First Auditions

November 27, 2009

This topic is something  inwhich many people spend a lifetime of contemplation: the act of being scrutinized by someone else in order for you to find a place in which to practice what it is you profess. Whether it be in sports, or in the arts, or for a job teaching these, auditioning has been a part of my life, and for many of yours as well. In our particular interest and (perhaps) profession: that of playing music,specifically, the clarinet, auditioning can come as a surprise, or the natural order of things. In mine, it has been both.
I wanted to play the clarinet since the age of 14 or so. I asked for it from my parents, and was turned down cold, with a smirk and a snigger. “musicians walk the streets”.”There is no living in music”. But I persisted, and finally after the passage of time, my mother suggested that I write to Benny Goodman and ask him for one of his “old ones.” At my age , I was gullible but not to that extent, so I persisted.
Finally, it was agreed that I would get lessons, in this circuitous manner: My mother would place an ad in the local paper: “Wanted to buy, old used, clarinet”. I have no idea of how long I waited but there was a single reply. A fellow answered the ad, stating that not only did he have a clarinet for sale, he could also give me lessons as well. He would “come to the house”, as so many did in those days, with the clarinet and the terms.
That was my first audition, perhaps a mutual audition. He was a very nice man, dressed well, and he was carrying a case which held my clarinet. I think he charged 3 dollars an hour, maybe a bit less. He turned out to be a professional player, one of the best in Boston, and had played Principal in Houston for several years. He had the most beautiful sound I think I have ever heard, and while I failed my audition miserably, making nothing but a series of squeaks for the whole lesson, what I remembered is the sound that he made, which I will never forget, as it remains my goal to achieve to this very day. And sometimes, I do. That was my first audition.

My first actual audition for a job in a symphony orchestra came only four or five years later. I had progressed so rapidly that I was already practicing Orchestra Studies, memorizing the whole Bonade book in a short time, playing in all of the secondary school ensembles and being singled out for my playing ability, That first teacher had remained my teacher. In the time spent, I never missed a lesson, not ever, not even when driving long distances, I insisted on practicing.

To continue, my first teacher figured in my first official audition, a kind of manipulative exercise on his part, but even in retrospect, I don’t care. If he really believed I played that well, then he is not to be faulted for pride in his students ability. (I never spoke about it) .
The contractor called my teacher to play the Bass Clarinet with the Boston Pops Orchestra on their annual tour. He felt somewhat intimidated by the offer and passed it on to me, his student.
I was very excited about this. Our school had just purchased a Bass and I insisted on learning to play it. I used to play both in band concerts. I guess I played well. I know that I played better than the others. However the Boston Pops Orchestra was a very big deal,and while not nervous, I was excited. Everyone knows who the contractor was, but I will just mention RM, for they were his initials. He was also the Personnel Manager of the Boston Symphony. He asked me to play the regular clarinet. The first question “play t\an E major scale, legato three octaves, up and then return.”
And so, I did. I have no recollection of how I sounded, but at the conclusion of my E major, he told me quite dispassionately, “you have the beginnings of a good sound. Come back in 5 years.”

That was my first real audition. In subsequent postings you will read of many more, both more successful and not. ( Oh, and I did “come back”.)

Keep practicing.
Best wishes for all your holidays.

Sherman

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Felix Mendelssohn and the clarinet

