Changing(in England) from Selmer 10S to Centered Tone

March 29, 2009

Dear Mr Friedland,
Let me first say how much I enjoy reading your postings on the clarinet corner site. I am a jazz player resident in England and for over 20 years have played the Selmer 10S using a Selmer E mouthpiece and Rico Royal reeds strength 2.5. The instrument plays well in tune with itself and I generally get the sort of sound I want. I have always been curious to try the famous Centered Tone clarinet to see if the sound would be any different. I recently purchased a Centered Tone clarinet of 1959 vintage from Gorbys Music in Charleston after a delightful e-mail correspondence with Vince Gorby. I am very pleased with the sound of this clarinet but the curious thing is that it will only play in tune when I use the E mouthpiece from my 10 S. I have tried HS* HS** and the C85/120 but they all seem to play flat at the top end of the range. This is not a big problem since I can use the Selmer E mouthpiece when I give the CT an outing but I wondered what your thoughts were on this experience and what is the recommended mouthpiece for the CT clarinet
JL

Hello JL:
For me, this is a fairly logical answer to a frequent problem,( but of course, I claim the right to be wrong) I played the Selmer Centered Tone Clarinets for many years and started performing in a symphony orchestra on them. I played many mouthpieces on the clarinet but found the most success with a crystal Pomerico, made by the Argentinian Pomerico.When I first tried the mouthpiece, it was from a group of 6 which I bought from a clarinetist for 6 dollars a piece. I did not think much of them. But my wife, listening from the nest room asked me about one of them which she found better and different from the others. It turned out to be the best mouthpiece of that period for me. I also played many Selmer mouthpieces with these clarinets, namely, the “S”and the “C*”. What I am trying to express is that mouthpieces and people are very different animals, specifically regarding pitch.
Obviously ,you were used to your Selmer E mouthpiece on your 10s. (This happens to be one of the clarinets I’m playing on presently. I play it with w Richard Hawkins R mouthpiece with excellent results. Actually, I can reommend this particular Hawkins mouthpiece as being one of the very best mouthpieces being made . Richard Hawkins is an excellent clarinetis twho teaches as Oberlin College in Ohio. I find him to be the most sensitive of all of the mouthpiece makers.)This does not mean you will play better in tune on one of his mouthpieces. It means only that if you get used to a mouthpiece, a particular reed on a particular clarinet, you are very much conditioned to that clarinet, that mouthpiece and reed combination. It is where you are acoustically grounded. It’s where you hear the pitch and where you play it.

So finally, my suggestion is that you learn your new clarinet with your E mouthpiece. There’s really no need to change. We get used to mouthpieces and the pitch setup of the 10s and the Centered Tone is not that much different, the Centered Tone having a slightly bigger bore.
All of the additional mouthpieces are more different than are the two clarinets, so keep the E and have a good time with your Centered Tone.

best wishes, Sherman


Throat Problems, or could it be a bit of OCD?

March 27, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I have been playing clarinet for over eight years but in the last few months I have been experiencing unusual throat problems whenever I play. After a few minutes of playing, my throat makes a ‘gurgling’ sound and I cannot force any air through my clarinet. This continues until I stop playing. I have no nasal problems and am not nervous while playing. I was wondering if you have any experience of this problem, any feedback would be very helpful.

Thanking you
S. D.
Dear S.D.:
You know, I have been thinking about your question and from your description, I can only suggest that you are inadvertently closing your throat, meaning that no air is going into the horn. Can you write a bit more about what happens to you, especially the business about “cannot force any air through my clarinet”. From what you say, which is very little, that is all I can determine. Having not heard further, let me dare to suggest that you are becoming preoccupied with this problem you describe as being in your throat.

I can remember years ago that the first horn of the professional orchestra in which I was playing would stick out this hand and say, “What’s wrong with it?  

I had no response. Another time Mordechai Applebaum, an extremely talented clarinetist who played bass clarinet in the Pittsburgh orchestra many years ago would voluntarily change his seating in the orchestra. This was when Steinberg was conducting. When asked why he changed his seat, he replied, “Because I sound better here than with the rest of the clarinets.”

