The ligature virus, and the only really good lig..

May 30, 2009

Mr. Friedland, I wonder what your current take on ligatures may be, and what you are currently using?

The ligature virus is only one of many that clarinetists are prone to: the mouthpiece virus, the reed virus, the barrel virus, not mention the CLARINET virus. I’ve gone through them all. But, just when I think I have recovered, along comes along a new strain and off I am again. Ligatures come in all sorts of varieties, configurations, materials, colors, and COSTS.

I have come to use Legere reeds about all the time, given their convenience, reliability, and (for me) their suitability given my humble level of competence. I have ordered the new Forestone reeds which you espouse, and I eagerly await comparing them with cane and Legere. For me, I have found the best ligature for playing a Legere is the original Selmer metal ligature that came with my Selmer Centered Tone which I bought new in 1958 when I was in the Marine Band. For whatever reason, I have found the Legere reed responds best to the metal ligature.
Speaking of some of the outrageous costs for ligatures, I have satisfactorily used a 3/4″ strip of Velcro wrapped around the mouthpiece and reed. I found this to be about as good as any ligatures I have tried—for hardly any cost at all!! I recently bought a metal jazz mouthpiece for my old C Melody sax. I had trouble fitting a ligature to it. I brought out my trusty Velcro for an outstanding and CHEAP result!


My take on the current ligature virus is as follows:
I am using a metal Mitchell Lurie “Springboard ” ligature which I found in my drawer, the one especially used for containing as much viral activity as I can possibly cram in. I remember Daniel Twigg of “Twigg Music” in Montreal actually trying to sell me on the Van Doren Optimal optimum ligature.all plated up and covered with maybe two microns of sterling, which was a total washout because for me , it was too much junk with which to contend and I wasn’t able to change from Bb to A clarinet without it coming off and when I tightened the screws enough it would injure at least visually, the reed which to me , didn’t make a lot of sense. It lies, in disused tarnish in my drawer.
I first found what was a slight difference in the Rovner ligature the leather looking one, and I used it for many years. I discarded it because with that ridiculous black plastic mouthpiece cap, the look was reminiscent of Darth Vader, from ‘Star Wars” fame. It irked me.It was also hard to cram into my double case because it makes the mouthpiece thicker than the space accorded for it in the styrofoam or whatever it’s called. It too irked me. It’s not that I’m that irkable; it’s just that getting away from the standard looking mouthpiece cap and ligature betrays my memory, and finally I return. Now, I have refound the Rovner because it actually does allow more vibration of the reed as you play and will and does extend longevity of duration. Definitely. Forget about the’s the price of doing business. Also, IMO discard those feature plates and all other extraneous things stuffed into ligatures. A fortune cookie has at least a prediction inside and is sweet. The plates are expensive and don’t do , well squat.
I think the Harrison ligature was very good, and its Rico descendant may also be good. The real expensive jobees really affect me in a disjunctive way because their price really makes me feel for the student who just has to have one and betrays his soul for this obviously Faustian deal, at great cost, and for what gain? Yes, I’ve used Bonades, and reverse Bonades with the middle pried out with a pliers, all that stuff.
Not to get off-subject, but mouthpieces are a slightly different item and are really much more expensive as a rule. I used a Van Doren M13
for maybe ten or fifteen years. It is that companies version of the Chedeville. Later , I dioscovered Richard Hawkins and his mouthpieces, which are better versions of the Chedeville. Much better. Now, that’s enough on mouthpieces.
Hope I’ve contributed to your viral collection. Best regards,

An Australian has played both: His report:

May 30, 2009

Dear Mr Friedland,
First, thanks very much for sharing your wisdom on this excellent site.
In light of a recent post concerning the Reform Boehms of Wurlitzer the following details and personal experience may be of interest to your readers.
I switched to Reform Boehms after playing on Buffets – R13 S1 RC and Festival models – over a span of 25 years.

The Wurlitzers, in common with the bespoke instruments of other German makers, are engineered to a very high standard. The keywork, in finish and fit, is superior to any mass-produced French Boehm clarinet I’ve seen – as it should be, considering the cost of these instruments. They’re built for eternity.

The “improvements” are (on the Wurlitzer model !85):
1. A split function register key/throat Bb mechanism. This helps give a better pinch Bb (I still use resonance fingerings), but a more important benefit is that the register tube can be smaller and positioned so that MOST of the the 12ths are a better in tune than on the French clarinets I’ve played. This mechanism is totally reliable.
2. A beautiful-sounding fork Bb fingering, as well as all the usual options for this note on the French Boehm.
3. A very good F#-G# trill (Carmen!) without the articulated mechanism.
4. A mechanism for fixing the rh middle finger B, F#, D# 12ths – the high D# is not flat.

