Your sound: “setup”, or sense?

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

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3 Responses to Your sound: “setup”, or sense?

  1. bulldoggy2008 says:

    Thank for this posting, Mr. Friedland. I started the clarinet at age 11, on what was probably an inexpensive ebonite clarinet (are ebonite and hard rubber one and the same?). I played this clarinet through high school and my first year of the Marine First Division Band with no complaints. I saw an add that showed Benny Goodman playing a Selmer Center-Tone. So, naturally I needed that model, which I purchased new in 1958. Did my playing improve? Psychologically speaking, it may have. For years after that I played with the mouthpiece that came with my CT, a Selmer HS*, and I was pleased with it with a nice sound. Years later I contacted the mouthpiece virus, the cure of which was trying out and purchasing numerous other mouthpieces. I have settled on a Vandoren 5RVLyre, which I understand is of a medium tip opening and facing (I still get tinges of the mouthpiece virus which for the most part I now resist).. I also purchased several brands of ligatures. I have come back to the original ligature that came with my CT. Another phase was trying out several of the modern higher priced clarinets. Well, back I came to my Centered-Tone. I have purchase an Arioso Bb, which you had once recommended. I like it a lot. I play it about as often now as my Center-Tone. One my favorite jazz clarinetists, Kenny Davern, played on a plastic clarinet with an ordinary Van Doren mouthpiece. His tone and technique were unmatched. My advice, you do not need to spend big bucks on a clarinet and setup. Buy a decent instrument, get comfortable with it, pracitice your sound, technique, and phrasing, and have fun!! Spend the big bucks on a swell vacation.
    benn

  2. I’m with you. The Ariosois is great. Keep playing, practicing and have great music-making.
    Sherman

  3. danop says:

    Very interesting posting!

    I happened to come across an item online about the Wurlitzer Reform-Boehm clarinet.
    Charles Stier and a few other American players use these intruments, although they are used mostly in Europe. Stier and others swear these instruments are far superior to any of the French style clarinets that are so common here, and they swear that the tone quality is far better–much more dark. I’m not convinced, and I’m certainly not rushing out to buy one.

    Sherman, I’m curious–have you ever tried one of these German clarinets? I’m wondering if you, I, or David Glazer would really sound different playing on one of these instruments.

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