A Lyrique for Serenity

April 24, 2009


I love your corner! I am a folk musician, and the only instrument I can play is the clarinet, so that is what I play. My husband plays the guitar and we make music together. I am playing on an old wooden Normandy with a Vandoren 5RV mouthpiece. I have been playing clarinet again for a couple of years after taking an almost 10 year break. I find that I have intonation problems with the Normandy. I also sometimes have trouble playing the upper register B (the sound just refuses to come out). I am interested in buying a new instrument. I have seen you recommend the Lyrique. That is probably the limit of my price range. I need something that will maintain intonation.

I also have a question about preparing reeds for playing. When we play our sets, I don’t have much time for warming up, and I often go several songs without playing the clarinet. What is the best way to keep the reed moist during the interim?

Thanks for your time!

Hello Serenity. I can recommend that you do buy a Lyrique clarinet, as I have no reservation about that instrument, especially for having as good an intonation, far ahead of any clarinet costing three or four times the amount that you will pay for the Lyrique. The intonation will not bring you any real tuning issues and the pitch will hold better than any wooden instrument. Also your instrument will hold up perfectly in adverse or changing weather conditions.Ask for a Ridenour mouthpiece for the clarinet and he will make you one that I know you will like and that will be true for you. It’s the best instrument regardless of any price as far as intonation is concerned .
You simply cannot go wrong with the Lyrique clarinet. I know because I play one and have found it to be excellent.

As far as reeds are concerned and playing sets of folk music, you should try the Legere synthetic reeds. They have several cuts and the reeds hold intonation well and do not have to be moistened as do cane before they will play. Most will play for five or ten times the playing duration of a cane reed. I understand that they are working on a new and better Legere reed that will be even more sensitive. I think it will be called the signature reed byLegere. I’ve played Legere reeds from time to time and find the “Ontario” cut to be the best for me, however I’m really looking forward to this new reed they’re talking about, developed with Richard Hawkins of Oberlin.

Hope this advice helps.
best wishes and keep practicing.

sincerely, Sherman

“Darkening my sound”

April 24, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I am playing on a Yamaha Allegro instrument with a Yamaha 5c mouthpiece and vandoren v12 reeds. I am looking for ways to darken my tone. My director said that some of it has to do with the instrument and I really really really don’t want to have to buy a different instrument. I love my current clarinet. I didn’t know if there were certain mouthpieces or reeds or different ways of playing that could make my tone more dark. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much!

Dear JA:
several years ago I came upon the Yamaha Allegro Clarinet, designated by the ACL 550. It was interesting to me because of the package in which it came and because it also came with a leatherette case cover over the excellent case. But it was also interesting because of the look of the horn which had gold plated posts and silver plated keys. And it played well, actually quite well. I was not t in love with the barrel which seemed to cut the upper clarion a bit, but was improved with a different barrel, almost anything, I further found. It was in tune and had a pleasant response as do most of the upper end Yamaha clarinets. Further, it had recently been discontinued, making the instrument more affordable. It had a certain appeal, let us say. Some had a bell with a cut-out section, supposedly to brighten the low clarion,some did not.
One thing to remember: a discontinued horn is not necessarily bad in any way; more, it makes more room for newer or other models models, for the competition is always pressing against Yamaha and indeed , all makers. Yamaha has been especially laden with different numberings and other designations.

The instrument is not bright or dark,what ever those terms mean, and they seem to mean different things to different players. One must remember that there are numerous changes in these designations, but not many actual differences. Of course there are those who will argue, however I maintain that these cute looking horns with all their funny names and reputations require one thing that is not part of the package: they don’t come with a tone, either dark or light, or bright. That designation is all ours to bring to the horn, and we are all different.
Mouthpiece can make a small difference, especially if the mouthpiece is generally not well made, however the Yamaha mouthpiece is not e a bad mouthpiece. Yes, I prefer something else, but that is a whole other article.(Hawkins,Fobes, Hite come to mind, in that order).