His playing was never in question and he was a wonderful player, from the old school. But he too was preoccupied with something not having to do with his orchestra.

These examples may be like your throat “closing up”, as you describe it.

Let me come much closer to home and tell you that a very close relative of mine who has a good job; while dong his job and he will suddenly “hear voices”. He doesn’t know why. Nor do I. It is a preoccupation which one day, may cost him  this job.

Let me put it in yet another way.Hearing a gurgling and then being unable to play is a similar preoccupation. Not being able to force air into the clarinet and make a noise is a serious and dangerous preoccupation which may be anything.

I am placed in the position from too little information to render a judgement that the first thing you must do is to stop playing for a month or so, so as to determine if you can either further understand your gurgling problem.

Then begin to play for five minutes at a time playing nothing but long tones. As soon as the gurgling appears, stop playing immediately. What actually happened to make you stop putting air into the instrument? You must be very persistent if you want to solve this problem. I cannot, from your descrition of very few words, determine anything else than that you have “fallen into a hole”, a problem which is apparantly simple but stops you from playing, making it far from simple and having to do directly about  your very impetus for playing.

While I cannot directly answer your clarinet question, it is far from being unusual, just the words are different. For many, playing the clarinet is a simple labor of love, regardless of your particular place within the world of music; for others it becomes an insurmountable problem.

An important consideration and certainly a possibility is a connection with OCD.

OCD means  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a somewhat baffling subject to bring into this conversation. It is generally defined as being the repeating of a motion, (lets say washing your hands 100 times a day.) But, can OCD be also a musician practicing and repeating three notes, or searching for a reed or staisfying your demand for absolute perfection? After  60 years of trying to play the clarinet better, I can only answer, YES.

No, I am not a case worker in OCD, but I and many many other clarinetists and instrumentalists of all kinds, have OCD in verying degrees.Taking myself and many like me or similar to me will take a problem and work it and rework itto an extent that is difficult for anyone reading about it to conceive.

Repeating passages over and over again, while searching for keys to improving said passage; trying and re-trying reeds , and finally reworking reeds until you achieve a sound that is within your self. You know what it is supposed to sound like but only constant work and redoing will hope to achieve it. This is the realm of professional musicmaking, or of the professional athlete or the concert pianist, or any other seeker of total perfection. Of course the one factor not considered here is the personal gift of the person who practices endlessly with a goal in mind: that of absolute perfection.

There is, within the possibility of Obssessive Compusive Disorder, a possible answer to your throat keeping you from paying , and forcing you to stop.

Every great player has this “disorder”in some degree. If not, why practice on a professional level at all?

 Why practice? It is all tempered by your gift or native talent, then multiplied by your ability to synthesize the result of your thoughful working and reworking the technic, the passage, and/or the instrument, or your tennis game or your golf score. People who achieve outside the norm are also gifted as well, and all of these figure into the final equation of just how good or perfect you get.

Stop playing for a while, rest, and then give it another shot.

Very kind regards,

Sherman


Gino Cioffi, the stories.

March 19, 2009

One of the more interesting things about studying with the great and formidable Gino Cioffi was of course, his incredible playing. His sound was as distinctive as any clarinetist as far as we all were concerned , his tongue was faster and literally nothing ever stopped him, especially in his earlier years as Principal with the Boston Symphony. He had been a fabled clarinetist for years, having played first for Rodzinski and Walter and having been the clarinetist who played many of the rather incredible early “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, which is you have the opportunity to listen to one or many of them, he like the others,played these difficult passages at sight.
He used a softer reed on his own mouthpiece, which was an Obrien with whatever facing he used. Crystal is always talked about by the experts as being an ideal material for a clarinet mouthpiece and his was most certainly. Sitting next to him at a lesson or at a job was always a lesson in itself. It seemed to me that he could play literally anything on either clarinet and it was seldom less than beautiful.
Another facet of the maestro was his attitude about himself , his place within the world of the clarinet. He was famous for his most noted statement, which most people still know and smile about.
He used to say quite frequently, and especially to all of his students in his remarkable English, “When ahma play good, its justa like Jesus Christ! When ahma play bad, it isa still bettah than anybody else.” This is what he said and all of us would just stare back at him and then in the cafeteria, all hell would break out as we would begin to spread the word about the latest Ginoism everywhere.
The funny thing was that he actually admitted to plying badly, an interesting thing for any clarinetist to admit, but in many ways, it is easy to think that he was correct. It was really that good.

