“Ask Benny for one of his old ones”-my moms advice

June 28, 2009

Mr. Friedland:
I want to laud you on providing clarinetists of whatever age and ability the opportunity to converse with a truly marvelous musician-clarinetist such as you. I am now 72 but still an active player.

This may seem like such an obvious question but I think one worthy of addressing. That is, starting a youngster’s clarinet instruction off right. I am talking of my own experience. Sixty-two years ago, when I was 10, I heard Benny Goodman on the radio. That decided me on the instrument I wanted to play. So, my musical instruction began at my elementary school in the 6th grade in a group situation with the instructor who was a really good guy not specifically a clarinetist. I then went on to a private instruction at the local music store, assigned to an instructor who was a trumpet player. Later I switched instruction to another gentleman, a good musician, but also a trumpet player. He was my last instructor. Both of these instructors were excellent musicians, but neither taught me anything specifically about the ins and out of the clarinet (mouthpiece and reed selection, embouchure, breathing, technique, alternate fingerings, etc.). My parents were not musicians and knew no better. But, at no point was any suggestion made to me by my instructors of hooking me up with a clarinet player-instructor. Save for a period of over 20 years after I graduated from college, I have continued to play clarinet (and sax) with a dance band, and clarinet with our community band and orchestra. At best I consider myself as a strong and enthusiastic, but only adequate second section, clarinet player. The lingering question I have is, could I have done much better under the early tutelage of a good clarinet player? This may be an obvious redundant question, but an important one for parents and those starting off with a young aspirant student-clarinetist.

Hi Jet:

Does the teacher we choose determine the outcome? The immediate answer is almst a resounding NO. As far as choosing a clarinet player for a teacher at the beginning level, you must consider what made you chose the clarinet? That’s closer to an  affirmative response. You and I both were inspired from listening to Benny Goodman. You studied through your school and was assigned a teacher who happened to play trumpet. In my case, and this is almost unbelievably true: my parents suggested that I write to Benny Goodman* and ask him for one of his old ones. I knew that wouldn’t work.  After I asked and more, they put an ad in the paper “wanted to buy, used clarinet”.

The fellow who answered the ad also offered lessons. He was my first teacher and truly a great influence and happened to be a wonderful player (as well as a dealer in used clarinets). I remember taking my first lessons at the NEC. Frequently during lessons, there would be a knock on the door, a short conversation, a few bucks passed and my teacher wold come back to the lesson with a brown paper bag in which was a clarinet he had just bought from …..? I never knew. I still wanted to play. I had been an unhappy kid I guess, and the clarinet absolutely changed my life, truly and completely. The source of all of this was me, the student and the player. Even traveling to Washington DC in the back of my dads Nash, on Route One,(to visit my brother) I practised while the car was bumping around on that crumby highway. Nothing would stop me. I knew I couldn’t miss a day. It was certainly more complicated than that, however while my parents had literally nothing to do with it, they had everything to do with it, because I did it to spite them, and that is really true. My father had told me that as a musician, I would “walk the streets”.In my deepest self, I knew that I would someday play the clarinet and never “walk the streets”. That I happened to have talent was inconsequential.
Yours, ours, is a story repeated by just about everyone in the world who, at a certain time in their time here wonders what would have happened had one circumstance or a group of them may have been different.
I see so many similarities in your question and many of my own that I can’t help but say that we’re  in the same boat. There were so many opportunities that could have been changed had I made a different choice or that would have had to change had things gone differently.
Everyone   goes through the same kind of experience.
In your situation, you could have had a clarinet player for a teacher, and they could have been either quite helpful to you, or not. The trumpet instructors you did have perhaps made you a better player than you would have been had you had a clarinetist.
From your letter, I see that you have loved music and played music all of your life. That is an achievement. I have seen so many students in conservatory that have turned against the instrument and the discipline involved. They simply gave up or said “to hell with it” and never had the chance to play for a lifetime and remain enthusiastic, which you have done. It really is of no consequence were you play or in what organization. Perhaps you are “only adequate” as you say. The thing is that you’ve done it with enthusiasm and joy.
Perhaps your aspiration was to play the clarinet. You have done that and need to enjoy whatever there is still to play, and it is always there, so you are in the same position as many who have aspired to much more and remain totally unfullfilled.
I auditioned one time for the Israel Philharmonic. It came down to two players, me and someone else. I know that I played the better audition, but not according to the conductor. So, I was disappointed and felt robbed too. Had I gotten the job, I would have been in Israel playing . I would not have met my wife in Buffalo where I was engaged to play new music. I played many many performances of new music in New York and in Buffalo. But my wife who is an amazingly lovely person  happens to understand people very well, especially her husband. She has told me many times that I am really not cut out to be an orchestral player.I do not function well with a conductor whom I do not respect or in situations where you simply sit and play. I have always had to do more than that, much more,so I wound up, conducting, teaching, playing , administration and all kinds of different things . Still, I wanted to do more, but  a part of me wishes that I had been appointed in Israel.
I’m still here, alive and playing and loving music, and still doing many of the things I love. Same as you.
Be well, and enjoy each rehearsal.

