Is my clarinet blown-out?

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Over the years I have heard of clarinets being “blown out” You mentioned this too in one of your recent posts. Can you explain just what the term means and what happens to the clarinet when this happens? Can the instrument be repaired after this occurs or has it reached its end of life?

Thank you,

S. C.
Hello S.C.:
Thank you for your request for a comprehensive meaning to what constitutes a blown-out clarinet.
First and foremost there are those who believe that a clarinet can become “blown-out”, and there are many who do not believe that it is possible or that a clarinet that demonstrates less than acceptable playing characteristics is not blown out, but in need of various corrections to be made.
One of my clarinet heroes for many years was Harold Wright whom I first heard in Constitution Hall in DC when he was principal in the National Symphony. I was then in the US Army and was actually a student at the Navy School of Music. We would attend the National Symphony concerts in uniform iin order to be allowed in free and I first was mezmorised by this most beautiful and subtle playing, and only later did I learn that his name was Harold Wright. This sound actually frightened me a bit as it was so different from the normal clarinet-in-the-orchestra sound. It demonstrated unbelievable sensitivity and a vocal quality of playing which was all wrapped in this ethereal clarinet quality. I can still hear the first time I heard him play. It became my sound, or at least the one I always emulated after having heard it. There was great clarinet love in that sound and an unheard-of beauty of legato as well, and there were dynamics which were audible and always axactly what was written in the part. He is one of the very few clarinets who played the written dynamics literally, which does not occur much at all these days. Most orchestral clarinets play everything with as much volume as they can muster, leaving the tenderness completely out. It is the result of the recording industry which creates a subtle competition between player and recoding of the players. Most recording will raise the volume of an orchestral clarinetist so that it will be quite audible on the recording. Of course, when the ordinary listener attends the concert. he will not hear the dynamics.He will expect to hear that clarinet solo as he does on his playback system.
Back to Harold Wright, he did play the dynamics and all of the subtleties of vocal production were brought to his clarinet playing. That is the reason his playing is still revered today.
Mr Wright is interviewed which is still available and he speaks of using set of clarinets “for only about ten to 20 years” before changing to another set.
Now, this should not be taken literally. First, because there are technicians who do not believe that a blown -out clarinet exists and that it is only the need for various technical work to be done in order to retain its use as an excellent instrument. Mr Wright speaks about constant playing in the best orchestra n the world, perhaps let us say, for ten services a week and practicing as well for these 10 or twenty years.
I think that there are not many plaers who put that much time into an instrument and there are those who believe that organic bore oil and other tweaking can make the instrument work as new. I think both attitudes must be taken into consideration.
The reason for that consideration is that we all from time to time, think about changing instruments, for any number of reasons. (And I will let the reader fill in those reasons)
I myself have always been fascinated with another clarinet, and the differences than can occur utilizing a different horn on a particular passage within the orchestra.
This is true with many players and with many different instruments, to say nothing of diffeent mouthpieces.
There is the famous story of the Chicago Orchestra playing Til Eulenspiegel. There are many solos for the first horn. The first horn at the time of this story was Philip Farcas. A student goes back after the performance and says, “Mr Farcas, that is the most beautiful “til” I have ever heard.
Fracas looks up and wonders to himself,” Oh my, which mouthpiece did I play it on?”.
Your clarinet may be blown out or you may be fed up with an aspect of your work, and a new horn may just be the trick for total renewal. Then again…….

Keep practicing,


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