But it’s swings and roundabouts. In the Wurlitzer you have an instrument which is mechanically more complex (and heavier); you sacrifice the very simple, elegant French Boehm design design for what could be considered minimal “improvement”. As I said, it’s swings and roundabouts.

The Reforms have quirks of their own. Most of the 12ths are better in tune; some are not by a long shot and require a great deal of correction. For instance, on my “A” clarinet B, C, and C# at the top of the clarion are very sharp, which is a nuisance, but you learn to adjust.

One benefit over the French Boehms I’ve played is that it’s easier to play wide intervals smoothly on the Reform. It’s also possible to really blow ff without the sound becoming harsh. The altissimo is easier (the F/F# are not flat) and has a more ‘covered’ quality. It’s the bore design I suppose. However, I find the Reform is a bit less flexible than a good French Boehm (a harsh fortissimo could be a quality you want sometimes). Maybe that’s the price you pay for the Reform’s stability. Swings and roundabouts again.
Tonally, with the Reforms your ‘default’ position is German. The instruments tend to sound more focused; more of a laser beam sound, as someone once described it. But it’s where you take the sound from that default position that counts.

After some hard work getting the measure of the Wurlies and German mps and reeds, I played them in orchestra. A very fine clarinetist who didn’t know I’d switched from Buffets was in the audience for a performance of Beethoven 8 and I forget what else. He told me later that I sounded ‘like myself’ but thought I’d had a very good reed on…

As the old saying goes, “’tain’t the gun, it’s the gunner”.
K.Sydney, Australia

Dear K: Thank you so much for your wonderful “reform Boehm” response.
I, and I’m sure every reader will appreciate your candor.
As I see, and as they shall, it seems to be “six of one”, etc.

Thank you very much,

Clarinets in the Royal Concertgebouw, and others and others

May 27, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

What do you think about Wurlitzer reform bohm clarinets? In the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw Orchest  all the players playing on them and they sound great. Do you believe in the improvements of those clarinets?
friendly regards

Dear S.S:

Thank you for your question concerning Reform Boehm Clarinets, and specifically, the make, Wurlitzer.
When you use the term, “improvements”, I would have to ask if these are , and can be called improvements or just changes? What few players of the Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinet, I’m very sure will tell yo that they are the best, sound, tuning and fingering and all. That is the way of the world of clarinet playing.
Years ago the make Buffet had a very good reputation as the clarinet of choice by many clarinetists, however lately, within the last ten years, or more, there have been other clarinets and bores added. Most significantly was the Leblanc Opus and Concerto, designed by Tom Ridenour, who was for a number of years, the chief designer at Leblanc in the US. These two clarinets and others, also designed by Ridenour are played by both Larry Combs , Principal Clarinet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and of Eddie Daniels who is probably the most noted clarinetist in actually all kinds of music.I am quite sure Mr Combs could fill any hall in which he plays, as well as any other, regardless of bore.Ne plays the Leblanc Opus. Mr Ridenour has left the Leblanc company and is currently designing and importing his own brand of clarinet, the Lyrique, which is increasingly popular. It is made of hard rubber, has the best tuning of any instrument and is more stable than any grenadilla clarinet. It’s really quite difficult to call the Reform Boehm clarinet “improvements.
Rather, the clarinet is certainly different because it has a different bore , a different and smaller hand position, some different fingerings for altissima notes and has more resistance than the typical “french” clarinet.
The function of the Reform Boehm is supposedly to combine the richness of the German Bore and the flexibility of the French bore and fingerings.
Whether it does or does not is certainly a matter for consideration and more, a matter of opinion.
There are clarinetists within the US playing on French bore clarinets who make a denser , perhaps darker sound, but on a French clarinet. One is Franklin Cohen , principal currently of the Cleveland Orchestra. But, he plays the typical Buffet clarinet.
Gino Cioffi and many others, play(ed) Selmer clarinets. Cioffi, with whom I studied had the most beautiful tone imaginable. Rosario Mazzeo, my principal teacher ivented and developed his own clarinet, which utilized a way out of the throat Bb without adding or drilling more holes in the instrument. He also played on full Boehm instruments.
Did any of these players and any of their instruments demonstrate a different sound? NO. They all play or played the clarinet, pure and simple.
different bore , hand position, mouthpiece, fingering no matter how you slice them , are still clarinets. If you admire one particular player over another, it is at most, your opinion. to which you are entitled.
Does every reform boehm payer sound better than a french bore player? No. Do halls produce different sounds, and orchestras? YES.
But the clarinet plays the clarinet part, whether it be in a Berlioz Symphony or a Sonata by Brahms.
Not improvement, just different fingering, different halls, different tuning sometime, and different woodwind sections. And some orchestras now use microphones when they record.
I must rule in favor of music, all the music, and the musicality of the player, all the time, but never the bore, which is as I’ve said , a really big bore.
best regards, and keep practicing, and don’t ever change. It’ll cost you 15,000 dollars and you’ll have to wait four or five years and then, you’ve got to consider what you’ve gained.
Finally, I know and have seen for sale, a set of Reform Boehm Clarinets manufactured by Yamaha.