So, don’t you dare buy another horn to satisfy the whim of a director who may not himself or herself ,a clarinetist, and especially ,if they are. Clarinetists directors are notoriously opinionated folk. (Just ask me).
Darken your sound. Brighten your sound. The verbosity indicated in such an response eclipses all imagination. The sounds we make are in general a product of many things, but it is we who make the sound, it is not the clarinet. The horn has a response, but whether or not that response pleases us is quite superficial and easily argued . Read any description by any maker and it will be filled with meaningless ranting.

Most Van Doren mouthpieces are in general brighter than others, sharper as well, but easily fixable. The Van Doren take on the Chedeville mouthpiece have proved to me to offer the best possibilities and are more in tune to the standard “american pitch of A=440. the 360, B44,B45, B46 tende to have a brighter response. The M13, 15, 30 and 40 a better response. But still, it is the player and his background and even the way he hears the clarinet that determines the never ending search for bright or dark. Thin light reeds usually produce brighter quality, a reed having more heart will help to eleminate some of those higher frequencies and add to the even quality of the sound.

The comment,”darken your sound “is purely an academic statement which I would simply ignore. As a a person who has been playing for about 60 years, I find the comment to be thin, in and of itself.”Some of it has to do with the instrument” is a repulsive comment. Ask the director to define the terms of use. I have found that Van Doren V12 reeds are not my choice, however there are so many different kinds of reeds available. I have used the German White Master Van Doren reeds for many years and recently changed to Zonda which for me, are much more consistent. And don’t buy another instrument, the worst idea of all, especially if you like the one you have.

Best wishes and keep practicing.

sincerely, Sherman

Dear Mr Friedland:

Thank you very much for the reply! What barrel would you suggest as a replacement?
Hi Joshua:

The barrel I would recommend for replacement, especially for darkening the sound is the following: hard rubber :
It should be of some help and also, the price is quite reasonable.
His website is on your browser.
Best wishes, Sherman
Ridenour Ivorlone Clarinet Barrels

Tonal and Responsive Characteristics Compared to Grenadilla

Most players find Ivorolon barrels to be darker, more resonant and more responsive than Grenadilla wood.

What’s important for the sound of the clarinet

April 19, 2009

I have recently begun playing clarinet again after 30 years
I am working on improving the Altissimo Range
I have just finished Altissimo Studies for Clarinet by Thomas Filas
I was wondering if you could recommend any other studies
Thank You

Dear BW: thank you for your note and its question. My feeling is pure and simple , that the” altissimo”  is not necessary to improve upon.
It is more necessary always , to improve your quality of “sound”, but with sound, you’re talking about really being critical of every aspect of the way you make the sound. “Attack” can always be improved upon, especially being able to attack any note, at any dynamic, and with every type of attack. “Legato” is impossibly difficult to achieve perfectly with our instrument, throughout all its range, in all dynamics.Dynamics, crescendo and especially diminuendo are worthy of considerable study prior to any consideration o the extreme high register..
Technic or speed as most call it, is the simplest to achieve, but changing speeds is not. “Rhythm” and being able to change rhythm seamlessly is difficult, but certainly achievable. Of course, “staccato” is an aspect but one that is highly over rated, at least in the retrospective look I take at my playing career, which has been long and very varied.
The clarinet in the final judgement is an instrument which expresses an absolutely unique quality of sound, and the melifluousness of the rendering of that quality is far ahead of the extreme high register of the clarinet.
Yes, there are many in both Jazz and Classical styles that specialize in the altissima register of the clarinet, but considering the many I have heard, the sound is never impressive. 

We all know of many clarinetisits who have uniquely beautiful qualities of sound. But the extreme high register of the clarinet has no particular distinct advocates, rather it is the all around quality of the clarinet sound which is most distinctive to us.