Of course, with his mouthpiece, he would ask, (read force) all of his students to play them. When he got to me, I asked him, “Mr Cioffi. will the mouthpiece I get play like yours?” He answered quickly, Mah, day alla play da’same.!

And he would often cajole me during a lesson with, “Hey Frie, you gotta such a nicea disposish! How come you donta play my clarinets?”
Yes, he sold his Selmers, a pretty set of full boehm, minus the low eb, silver plated and with a beautiful french style case. He also sold insurance on the clarinets.They came with a crystal Obrien mouthpiece with his name etched on it. I have one, which Richard Hawkins beautifully, made playable for me.

In any event the stories about Gino are all over , still. He was one of the great clarinetists of my time, whenever that was, and a very lovable fellow.

The only story few know is when he received his “pink slip” from the orchestra,when he was Walking back to his apartment with Phil Viscuglia, (himself another legend). Every few steps he would stop and say, ” Hey, what I did? What I did?”

Nobody will ever forget him.

Sherman


Boston redux

March 15, 2009

Mr Friedland:

I have from time to time read with great interest your various postings. I know you studied with Rosario Mazzeo. I studied with two former students of his, 3 years with Larry Mentzer, former principal with the San Antonio Symphony (where I was born and raised) and 1 year with Felix Viscuglia at Boston University. I then switched to Harold Wright as he only had an opening my sophomore year. In all, I studied with Harold for 5 years.

My question for you is, I know of some of the former classmates that Mr. Viscuglia had as well as Larry Mentzer, who were your classmates? I heard many stories about the Saturday morning master classes!

Sincerely
Rick Muraida

Hello RM:
Larry Mentzer was a student of Rosarios when I was, but Phil, (Viscuglia) was already teaching at the New England Conservatory. Frankly, I don’t think that Phil was a classmate of anyone as far as playing is concerned .There was as you may know, simply nothing that he couldn’t play or read and perfectly as far as I know. Once, when the Philadelphia Orchestra came to play Ein Heldenleben in Boston, the second player of the orchestra whose name was Serpentini got food poisoning and couldn’t play. Phil came in and sight read the second clarinet part, a part which had an extended solo and played it as if he were a member of the orchestra. I was at the concert and remain impressed with that kind of ability. He also recorded the Debussy Saxophone Rhapsody with the BSO for RCA ,conducted by Leinsdorf. I played many many jobs with him in Boston and he was just totally facile as a clarinetist. He was not Buddy Wright, but that particular talent was talent of a different kind; he was simply the genius of the phrase and the clarinet sound, Perhaps no one else was able to produce that gorgeous quality and his ability to sense the correct color with which to play. I only met him once when I auditioned for second in the National Symphony when Wright was principal
there. As you know Viscuglia took over Mazzeos position when Rosario retired. He left the orchestra and last I heard was living on the west coast in retirement. He has as I’m told, severe arthritis.
I studied with Rosario for six years of those Saturday master classes. You know, I had to audition for him to become a student. I auditioned with the Neilson Concerto.
Must have been 600 years ago.