Geneva: before and after

May 24, 2009

In the early 60’s I had just began playing the Mazzeo System Clarinet. I played on a set of Selmer Centered Tone clarinets, a set given to me by Rosario Mazzeo. (I thought it was a loan, but every time I would send Rosie a few bucks, he would either send it back or enroll me in some Photography club)
Anyway, it was the time for the world Clarinet Competition in Geneva. Rosie sugested that I go to it and compete. I agreed. Suddenly, at the cashiers office of the New England Conservatory, I got an amount of money, given anonymously, which totaled the airfare for Geneva.
Then , I received a call from the composer Daniel Pinkham. He asked me to come for tea at the home of Winifred Johnstone in Back Bay in Boston. He took me there and I was introduced to this little rather wonderful elderly lady. She served us tea. The teapot had a cover on top of it to keep it warm.(Makes me smile). We discussed The Conservatoire Americain at Fontainebleau, France. Someone, also without name had given me a scholarship to attend, and there was an additional amount for the airfare. Scholarship!
Rosie had decided that I should get used to Europe prior to the competition.
Who was I to refuse?
I entered it and mentioned that I would be playing the Eugene Bozza Clarinet Concerto as my chosen piece.
It was a kind of rip-off of the Ibert Saxophone Concerto made so popular by the Marcel Mule recording.
So, I went to Fontainbleau and met the greatest teacher of anything musical in the first half of the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger. I revered her very quickly, because frankly the feeling was mutual. She immediately became my mentor and finally , teacher. I would go to her apartment early in he morning and she went through the entire clarinet repertoire in those early morning lessons (they were at 7.30 AM) Anyway, she had insights and an inordinate sense of what was correct in the tiniest musical phrase and she was my prize for the summer, and Boulanger was the best prize I would ever receive.
She went over my decorum for the Geneva, stressing that I must play the set piece, ( a sonata by Gagnebin, who happened to be the head of the Geneva Conservatory.) And the most important thing was that she told me was not to expect too much .
And so, I went to Fontainebleau and quickly fell in love with everything that was there. My sholarship included meals at the cafeteria, featuring the best bread I have ever consumed. It was where all the people in the school took their meals.
I quickly met the most talented group of musicians I have ever come across. They were all young and I guess all were wunderkind types, young precocious and they could play anything.
There was Bobby Levin, probably age 11 who could already play everything, including the play-back of the new music concerts. He would do it immediatly after hearing the work only once.
There was a little kid, we learned to call “Wrong Key” who would always come to my table and steal my pen, always. And many others, and there was Nadia herself, who was like all the centuries of music who hade preceded her.
I loved her. But there were those who called her “The Hitler of the American Amateurs”. She an incredible musician and knew everything.
As you might imagine, the summer went very quickly. Bobby Levin would listen to me practicing in the bullet-holed living room of the Hotel Launoy, and he wrote me a Sonata which featured the first movement comprised of my warmup, which was actually quite lovely(the sonata, that is), though called “Juvenalia” by Robert Levin, who himself is now a world famous performer of Mozart and Beethoven . He later wrote me another, much more difficult, He still calls that one jevenalia, but I dare any juvenile to play it.
I played in so many concerts at Fontainebleau, then at the end of the summer, took a train to Geneva. It was a lovely city. I met my accompanist and we rehearsed. When it came my turn to compete, I found myself behind a screen. I heard heels walking toward the screen and a voice said, “we are ready for you, Mr Friedland”
Behind a screen no less, and I was called by name.
Well, the Bozza was the hardest piece I had ever played at the time, and I dare say, I played it very well.
When I was finished, I heard the heels again approaching the screen.
The words this time, I shall never forget, “We at Geneva do not care for your American style of playing.”
So, at least I knew what the outcome was to be.
I decided to stay and listen to all the others, then listened to the finalists and the awards. At the time I was angry, very angry, because I felt the winner could have been   a student of mine.
I returned to Boston, miserable but determined to not ever enter a concours again.
But soon after, I read about the National Compettion for woodwind Instruments sponsored by the Musicians Club of New York. (The judges were Robert Bloom and Julius Baker.)
I was so cynical that I listened to every player . sitting in the audience, never even warming up. When they called me, they even asked if I wanted to warm up.   “NO”
I went up,played my pieces.
Then after a few minutes of talking, my name was called. I won. ( Believe it, because it’s true.) There is no moral to the story, just maybe to always play your best and make sure that you avoid competitions, unless you are a pianist, perhaps.
keep practicing.