Best wishes, Sherman

“The mouthpiece and the law and the ethics of mastery till now”

April 17, 2009

(Gentle Readers:this is a complicated question made somewhat under the influence by the questioner, but I’ve tried toturn it so that the musical and ethical is answered. Because of the “stream of consciousness” style, I’ve added little, save for the occasional comma after the word “right”)


Dear Mr. Friedland

I was looking at my mouthpiece and doing tonguing exercises on it and I came across an idea that maybe I might be taking in too much mouthpiece. I played with less mouthpiece and I couldn’t even get a sound. Do you think that this is normal? I remember when I started I couldn’t get down to the low notes but after I got used to it got better. What did you feel me on that? Then I switched over to saxophone and I took in more mouthpiece. Swiftly I said I might be able to get better too on the clarinet mouthpiece. So when I picked up the clarinet again I applied the same principles from the Saxophone. And I have been playing and playing and playing and playing right ,so what about the embouchure.I think it’s like a 1/4 tip that your mouth should be in but I go more just like the Sax. I think it has to do what I done naturally that kind of made it hard to build muscle around the gut feeling of doing it right.

So get this I tried less mouthpiece ah I know not too much right a 1/4 I’m not supposed to say. I think I am in the wrong.
So what about school do you think that I have a shot of becoming a no one knows how to talk about that type of stuff. I’m so angry. And I think I’m hearing voices that aren’t there that’s better. So what about school. I need loans? What about passion. I think that I have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to landing a job in education because I once said it was about the money. I like basketball and that seems to be about the same passion. What would I do about passion? I feel like I can’t even hear myself think. Any way about the subject matter in0 this rant I feel better about myself since then and no one knows better other than yourself right. So let me just compensate but I am afraid to become a doodler. I’m afraid of society because people don’t understand the business about music. I’m lying right now by the way. I just feel like the clarinet mouthpiece is one hard thing to make an acceptable sound. I feel like my whole God awful attitude is around making a sound right, so when? When can we as a society all behave without talking about my disorder. I take pills right and I do stuff and hang out and talk like a madman for crying out loud. And it is good fun. But I don’t want to get arrested over fiscal matters. I think it has to do with everything. I am a Pot head right so anything I say seems fuzzy to me so I stopped and my memory is coming back to me. And I won’t fall because I swear that Pot is trying to kill me. So I talk about the mouthpiece right and I have a reed and blow right, but there are so many  undertones or overtones behind the actual idea of practice. I think I can succeed if I stay away from the Pot. I’m thirsty now right and I want to play on the mouthpiece right so my embouchure is set and I blow you see there it goes again more und1erstones. Ok I blow right, and I’m never going to get used to all of these  undertones to even do the things I like without some guilt. But there is passion lot’s of it. And it guides you through the actual music, right. I know I know I am a failure I know I know but the God’s honest truth is that I never feel like one eh ok maybe only sometimes but then I lie you see. Any how double tounging for instance. I have this one recording and he uses double tonguing to get through this one passage. And It sounds nice right so I try on my horn fine right, so I get up and ask God to give me a break right, but every time I am in the middle of a tough practicing routine right ,like my mother she stops me right, and then I have all of this anxiety because I was disturbed on my time of the clock right. Hard work since then right ,so get this I answer the phone ah there it goes again shaking n stuff like that stuff I say right, too bad it’s not s— like that. So then there I got it of even more than the Almighty Lord right I’m talking disturbed spirits man. I was working the Weber Concerto. The first one. I have everything down except for the go for it right and I had it in sight. Cmon give me a break I had it in sight on my old horn. I even sold it right. So get this, I sell the horn because I didn’t get my stimulus check go figure where passion passion or emotion or what ever you want to call it leads you to do things for survival. But then I think who in the world gave you permission to play the clarinet in the first place my man swftly and in a jocular manner I say again 1my man my man. You see there it goes again. No it was’nt God’s calling to p11111lay the clarinet it’s to become a deacon remember. So any way I’m stuck here left with myself questioning emotions. So I guess you’re not supposed to have any great emotions right only little ones I suppose, right. So I got first chair in the orchestra one day and spoof there went the ego of every man eating flesh  right so I say I don’t dese0rve this I can’t. So I wing it right and then I’m stuck here with all of this ego man. I’ts tearing us apart. So I go for the act again you see my mother says to me it sounds too loud there happy now I dissed ya. Yeah well if you just left me alone maybe I would be able to listen to myself other than these interuptions right so I go hey go f— righ1t in Italian mind you so I say this s— man I can’t chill. I like this day you see now. Big shot look out. So I go how are you to everybody right, and then I say to myself who are you right and they go get the police for that one in there. I go again. Is that somebody’s elses passion or is the fridge.
Lately I have been wondering about myself and I came to understand life without money right so I got a job and things seem better but they help so right I go to my boss and then he starts  — right everyones gotta know, right. but just don’t sue the son of a b—- right so he goes and tells half the world this side of the pentagon that I have all of these issues man. I think it’s the clarinet the actual belief of knowing someone along the way and not taking responsibilty for all of that Pot smoking. So I go just great all that practicing for nothing. I’ll get it back where you never had it mind you. No I see once before I started doing that campaign when I seen the light at the end of the tunnel with just the music right and of course the standard liberal art courses right, so I go great go look at that I am not only a whole in the whole if looks could and if not the death of a man be converted and live but that he be saved then die. HAHA I said to myself now here’s a start for me. Mad starts though and mad starts you feel me? So I sold my horn right and now I am left with out one right and it feels like a sad day for the roman empire the glory of truth the peace from him who calls himself the leader of the market if looks could kill I say to myself. So then I get down and and eat and run into all of the clarinet world yes you know how we roll real sexual feines about it since now at least and I still don’t now if it be a right move for me economically. I am convinced about one thing but for one thing is assurned I am crazy. Right, so I am sort of now finding myself at this new begining and wish to pursue the double lip embouchure because it’s an alternative. Right ,somone else sad that though. And a 1/4 inch might not be enough of mouthpiece. So I can conclude. What do you think about waiting for my potential to come around?