best always, Sherman *(Many years later, I did meet Benny, and rehearsed his part with the Milwaukee Symphony , and later helped with balance when he and his daughter, Rachel, played a benefit concert for the Fontainebleau Schools. This was at the ES Gardiner Museum in Cambridge)

Scherzo from Midsummer Nights dream

June 23, 2009


The above address should take you to the you tube recording of two clarinetists from Paris, specifically, the Orchestra of Paris, as it says, playing the clarinet parts from the Scherzo, Since this is repertoire that   you and I have actually played many times, I can only inform you that they play is as easily as they can. That’s very fast!

They have good tongueing, and they manipulate the parts quite well, though far from perfectly. They are not totally in “sync” in several of the ascending scales for the two. I also find the sound to be very thin, and yes, very French, very far from the way it’s is played in the US or in Germany or Holland. Those clarinetists have much more substance in their sound. By comparison, this is thin playing, but very indicative of the clarinet playing one hears in Paris. Thy play Selmer Clarinets as do most Parisian clarinetists, but the sound is much more the tradition in that city, and certaily not the sound of the “make” of the clarinet.
I wonder why they seem so pleased with themselves when the results are really not that good or precise.
What we know about this particular group of soli passages for two clarinets is the issue is never the speed, but always the conductor who of course, sets the tempo.
If he had taken it down a notch or two, making precision more important than speed, I doubt if they could have rattled it off, and been so pleased with themselves.
This is not an experienced couple in the business, but a couple of tongues, and for the reason stated above, I find it less than impressive.
The conductor in this Mendelssohn estblishes everything.
Anyone having played the work or about to, should first of all, determine what the tempo will be.
This requires time with the conductor and/or the rehearsals necessary. If you will determine those points, you will be much more successful performing this frequently heard work, but never ever this fast.

Keep playing, and stay well.

Centered Tone? or the much earlier “balanced tone”?

June 18, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Hello, and I just happened to look for this clarinet on Ebay, and I was wondering if the price on this Selmer ‘Centered Tone’ Clarinet – that has about a week from now (6-17-09) from removal – was worth buying. Here were the descriptions:

“This listing is for a Bb clarinet made by the Selmer Company of Paris, France. It is the famous “Centered Tone” model which some consider one of the finest jazz clarinets ever produced (no)  It is made of wood with nickle-silver keys. The serial number is in the N74XX series placing production about 1950. We have oiled the bore and body and have installed new pads. This instrument plays well. It does have a repaired crack in the top of the lower joint that does not leak (see photo). The keys are tight and show little wear.(NO)  Free USA shipping. Included is a nice case, new Selmer mouthpiece, ligature, cap, a reed.

swab and cork grease. I also sell new Selmer, Yamaha, Conn, LeBlanc, Buffet and other fine instruments. Email for a great quote.

This Clarinet is up for $799 ‘buy it now’ and I was thinking if this one is worth buying. I also had some doubts since this clarinet had a crack on the top of the lower joint.

This was the site for the item.