November 20, 2009

Come back with me 40 years ago to the New England Conservatory Orchestra and my first time playing in the orchestra.Yes, at that time, I was attending classes and coming directly to orchestra from class, I was playing bass clarinet, the orchestra was playing The Fairies Kiss, by Stravinsky, and the bass clarinet is heard early in the introduction. I got the horn together and wet the reed, which then looked like it had waves in it. I was trying to get it on the mouthpiece, when the conductor asked, “You need some HALP? I mumbled something about comng from class, (and yes it did play). Then later,  we were doing the Mendelssohn 4th, the Italian Symphony, and you all know the first movement. There is,immediately prior to the recapitulation a lovely little solo by the first clarinet, reminiscent of the returning first theme. I was playing first clarinet.Mr. Burgin, the Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time, looked at me and said,”clahnet, think of the most beautiful sound you can make when playing this solo” I looked up at him, started counting and listening and entered with the biggest CLAM anyone ever heard. (honk, honk, anyone ever do that?)
Naturally, there was dead silence. I think I finally got it right, but I have never forgotten his setup for that noise I made. This was my formal introduction to the music for orchestra by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The Italian Symphony is a work filled with wonderful little places for the clarinet, as are all of the works of this incredibly gifted composer. The Salterello, the final movement is a wonderful exercise for the entire woodwind section to learn to play impossible things together, to share the joys of section articulation and to get into the orchestra in general. There are no better works than the Mendelssohn Symphonies, and of course, we have the Midsummer Nights Dream, written when the boy was about 17. Thought the Octett is perhaps his greatest masterpiece, and does not have clarinet, we will all listen to that any old time.(Let us not forget the Violin Concerto, perhaps the most famous of the Romantic Period))
Mendelssohn was in general a calm conventional guy, except for occasions wherein he would get so angry over something that he would have to sleep for perhaps as much as 12 hours. But, as I was saying, he was a conventional type of person, especially when compared to Schumann, Copin and Liszt, but a few of his contemporaries.
He also started the Lepizig Conservatory, did all that writing, spoke both English and German and was celebrated in the UK at an early age.
And then, there was Jenny Lind, the very celebrated Swedish Soprano. They worked together on many concerts, but there is very good evidence that he proposed to her, (she was unmarried, but he had 5 children with his wife Cecile) and asked her to elope with him and go to America. It is said that while there was “absence of evidence,there was no evidence of absence” of the affair.She, upon hearing of his death said that he was the most welcome person to her spirit, but that she had lost him after just finding him.
You know, he also was quite a fine painter as well. Amd all this in about 39 years. He died after having a series of strokes.
We listen to his music with such joy and ease.
But then, we have the music for the clarinet, aside from the orchestral music. We have the Sonata, not one of his best works, quite repetitious with nothing special about it, and there are the two Concertpieces, #113, and #114 for  Clarinet Basset Horn and Piano.
These, I have played many many tmes, but always with Cello instead of Basset Horn. An actual Basset Horn is only usually borrowed from an orchestra when they do the Mozart Requiem . so hardly worth the effort of trying to borrow them for these two works. Cello works quite well and both little pieces are terrific to open or even to close a concert. There are even examples of them on Utube, though not terribly well done, and there has even been an orchestral version made from them, which also sounds not well. But, perhaps I am spoiled from playing them so frequently. (I’ll get them on my site, when I learn how to do it.) Until then, if anyone wants to hear me play them in concert, send me a CD and I’ll copy them for you.
In closing I will say that Felix Mendelssohn-Batholdy, who was born Jewish and whose father renounced this religion, (Mendelssohn was baptised Lutheran) and his Reformation Symphony # 5, has the most beautiful clarinet parts, maybe even more than the Scotch(3) and the Italian(4), and one final little bit, it was he who ressurrected the Saint Matthew Passion of JS Bach, so many years after Bachs death, and indeed reinvented Bach (who had become out of fashion in Mendelssohns time.)
All this, and clarinet music, and Jenny Lind, in 39 years.
Get busy, everybody, and stay well, and oh yes, keep practicing.