Dear Frank:

Have you spewed it all out? It’s not really all that bad. Your issues are you are not sure how much mouthpiece to take into your mouth when you play the clarinet and also if it is the same amount that you take in for the saxophone. That’s reasonable and a question that’s easily answered.

But you confuse the whole issue by getting stoned, really high on pot, no doubt.
You know, I and perhaps all of us have been there. Pot is a change of everything ,including embouchure and the passion you mention. And without trying to preach, Pot leads to more of the same. Doubtless, it’s great fun. But it doesn’t answer your questions about mouthpiece, sound ,embouchure on either the clarinet or the saxophone, or have you sold one or the other or even both.
My experiences in your current universe are/were similar. Getting high when you’ve learned to play makes you feel as if everything you play is greater. Not,great, but greater. The problem is however that you don’t know; you really can’t tell, because your perception is altered and you are somewhat disorderly in your thinking.
If you get blown away when you have NOT learned to play it can be total bedlam within the confines of your head. That’s why they call it “blown away”
Outside of the apparent euphoria there is no discernment. You are floating and cannot think of amounts of mouthpiece, reeds, instruments or almost anything. It’s not a good place to be when you are still learning to play, and even worse when you’ve learned. “Passion”, as you mention it, has nothing to do with discipline, and as a student who has not yet achieved his or her technic, you find yourself in what I call real “tiger country”, which is described by thinking about being lost in some space somewhere. It has nothing to do with the achieving of discipline, which is one of the first building blocks of a technic on any instrument. As I and many others have been told by a great musician and teacher Nadia Boulanger, there can be no freedom (read passion) without discipline.
If I go back to the amount of mouthpiece to take in with either clarinet or saxophone, the answer is always your ear. Take in too much, and you will be very sharp and unable to control many or any aspect of the sound,(read embouchure). Too little and your sound will diminish actually, and what there is will be rather indiscernible.
We desire to learn to play a wind instrument, a wind reed instrument and it is not a comedic thing. It is totally serious and the first part of your talent is the ability to use your ear in order to learn what it is you wish to accept and to make your own. Of course,one must trace what it is within ones sensibility that dictates, “I want to play the clarinet, or the saxophone”
You have heard these instruments and they connect with you . Perhaps it is the part of the range of music or sound that you hear well or discern. I’ve never been able to discern what it was with me.
I just wanted to play the clarinet. I had the sound of Benny in my head and I was in the Jazz Club in High School, and suddenly I found there was a band and an orchestra, with a place to play. That appealed to me. My parents were in that group that felt that nothing be worse than being a musician and felt that all musicians walk the streets and never make anything out of life.
So, I decided that I would prove them wrong. My goal was simply to make a life and a living from the clarinet. That’s all I wanted. But it was a goal. I wanted to prove them wrong (and indeed I did).
But first I had to love the clarinet and then music, works of music which lead me to understand that I could identiy with PASSION and after a while, that I could bring this PASSSION (as you call it) into my playing. But it was not without a long road of serious discipline. That’s what you have got to concentrate upon. Achieving discipline on your horn or your horns( if in fact, you still own them).
Pot is fun, lots of it, but if you do not know how to play you have a long road to travel with discipline until you achieve the fun(control) without the pot.
You learn to take mouthpiece into your mouth by listening with your ears, the pitch you achieve and the purity of sound that the right amount will bring you. Every emboucure is completely different, yours too.
So, I thank you for your long discourse on “mouthpiece and the law and the ethics of mastery until now.”And, as far as loans are concerned, they are never given for anything save a display of discipline, never cannabis. But what you are talking about is discipline pure and simple. It is the first step. Fun can happen with pot or without it, but first you have to have and achieve the discipline, That leads you on to the road to mastery.
Good luck and keep straight, and practicing.