best regards, Sherman


Amati Full Boehm and others, and the Lyrique

March 14, 2009

Dear Sherman. I have been enjoying your website very much and would like to get your knowlegeable opinion concerning the Bb and A Amarti Kraslice clarinets that I have now owned for about 14 to 15 years now (I forget exactly how long). The A is an ACL 675 with the serial #201209 and the Bb is an ACL 605with the serial #304655. Both are full Boehms and I have had no trouble with them going out of adjustment. Both these pipes are very free blowing in the entire range but they work best with a moderately soft reed. (I use Rico Royal or Rigotti Gold on Rico mouthpieces) One both these instruments the bottom Eb extension is somewhat sharp and so is the long fingering on the Eb / D# just above middle C. The rest of the compass presents no problem for me. I would certainly like for you to give your honest opinion of these two pipes. I have been reading your assessment of the Lyrique instruments that are made of Ebonite. If ever I change to a new set of instruments these may be the ones that I would like to own. However, as I live in Australia there would be a substantial import duty on these items on top of the initial cost of them. After adding this all up I have come to the realization that at the moment I cannot afford to get them. So it looks as though I am stuck with the Amati Kraslice instruments for now. It would be nice to know exactly what I am in possession of. Yours Truly B V 

Well BV:

 I too own an Amati Full Boehm Bb Clarinet, which is very much like new and plays very well indeed. (304654,) 

I have not played it in public, it is true both to my ear and to my tuner. I do not play it because its weight exascerbates the pain in my right hand, which I guess is arthritic. I also have an Amati C clarinet, which I purchased recently new and it is a lovely sounding instrument as well. I enjoy plaing the Schubert Sonatinas for Violin on this horn. They are amenable for the C and I recommened them to any player. They are very beautiful.
I also own a set of Lyrique clarinets made and designed by Tom Ridenour and those are the best tuned clarinets , the most even sounding I have ever played. Ebonite has a more mellifluous quality than does any wood of which I know, but more than anything it is his ability to tune the instruments that is most striking.
Of course, the Amati clarinet is much maligned in the US, but so too are most, all except the Buffet, which is unquestionably the worst, unless of course, you try perhaps six and then have the best one tweaked by a technician who happens to have both the ear and the ability to bring his ear to the horn acoustically.
(There is a review of my Amati C on this site.)
The Lyrique and all of his others have the commonality of being even and in tune, really quite uniquely so, and simply as well. Ridenour has the ear and the ability to bring his knowledge to the instrument..
 As far as import duties are concerned I have no knowledge.
I hope this has been of some help to you.
Best regards, Sherman


Mason Jones,Principal Horn, The Philadelphia Orchestra

March 12, 2009

When we were all going to school, this mans name was spoken each day as we discussed who was playing first and their particular qualities of excellence. He died last month. Here is the piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Mason Jones, Phila. Orchestra hornist, dies
By Daniel Webster
For The Inquirer

Eugene Ormandy, auditioning teenage horn student Mason Jones in 1938, asked him what he’d like to play.

“Siegfried.”

“The short call?” asked Ormandy.

“The long call,” said the young man, and flashed through one of the most taxing scenes from Wagner’s Goetterdammerung.

It was the memorable start of his 40-year career with the Philadelphia Orchestra, most of it as solo hornist, and a 70-year presence in Philadelphia music that ended Wednesday evening when Mr. Jones, 89, of Gladwyne, died at Lankenau Hospital’s Sanders House.

His son-in-law, John Orr, said Mr. Jones entered the hospital a few days before with a respiratory problem that had seemed minor.

Born in Hamilton, N.Y., in 1919, Mr. Jones started playing trumpet but changed to horn on the advice of his high school band director. He entered Curtis Institute in 1936 and became the star pupil of the legendary Anton Horner, who recommended him to Ormandy.

Mr. Jones was engaged in 1938 before he graduated from Curtis, played a season at third horn, then became solo hornist in 1939 while his teacher moved down in the section.

He was the orchestra’s principal horn – except for his 1941-46 tenure in the same post in the U.S. Marine Band – from 1940 until he retired in 1978; he continued playing after he became the orchestra’s personnel manager in 1963, and he kept that job until 1986.

Orchestra hornist Nolan Miller, now retired, said hearing Mr. Jones play Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 with the Reading Symphony “made me decide I wanted to be a horn player.”

“I had been studying piano, but that sound changed my life,” he said. “When I joined the orchestra, he gave me lots of good advice.”