Sherman


Synthetic reeds: questions and some answers

November 16, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland
I’ve been reading your column for a long time and finally decided to go with it and try out Forestone reeds after all those recommendations!
I play a Selmer 10S with a C85 115 mouthpiece and usually a pretty soft reed (Vandoren V12 strength 2 1/2). I tried Forestone 2, 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 but even the 2 seems harder than I am comfortable with. It also seems to be a long way from the tip of the mouthpiece (ie a big gap). Is this just something you have to get used to? Or is a different mouthpiece
going to help (in which case what would be a suitable one?)
Thanks for any advice,
Jenny
Dear Mr. Friedland:

I have a question about comparing reed strengths. I want to get a Forestone reed but don’t want to spend money on one of the wrong strength. I presently play some Legere #4’s one of the normal, Quebec and Ontario. The Quebec seems just rite, but I am sure they are no longer as stiff as 4s because I have been playing them an hour a day for about 6 months. I play a different one each day for an hour, so I don’t know their strength now. What forestone reed strength would compare to a Legere 4? Do Forestone’s soften up much? Based on your experience with both what Forestone reed strength might compare to a softened up Legere #4? When the Legere reeds were new they were difficult to play, but after about a month they got softer ( or perhaps I got better). I bought a Ridenour C clarinet per your suggestion and it is great.

Sincerely yours
W E

First and foremost, I find it inconceivable for one to go to synthetic reeds  just for saving  money. It’s the same as going into clarinet for making  money. There has got to be, dear friends, something much more enduring than that.

In addition, let it be a given that there is no conclusive answer for the choosing and  acquisition of reeds, whether cane, synthetic, plastic, the final adjudicator being you, the player.

Dear W.E., and J.

Thanks for all your notes and comments concerning synthetic reeds.
First and foremost, you should try synthetic reeds if you really have a mind to; not just because it seems to be some kind of trend. If you are satisfied with cane reeds, then by all means, continue with them. Satisfied means a couple of things, as when I first tried synthetic reeds so many years ago, it was out of absolute necessity. I just was dissatisfied with all the cane reeds I tried and I was in a professional situation. I felt I had no place to go, and so I tried synthetic, found them reasonably successful and used them for a month or so. I still remember my conclusion, simple as it was: I felt that the synthetic stayed the same , but I felt that I became fatigued by them, so I stopped, plain and simple, forever. ( I was unable to sustain long phrases with comfort)

But then, several years ago, I received a phone call from a fellow in Toronto or someplace near, asking me if I knew Legere, and would I like to try a few?   I said yes, and he sent me a half dozen or so, then some more with dots on the butts of the reeds, denoting what he said was “Quebec” cut, and a couple with three dots on the butt, denoting “Ontario” cut. That was all there was to it, except that I kept receiving calls.
To continue briefly, I started using a regular Legere, the number being 2.75 on my M13 Van Doren mouthpiece on my clarinet. I thought nothing of it. It seemed to play like cane, and people whom I trust told me they noticed no difference. That was that. But only for a while, beca1use as I got into these Legeres, they seemed to be different in miniscule ways, ways which became more important as I continued. Then, I was told to try them on a different mouthpiece, which I rejected, out of hand.(Changing a mouthpiece for a reed is liking changing your car when it is out of gas) Shortly thereafter, I noticed mouthpiece dealers starting to advertise that their particular mouthpiece was “Legere Friendly” By this time I had tried every reed they made, and while I was given several initially, I purchased hundreds of dollars worth . My attempt was to get six or eight which played the same. For a while it was Quebec cut #3, or 3.5, then it was back to ordinary Legere, 3.5. Once for a rehearsal for a concert, I purchased one 2.5 reed from Twigg Music in Montreal and used it for a rehearsal, which was on the A clarinet, this particular A (and most) having had a bit more resistance than the Bb.
I had no time to warm up because I had driven 100 miles to get to the rehearsal, so I played it, and it worked fine.( in an emergency, a synthetic in the case can help. But then, back to trying to get several that were duplicates of one another, just like I did with cane for seemingly forever. I just couldn’t do it, and gave up on Legere forever, especially since cane reeds from South America were proving to me to be much more consistent than the cane from France or Spain.
My frustration, not yet formulated was that synthetics were proving more vexing than cane. And I thought, what is the use of trying plastic when it was and is simply not consistent, which became my big question. My solution was in South American cane, highly available, not too costly which proved quite accurate. Specifically, I used Zonda Classic, finding quite a few in each box that played with little fixing, and most importantly, seemed to last longer. So, that was that, and it would still be if a friend hadn’t called me and told me he would send me a reed.(It was Forestone) Would I comment on it? I said that I would. It was too resistant for me. He told me that the company was working on the principle that most clarinetists prefer a hard #3 or harder. That may be the case, but not me. I have always played a #3, never more resistant. The friend mentioned that they were working on less resistance for players like myself. Time passed, and I received a couple of #3s, and perhaps 1 #3.5.
All of the #3s played, but not with consistency,  My wife, who has been listening to me play for 45 years was surprised that I was able to pick up the horn, and without my endless reed picking and warmups, play immediately, and to my standard.
It was at that time that I began to develop exactly what a clarinetists should expect from a synthetic reed.
It should be as good or better than any cane reed.
It should remain consistent through its playing life. (though the duration is not endless, the reed begins to lose its sparkle somewhere into the 5nd or 6th week.)
The reed should remain consistent from day to day, staying on the mouthpiece, (if that is your wish)