Felix Viscuglia on the weekend(April 11,2009)

April 13, 2009

Felix (Phil) Viscuglia died this past weekend in Nevada, his home.
While I have not seen the obituary, I knew Phil very well in Boston many years ago and called him my friend. Even close friend.
He was the first person I met at the New England Conservatory in 1957, when I graduated from the US Army.
He was a very nice guy, ( as we all said) and he remained that for as long as I knew him.
He was the kind of clarinetist who got along with everyone.
As a player, I first heard him even earlier, while in High School. It was the premier of Leneord Bernsteins “Trouble in Tahiti”. a short happy operetta built around soloists, a vocal trio, with chamber orchestral accompaniment. Bernstein was conducting rehearsals at Brandeis University in the outdoor stage, where the piece would be performed. My teacher was playing bass clarinet and invited me to the rehearsal. The operetta begins with an Eb clarinet solo in the jazz vein and it was beautifully played by Phil Viscuglia, (whose name I asked my teacher). He played it like he was improvising it. It was very moving and I haven’t forgotten.
Later, after the Army I met him at the Conservatory, where he was teaching. He was gregarious and open and he was that way with everyone.
But, as a player, he was truly without peer.He was the successor to Rosario Mazzeo as Bass Clarineist with the Boston Symphony, but he also played saxophone with as much espertise as he did clarinet. He recorded the Debussy Saxophone Rhapsody with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony. He also played jazz. But interestingly enough, he could play anything there was to play on the clarinet. He could double and triple-tongue with ease , which he would demonstrate anytime he was asked.He simply knew everything there was to know about playing the clarinet. He did it easily and with great aplomb.
Once, on a moments notice, he filled in with the Philadelphis Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy in” Ein Heldenleben”. The second clarinetist had contracted food poisoning and was unable to play. The part was second clarinet. If you know the piece, there is a very long solo clarinet obbligato played by the second clarinet. My underatnding is that he played it at sight. I was at the performance, and it was an event which I will never forget.
Most, or many clarinetists drag their ego around with the emphasis of a brass band. Phil never did this. He was always rather diffident, except when he played.
He was the fellow that showed me the “ropes” in Boston and I played many “jobs”with him, playing second. He instrucetd me in orchestral deportment, always with grace.
Much later when I was playing New Music in Buffalo, at the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNYAB, he came to visit me . It was with great surprise and not a little pride that he offered to trade me all the work he had in Boston if I would give him my Buffalo “job”. His father lved in Buffalo and was ill, as Phil exlained . I didn’t take him up on the deal,and I don’t remember exactly the reasons.
The next thing I knew, was that Rosario had retired and Phil got the Bass clarinet job.
I had no idea that he later spent many years  teaching at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and playing Solo clarinet in the Nevada Philharmonic. Like his teacher, Mazzeo, Phil; was also the personnel manager of that orchestra.
I was very sorry to hear of his passing. He must have been midway in his 80’s.
He was truly a great clarinetist, a real natural, “way up there”, as we say.I, and the rest of the clarinet community will miss him.

