When beginning to learn to play the clarinet.,mouthpieces are mostly treated with a lack of any real knowledge I can remember absolutely nothing about my first lessons with the clarinet, a metal thing in a long brown worn case which was scary at first. The keys were shiny and looked complicated and important and the smell was not unpleasant, but had the presence of a kind of musty almost mildew quality or one that once was more present. Ruffled, worn velvet feeling and looking, old brownish reeds in paper holders,soon to be thorwn out by my teacher as he got it ready for me to play.The mouthpiece was black and like the clarinet,seemed not new. It had a piece of metal wrapped around it under which was held the reed, which I soon learned was called the ligature although it was months before I learned its spelling. My teacher would affix the reed on the mouthpiece under the ligature and would also position it,letting me see how it was placed on the mouthpiece at least generally, until after a passage of time I was able to make a sound that was acceptable, and then after that in what seems in retrospect to be a longtime, I began the process of discernment as to reed quality and then gradually began to show a sound that was first acceptable and then lauded by my teacher and by the band director who placed me in the band playing third clarinet.
But I knew nothing at all. It was totally a mystery but was soon to become something else again as he began to teach me how to make sounds on this spiny shiny thing.The months and years flew by and by listening to my teacher play I beginning to reproduce his or her sound, or an approximation thereof, and he/she compliments me and gradually the horrible noises begin to diminish as I begin to learn about which reeds to choose and which do not produce, that first, my teacher advises be thrown away, or he fixes some that vibrate more after his various sanding and scraping. All of this goes by with learning to play the various study books, the Rose, Klose, Baerrmann, and of course hundreds of studies by Kreospch, all of which played at half or quarter speed and it ws a long time before I learned to pronounce his name and before then just looked at it on the exercise books, all of the studies in 16th or 32nd notes or faster, but always played one note to a beat. The first thing I learned about my mouthiece was to wash it in warm soapy water every now and again and of course to handle it with care, to swab it out once in awhile and not let the weight which carried the swab down the bore to hit against the mouthpiece. Of course, no student wishes to scratch the inside, which is mysterious and rather precious. The mouthpiece I first played,like many of you, was the Selmer HS*, but one has to remember that learning truly what is possessed by the qualities of any mouthpiece comes a long way down the road, as we are wont to say.We really learn only to select reeds which will enhance our sound, making it smoother and easier to articulate. Perhaps soon after, we learn that placing the reed on the mouthpiece in a slightly different position makes it respond in a differen manner, harder or softer, and sometimes we lern that by placing it slightly off-center, we get a somewhat more responsive articulation, but mostly we don’t know why.It will be years before we know about the so-called advantages of fabric and/or leather ligatures, even more time before we actually try another mouthpiece with a different marking on it, perhaps HS**, or C* or even if we’re daring some of the dozens of Van Doren mouthpieces most of which play better than most Selmers and are just around in droves. This brings up a whole new sub-topic, the emergence of the Van Doren Mouthpiece in the US. Used to be that they were very rare indeed. We bought Van Doren reeds by the hundreds, 25 reeeds used to cost 3.75. Can you believe that? So many used them, but nobody played the Van Doren mouthpiece. What did they do to foster the sales thereof? They simply made the reed order contingent upon buyiing as well Van Doren Mouthpieces. Even though it is an excellent mouthpiece it had no real following until Van Doren made the reeds scarce if a dealer didn’t order mouthpieces as well. It was only amatter of a few years before the mouthpiece caught on as it was actually quite good, came in many facings and was quite consistant, from mouthpiece to mouthpiece, although it should be noted that all mouthpieces of the same measurements play just a little different from the next.It is actually many years prior to one becoming consciousof the possibility that there is a “magic mouthpiece” “Out there”, just waiting to be found.
(end of part one)