These should be the rules for any synthetic reed because if they are not, then cane will suffice. What is really of importance here is the first statement: that a synthetic reed should play as well as any cane reed. If one has not this experience of knowing which cane reeds play, then how does one discern the quality of the synthetic?

One doesn’t.

For instance , if I pick up six reeds of cane, each will play slightly differently   If a synthetic cannot be inconsistent in that manner, then,why play it?

That really is my story up to the current moment and my reason for my current preference. They play not quite  the same, each #3 that I have, and they are gradually erasing almost 60 years of scraping before the goddess of donax.

So, these are my findings and my reasons for attempting to define the qualities that a synthetic reed must have. Legere plays, but not consistently, and never did. The Signatures are much better and blow more freely, but still somewhat inconsisently.I have found that my ideal choice of strength for the Signature is 2.75. I hope that I have answered your many questions.

Forestone consistency, though not perfect is better than any synthetic I have tried, except for Signature, 2.75……but,I digress.

Stay well, and keep playing,and smiling.

best regards, sherman


The “Balanced Tone” Selmer

November 14, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland

Thanks for reading this,

I recently inherited a Selmer Paris BT clarinet serial L7206 manufactured in 1936. It is currently being polished and the instrument repairman commented that it was in excellent shape.

I was curious about its value as I have no IDEA. The band rental shop said it was quite valuable so I thought I’d ask around to the experts what to ask for it.

Thanks for your consideration.
RT

Dear RT:
Thank you for your inquiry concerning the Selmer Paris BT or Balanced Tone clarinet made between 1935 and 1939. I have never owned one of these but have read considerable commentary on its playing characteristic, which generally be qualified as being quite free. The bore was a bit wider than the Centered Tone,with slightly different key work and without undercut tone holes. It was probably quite a good instruments, as all Selmer Paris instruments seem to be, key work and intonation being more amenable than other French brands.

Anthony Gigliotti attests to this saying, “The first time I went to the Buffet factory in France was in 1953 and I remember trying 55 Bb clarinets. After selecting the two best ones I then spent countless hours with Hans Moennig tuning and voicing them until I could finally try them in the orchestra. My reason for becoming involved with the Selmer Company was to make it possible for a student or professional to buy an instrument that didn’t need all that work and it has resulted in the series 10G which was based on my Moennigized Buffet which I played for 27 years.” This of course, explains his changing to a Selmer 10G clarinet.

Determining worth of a vintage clarinet is always interesting and highly subjective. The first consideration is the wood and its condition, cracks, scratches and other deterioration. Then of course, are the keys, and finally the pads, corks and springs, all of which can be replaced, the keys being the most difficult. If any keys are pitted, which is caused by wear, they should be replaced, the cost of which can be prohibitive. So,if your BT has this problem, you’ll know what to do. If not, and the wood is in good condition, and the keys are excellent as your repairperson says, you are in very good shape

Still, it is highly subjective. The best place to determine what it may be worth in the market of vintage clarinets is in the auctions sites. You’ll be able to match your instrument against other such models, and be able to get a reasonable idea of price, or what to charge, if you’re selling it.