It would be greatly appreciated if it was replied soon as possible! J thanks!
-M Y

Dear MY:
thanks for your note on the Centered Tone Selmer Clarinet, a subject dear to me because I owned a set of them for many years, and at that time, they were not a Jazz Clarinet, as I’ve mentioned before. I was trained to be an orchestral clarinetist and that is how I used them, except for an occasional Gershwin.
They have come to be called a “Jazz” clarinet because of only two small reasons: one is the fact the the bore is a tiny bit wider than most, and a big bore is considered to be for Jazz. (Funny thing is that Jazz doesn’t know) The other reason is that Benny made an ad advertising the horn when it first came out in the late 50s or so.
Those are the only reasons.
As far as the clarinet you asked about, I think it is overpriced and worth no more than perhaps 500 dollars.
Not only that, but that crack in the lower joint scares me just to look at it. It is in a crucial place and looks as if the repair was crudely done. Any clarinet is diiminished by a big crack right in the middle. There are plenty of horn of Centered tone bore out there for sale and look for one that is not so over-advertised, (read hyped), or try to get a Leblanc Dynamic, same bore size and just as “famous” for Jazz. They’ll go for much cheaper because of the maligned state of the brand , as such.
 One final caveat: I do not think that the clarinet pictured and described is a CT Selmer/ The serial numbers don’t match the CT series of serial numbers, but they match an earlier clarinet, the BT. This according to a viewer who notified me of this.

When I checked out the photos with the clarinet, the shot of the CT written on the clarinet didn’t match what is normally acceptable . In my opinion, based on the above. The clarinet in this ad is not a Centered Tone Clarinet. So please be careful. Auctions sites can yield bargains, but also items which are counterfeit, so, be careful! ( bull-doggiescomment)

“Mr. Friedland, I am the owner-player of a fine Bb Selmer Centered-Tone clarinet(“Q” series) since 1958, and a CT A clarinet (“P” series) for about 10 years. Both are wonderful instruments.  A few years ago I caught the new clarinet virus, and so I tried out the various top-of-the line clarinets.  I decided that they were vastly over-priced and really not any better for me than my trusty CTs. 

In the listing referred to by the correspondent, I was surprised that the “N” series clarinet is shown as a “Centered Tone.”  All of the websites listing Selmer clarinet serial numbers show that the Selmer “Centered Tone” began with the “P” series through the “Q” series.  ACcording to www.clarinetperfection.com, the “N” series was known as the “Balanced Tone” and was in production 1946-1951.  The “Centered Tone” (P and Q series) was in production 1952-1957).”



Stay well, Sherman

The Barrel Virus

June 15, 2009

Hi, My name is M, I’m a freshman in college and a clarinet major.

So I just recently bought a 1971 Selmer 10S Bb Clarinet. It plays wonderfully, however I am not 100% happy with the barrel. So i’ve been doing some looking around for some barrels, and i came across a few that sounded good. But i would like to have your opinion on if they would be fitting for a clarinet like mine.
The first i came across was the (notorious) Backun Cocobolo Barrel. From the looks and sounds, it seems very nice, but is also $225.00. Is it worth it?
The second one I came across was the Clark W Fobes Barrel. My old clarinet tutor Patty Shands uses this one, but she plays on a Buffet, so i didn’t know if they play better on one more than the other.
And of course there are the Chadash and Moenig barrels, but those are Buffet barrels.
What is your personal preference/opinion?

Dear M:
Thank you for your question about barrels. I really don’t think that anyone knows anything about barrels, except that is, for the pitch that they may slighly change. In truth, a barrel does not have a sound, per se. It does have a response, which one may or may not prefer.
Actually, I find that barrels are just another manisfestation of the kind of noodling that clarinet players love to do, but remember this, in order to know if the barrel is changing anythng, one must have a well-used barrel with which one is comfortable, for response, as well as pitch, to say nothing of timbre.
I first saw those brown barrels one year when I was teaching at Crane, the “birthplace of music education”, located in a remote region of New York. Lots of plain boxy buildings and halls, appearing something like the buildings created for the Third Reich, by Albert Speer. I used to call it the CaneSchool because I walk with one, and they had fire drills about every 20 minutes or so.
Anyway , a student came in with one, paid 200 for it and it looked quite ordinary. She didn’t know why she bought it; it had been for sale at one of those flea-market type clarinet festivals, hundreds of stalls, all kinds of equipment, everything touted to solve all yourproblems, make you play better than your stand partner.
For me the barrel was meaningless and changed nothing, so to answer your first question, it is not worth it, not even if they give you one, which is done frequently: it’s a way of selling one to someone else who sees it when you come back for your first rehearsal.
I notice in your letter, you say that the barrel looks and sounds interesting. This is something I would need to be explained. I started on a metal clarinet, and I always wanted a black wooden clarinet. That has remained my ideal.So the brown barrel is simply a way of adding a zero or two to the price.
The Moennig Barrelmakes some sense, and it will work on your Selmer, as it has on mine. The clarinet barrel is very short as you know, and the moenning have a reverse taper making the throat notes a bit clearer. They also have a rubber insert.But, the Selmer 10s, your clarinet, has a much better throat register than any Buffet I have ever played, and some come with a reverse taper in the barrel.
I think that much too much has been made out of cocobolo or rosewood barrels because the very basic nature of thse woods is instability; they are more unstable than is grenadilla or mpingo or whatever you want to call it.
I think the Fobes clarinet equipment is some of the very best available, but it is quite costly, the mouthpieces though, even the 30 dollar Debut is terrific, and right now, it is what’s on my clarinet.
Anyway, I recently wrote a piece called “ligature virus”.
Let us call this response,”the barrel virus”. There are many, and no vaccine available.

