have “gotten it”. then you make up your mind. But not before.

Best to you,
Sherman Friedland