A New Buffet R13 and a Selmer 10S

May 23, 2009

Hi Mr. Friedland…

I enjoy your column very much…I have played a Selmer 10S for over 25 yrs.. Prior to that I played a vintage 1940 Buffet (R 13, I think)…..I recently purchased a new R13…( I must admit it isn’t made a s well as I had hoped)….I find myself gravitating back to the Selmer, when I play jobs…Needeless to say I feel a little guilty going back to my “old” Selmer when I have a new Buffet…..

My question is…Can you compare these 2 instruments….I know you like the 10S….Is the R13 something I have to get used to ?
Thanks and keep up the great work on the site..

Hi DS: Thank you for your note and for the compliment. I like to write and to answer such questions as yours.
It is however difficult to compare the two instruments, especially the two which you own. Most instruments differ in many ways and the latest Buffets seem to have a large number of problems associated with them, such as poorly fitting keys, some plating wear, bad dowel rods made of delrin which can break during a rehearsal or a performance. (These are the rods that handle the little finger keys and repairing a broken one is something you don’t ever need.
But the biggest thing about the ordinary Buffet is that it is not in tune, specifically, the throat is sharp the low E flat and the high F as well.
Many who buy them select from perhaps five or six before they choose the one they buy and many of these have the instruments “tweaked” for tuning.
The ordinary Selmer Paris is entirely different, being basically in tune, the keywork being the industry hallmark and they all play well, at least this has been my experience. I have never had a dog of a Selmer Paris clarinet.

Your particular R13 is a horn that you may get used to, but it may be difficult if it has some or all of the usual Buffet trademarks.
In any event, good luck with your clarinets and keep practicing.

Sincerely, Sherman.


Perhaps if the Buffet is a new purchase, you can bring it to the dealer to try some others and/or to change it for a new Selmer or a Leblanc OpusII, or the best and most affordable: the Lyrique

Barrels for different venues and rehearsal spaces.

May 9, 2009

“The ridenour barrels look very nice! Sorry for being such a nuisance, but would I want the reverse taper or straight bore? And how big should I get? My clarinet is sharp when tuned to A442 so I pull out a couple millimeters, so should I go for the 67mm, or would the tuning improve with this barrel so I should stick with my current size which is 66mm? Thank you again, I hope I am not being a bother. J.A.”
No, J.A.. It is no bother at all.It brings to mind my favorite barrel when I was playing in the most contrary of weather circumstances.

These were the many churches both large and small, and sometimes unheated in the dead of winter or unusually hot or cold in other seasons.

In those venues and for every conceivable playing condition, your first consideration has got to be pitch, and I must say, it drove me to the edge of sanity(where clarinetists spend lots of time) So, I couldn’t have cared less about the taper or the subtleties of a darker throat register, I cared about the pitch and so, most assuradly did the engineers at CBC and other places wherein rcordings are made.



One gets a little tired ofmimpressionistic considerations, when pitch just has to come first. So, I used with great success, a movable barrel which had a latitude of 10 mm. I found it to be very relaxing as far as worry about high or low pianos. It was my first consideration. I can recommend the cheap “Click” barrel, which works fine and/or any of the others which afford latitude. Lips and throats can only be moved so much. If you’re working in different venues or even reheasing in different one, then a movable barrel is first on your agenda, no question.In fact it brings up an interesting a very frequently questioned and discussed subject.
I have been through the issue(s) of barrels for years, really ever since I discovered that most clarinets are not perfectly in tune, and that longer or shorter barrels can alter that situation to an extent. Because I have been asked to play in so many different venues in different seasons, even in countries in other latitudes, I finally usually played on a barrel that was quite short: 64 mm, but had an extension which I could pull out to make it as much as 10 mm longer,(mentioned above). I found this most convenient for pitch. But, there are other considerations as well and like every item you buy for your clarinet, indeed they do change things. But, it is very personal indeed.