Actually, there is. It is called “practicing.”

best regards,

Two excellent student mouthpieces

June 7, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Thank you in advance for indulging a question from this clarinet-playing mom! I played the clarinet for over 13 years (5th grade through college) and play recreationally now. I have a daughter who will begin playing clarinet this summer (end of 3rd grade). She is 8. I was a few years older than she is when I started. She plays piano and is very musically inclined.

I am giving her my 1965 vintage Noblet N40 to play (s/n 55474). I have taken very good care of it (I am the second owner) and had it repadded for her. I’ve provided her a new ligature (Bonade inverted, like mine) and a La Voz mouthpiece (a hedge against breakage…I play a Portnoy BP03 and Selmer HS*).

In your opinion, is this combination giving her a good start? I did not start with my Noblet, rather a Selmer rental. I acquired my Noblet 3 years later. I had considered purchasing a second clarinet for my daughter, but could not find one any better than my clarinet for less of an investment than repadding my own.

Kind regards,


Dear KC:
It is no indulgence, but with a considerable amount of concern that I respond to your note.
There is really nothing incorrect with giving your daughter your Noblet to play, and I really can’t fault an inverted Bonade Ligature, which is simply extraneous. It is however a considerable concern that you would allow her to play a La Voz mouthpiece. This is the single most important piece of equipment for anyone who plays the clarinet. But not a La Voz . They make reeds which are also marketed under many other names as well.
You have two reasonably good mouthpieces, so perhaps you should give her one of yours.However there are two others which I can recommend : They are the Hite Premiere, and the Clark Fobes Debut.I have ordered and tried playing perhaps a dozen of the Fobes Debut mouthpieces, and for a time thought I wold make it my one and only , so-to-speak Each of them cost about 30 dollars and are available easily from WWBW, an honest firm, which will give you a good price and has an unusual 45 day money-back guaranty.The Hite Premier is also excellent and played by several of my friends who are professional clarinetists. If I were your daughter, I would prefer either one of those and a plain ordinary ligature, all of which do the same for a young player.

Best regards, Sherman

It’s not a rubber chicken!

June 5, 2009

Dear Mr Friedland:
I was hoping that you might provide some reassurance to my reasoning and guitar analogy so that we can all sleep better until the Lyrique arrives! My wife thinks I’m nuts for buying a $1000 rubber clarinet……..JP

Dear JP:

Actually, there is no analogy in comparing the guitar you bought and the Lyrique you have ordered. But I can say the following for your wife and yourself and your daughter as well.
The Lyrique clarinet, the hard rubber thing, is the best in tune hard rubber thing on the market and what’s wrong with a clarinet made of hard rubber, which is as natural as wood, but much more stable and will not crack, ever.
I play on a set and so do more and more clarinetists and students of clarinetists as well. When I first got one to try, I was amazed, played it for my wife, who has a better ear than me, and she too found to be really beautiful in quality. I played it for colleagues at a chamber music rehearsal and they found that it blends better and tunes better with strings and piano than does wood.
It has been true since, and while I can criticize certain aspects of literally any horn, this is the best instrument, and when you factor its price it cuts all others by miles.
There is a growing constituency out there.
As they say,”cheeeeyeck it out”!
Enjoy your acquisition, and good luck to your daughter.

Best regards, Sherman