I remember one of the last things we played together was in a suburb of Boston. We played the Milhaud Concerto for Tympani and Orchestra. There was a soli for two clarinets in octaves. I played second. I hope I didn’t play too loud.

best regards, Sherman

Van Doren M13, or 5JB mouthpiece. Which one for Jazz/Klezmer/Turkish

April 13, 2009

and which for Symphonic and chamber music?

Firstly I want to apologize for my english. I’m playing both Bb and G clarinets. I want to play klezmer and jazz on Bb and traditional turkish music with my G clarinet. What kind of mouthpiece should I choose for both clarinets for these kinds of music? unfortunately there are not too many choices in Turkey. Are Vandoren M13 and 5JB mouthpieces good choices? which one would you prefer or are there any other options can you advice? Turkish music uses glissando frequently and I want to make beautiful glissandos and play with warm tones.

Thank you.


Dear ST:
Thank you for your note. Your english is very fine, at least for your note.
As far as Turkish music is concerned and the G clarinet for that matter, there seems little choice between the M13 and the 5JB. While both will play on either of your clarinets, you will find the 5JB more suited to playing glissandos and the kind of Turkish music you describe. The facing will accept a reed with less resistance and still give you the full range of the clarinet. And the sound is more appropriate for both Klezmer and Turkish music. This mouthpiece is used by many players playing Jazz, and is one of Van Dorens most popular mouthpieces. The M13 is the Van Doren impression of the Chedeville mouthpiece, a mouthpiece made for more confined chamber music and symphony playing. Interestingly enough, one can always find a Jazz/Klezmer/Turkish player playing an M13 and a symphonic player playing a 5JB.(That’s the way of clarinetists and music: all different; embouchures as well. Thoughts as well. (Endless)

Good luck,
best regards, Sherman

C Clarinet battle in Seattle

April 5, 2009

Hello! I have just purchased an inexpensive plastic C clarinet made by “I&K”, from a fellow in Australia.
I am having real difficulties getting some notes to sound, for instance when I play C# with the left pinkie key instead of the right pinkie I just cannot get a note to sound! I am an amateur player who has just started playing again after a 30 year hiatus (now trying Scandinavian folk on the clarinet) – so the problem could be my technique. However, on my Bb clarinet (a Martin Freres wooden clarinet) I have no problem whatsoever with this same fingering.
So, I am wondering, are C clarinets just difficult and I need to work on my technique, or is the clarinet the problem?
Thank you,

Dear BH:
thank you for your note concerning the problem with the C clarinet.
I want to first point out to you and anybody who may be reading this that it is not the fact that the plastic clarinet was inexpensive; nor is the Martin Freres wooden clarinet  that gives you no problems.
It is a very common problem of any C clarinet. One must remember that all of these fingerings are done with the left hand, including the left “pinkie” to play the C#. It is because of the size of the clarinet, (it being smaller) and that you are putting strain on the other fingers of the left hand when you reach for the C#, and when you do, one of the three fingers coverig the rings is slightly displaced, the air column stops at the displaced finger and the C# will not sound. On the Bb this movement is less constricted because there is more room. Also, you are more familiar with the spacing of the Bb clarinet.
On the clarinet, any clarinet, any size, the notes that are played with the right hand little finger will always sound with more ease than the left because they are simply closer to the connecting rods. The left hand reach is further. That’s why you get the right hand C# to speak with greater ease. Always practice the movements of the left hand more than the right in order to have equal control of both hands, or more with the left hand, it being the more difficult, requiring many more motions.
you can try looking  at your fingers move from a mirror on your stand, which will afford you the opportunity of seeing the guilty finger which allows the air to escape.
Good luck in Seattle and keep practicing, and slowly.
best regards, Sherman.