As much as perhaps 40 years ago there was a barrel developed by the famous Moennig in Philadelphia who worked on many clarinetists tuning and general sound, a barrel which had a reverse taper inside. This changed the feeling and the timbre and sometimes the pitch around the throat tones of the clarinet, usually improving upon the timbre considerably. At one time I had three Moennigs 65,66, and 67 mm. Were these the end-all answer to the quality of the sound? No, not anywhere near that place, wherever “that place” may be. But it did change the quality.

Any time you see a clarinetist or their picture, with instrument, there is one of those brown things on the end of it, or somewhere in the middle.
And these people swear by them. Why? Because they cost a fortune, more than anything else. And, perhaps they attract attention.
As P.T. Barnum said, “There is one born every minute”, meaning a person who will buy something like this, or think about it.
Will it make the solo at the end on the Pathetique first movement more beautiful?And, if so, how can one tell? Without having another solo to compare , immediately? Sounds and is crazy. However we are that kind of people, always trying to improve or to change, hopefully for the better, sometimes not at all. This is the world of compulsive players, which one almost has to be in order to practice the same thing over and over again.

Here is what Tom Ridenour said when I asked him about his barrels.

“Happy to…
If he is sharp, and many Yamaha clarinets are, especially of the Allegro line, I think a 67mm barrel would be advisable. As I recall the standard barrel for that model is 66mm.
If his mouthpiece is fairly large in bore he’ll do fine with the R bore. Mouthpieces like that are commonly the M model Vandorens, the Marcellus, my pro model, the Gennusa and the Gigliotti. If the clarinet mouthpiece is smaller in the bore (and higher pitched) the C bore usually works better, but there is no science to this; much of it depends upon the tastes, needs and particular playing habits of the individual. So, these are just general guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The differences, in any case, are few and subtle.
Hope you are well.
Sincerely, tom”

We are all diffeent and so too are our clarinets, our embouchures and most certainly our ears. So a reverse taper, (with a hard rubber insert ) as Moennig designed will help. So will all the others who design barrels. I like Ridenours because hard rubber is his choice too. It’s simply much more stable, and it is darker in quality, whatever “darker” means, and that is another story. (they are also perhaps a third of the price.)

Stay well, all, and keep practicing.

best regards, Sherman

Braces for the intermediate player

May 6, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

In your 2004 post, “Playing with Braces,” you write,

“The presence of correcting prostheses within the mouth (BRACES) and the beginning steps in clarinet playing are not particularly compatible.’

Is the same true for the intermediate steps? My 14-year-old son has played for 6 years and is quite good. His teeth could use braces strictly for cosmetic reasons. Are braces likely to ruin his sound or make playing uncomfortable (after an adjustment period, which we of course expect)?
Thanks, WP

Dear W.P.:
Thank you for your question concerning braces for cosmetic reasons. I fully understand the problems of braces in a comprehensive manner, mainly because I have four grown children and my wife wore braces as a child.
As far as your sons sound, that cannot change because it really exists in his ear and he will go to that sound regardless of what is in his mouth.
Braces will not change it in any way.
But, you know these days there are several ways to go about changing the bite either for cosmetic reasons or for dental health.  I never had them, but still have had a lifetime of dental problems.
For a strange bit of humor from my late mother, she always blamed her three children for her poor dental health saying frequently, “You kinds took all my calcium, and ruined my teeth” (I will not go into what she did to us three perfect darlings.)
Back to different ways of changing the bite, or braces or what have you.
In my memory the fixed braces were the most uncomfortable for all of my friends. They hated them. One of them used to take off the rubber bands that kept them in place and used to shoot the band across the room, which was fun, I thought.
Dentists abhor young patients who put these kinds of things(wind instruments) into their mouths because inevitably it interferes with the braces.
One usually has a slight overbite to develop an embouchure for clarinet playing, and braces will tend to make the bite straight up and down.
But lately there are braces that can be worn for part of the day or just for the night. These would appear to be a better situation to choose. You and your son will have to do the investigation. Results always vary.  
So, braces will not change the sound made by your son. All the rest is up to you both.
Good luck,and keep practicing.