Shelley Showers, a current member of the horn section, called Mr. Jones “an inspiration and powerful influence on me. When I’m playing now, I can hear him saying so many things about the music, how it should sound, what it means. I studied with him his last year of horn-teaching but continued to play in his brass ensembles at Curtis. I miss his playing. It was so refined.”

Mr. Jones joined the Curtis faculty in 1946 and stayed for 49 years, coaching brass ensembles, conducting, and guiding two generations of young horn players, many of whom joined him in the orchestra’s section. At one time, five of his pupils were there, and dozens of others were in major posts in other orchestras. When he retired, he was succeeded by former students Miller and David Wetherill as co-principals and Daniel Williams and Jeff Kirschen in the section.

Mr. Jones seemed ideally suited to the horn. He never shared the anxieties and physical ills that beset many players. He knew he could play anything written, play it artistically and with conviction. Audiences recall his performances especially in Mahler and Sibelius symphonies, Beethoven’s “Eroica” and Strauss tone poems.

His career paralleled the orchestra’s recording heyday. His first recorded solo performance was in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, conducted by Stokowski and with Sol Schoenbach, bassoon; Anthony Gigliotti, clarinet; Marcel Tabuteau, oboe; and William Kincaid, flute. He recorded Mozart concertos, Strauss concertos, and the Hindemith Sonata with pianist Glenn Gould. His solo playing was included in the orchestra’s “First Chair” recordings.

Mr. Jones was a founder and the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet, which had a prominent role in Philadelphia musical life, commissioning music, recording, and performing, sometimes on tour with the orchestra, sometimes in its own tours. He also played in brass ensembles and recorded with his colleagues when they joined brass sections of other orchestras.

He was believed to have been the last of the players to have performed in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.

Stepping down as solo horn was difficult, he said, but he told friends at the time that he had played badly a few nights before, cracking notes in an uncharacteristic way.

“I’m retiring,” he said. “I don’t want to be a 60-year-old Siegfried.”

This past November, he was host for a gathering of his students at the Union League, and he had continued hearing the orchestra on Friday afternoons through December.

“I looked for him every time,” Shelley Showers said. “Knowing he was there made me feel better.”

Mr. Jones is survived by a son, Frederick Mason Jones 3d of Califon, N.J.; and a daughter, Saralinda Orr of Paoli; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Eve, died in 1999.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 7 at St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley, Malvern. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to Curtis Institute of Music, 1716 Locust St., Philadelphia 19103.

Keep practicing everybody, best regards, Sherman


Maheus Leblanc Dynamic 2: Update

March 8, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

A while back you received a note from “GK” regarding a “Leblanc Dynamic 2′ which was onced owned by Jack Maheu.
You were correct in describing Jack as “a very well known clarinetist.”
For the past 44 years, Jack has and continues to be my inspiration and mentor and I consider Jack to be one of the finest jazz clarinetists ever.

The Leblanc “GK’s” father had is likely the last Leblanc Jack played on.
Jack played a Leblanc for many years (since the early 50’s) until sometime around “1980ish” when Jack eventually switched to a Buffet.
I remember it was during this time when I would go to Syracuse, NY to hear Jack and we would “talk shop” and he was asking about the Buffet I was playing on. It was comical because at the same time I was thinking about switching over to a Leblanc!
A number of years later when Jack came back to the area he showed up with a Buffet. Jack was still using a Buffet in 2003 when we played together in Syracuse and as far as I know since talking to Jack last week, he still has it.

As far as what to do with the Leblanc?

To “GK”:
Please reconsider turning this fine instrument into a lamp. This clarinet has produced some of the most beautiful sounds ever heard.
Please consider having the horn rebuilt. Someone at some point will want to recapture some of the beautiful sounds that this instrument has produced and everytime it’s played, every sweet sound that comes out of that bell, regardless it’s from Jelly Roll Morton or Mozart will be a living and ongoing tribute to both your father and to Jack Maheu.

Just some thoughts from a fellow clarinetist.

RJ