Good luck with it.

best regards, Sherman


A question of practice

November 10, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I am 67 yrs old, and beginning to play again after a 20+ year layoff. I played in jazz groups (saxophone) and concert bands (clarinet) locally for many years prior to that. I now have the time to do some practicing again, and am having a great time getting back into it again…partially through your encouragement to elderly players from your web page.

My question is quite simple. What do you recommend on doing on days when the practice session is not going particularly well. For example…I had a great session yesterday when I felt I had made significant progress on some difficult (for me) passages. I was therefore very anxious to get in another session today…only to discover that I couldn’t even begin to get back into the groove I had established yesterday. When this happens, do you recommend just keeping at it…or would it be better to just put the horn away and try again tomorrow?

Regards,

RD

P.S.–I am playing vintage horns. Selmer Centered Tone clarinet (1954), and a Conn 6m Alto Saxophone (1942)…and love them both.

Dear RD:

Thank you for your note and question concerning practicing.
There are many answers to the question of practice. Certainly one of them can be classified as “getting in a groove”, as much as “a session not going particularly well.” It all depends upon what you set out to do during a practice session, which is I think, perhaps a problem for anyone who practices. What does anyone set out to do when practicing? For myself, it has always varied. At present, it is in keeping “in shape”, so-to-speak with all elements of playing. At other times it was preparing for a performance. These are two different modes for me. In preparing music to perform, I always go over the complete piece, even counting rests to determine where the difficult passages are or will be. When I find one, I put it in brackets, go through the entire piece determining difficulties and bracketing them , for individual practice. This, through the whole piece or concert, counting all rests and breaks ,trying to determine what the state of my mind and my “chops”will be, comes the actual performance, which is always a bit different. Ordinarily, I will not leave anything to chance, mostly because actual chance cannot be determined in practice, but frequently comes out only in the stress of performance. In that area, I have been always as sure as practice will make me.

In another context, I will practice to select reeds, or to work on specific aspects of sound and dynamics. But it is always an excellent idea to determine what it is that the practice is all about. I seldom ever practice without specific reason, or passages, or the various playing problems.
If endurance is a problem, I practice for that: to determine exactly where the breath should be to make the most sense out of the phrase. Sometimes it is necessary to practice a specific attack on a note, or the amount of crescendo or diminuendo you will make, or most practicularly, the movement of fingers or the hands in a certain passage presenting difficulties.

I guess I might sum all of this up by saying that practice is, always making specifics better, improving. It also has a lot to do with how we judge ourselves, and in the final analyses, how we improve.
I hope this has been of some help to you, and wish you well in your continuing sessions.

best wishes,
Sherman


The Orpheo 450, economical package

November 9, 2009

For clarinetists, parents, their children : This is a free blowing , good playing clarinet that comes with two barrels, a mouthpiece, a ligature and a reed, in a good strong case. It is made of hard rubber and it is built well. The tuning is sufficient for any kind of playing within reason.  It plays and tunes better than the Greenline and many others. It does not tune as well as the Ridenours Lyrique ;that intonation is the best in the industry.

Last , but important for many is the price I paid: 135.00 US, no shipping charges. All things considered, for the money, it is the bargain of bargains. For students, doublers, guys who play outside, military bandsmen, etc, this is a terrific horn.

This article was written during the past winter. The price now seems to have risen to 159.00.(April 2010)

For the past several months I had been hearing about this name, specifically with regard to a bass clarinet going to low C for a price around $1500, which is, as all know, an extraordinarily low price. I did receive a note from an acquaintance concerning this instrument, and that he was going to buy one. I’ve never heard since except that he had found a use for it in some ensemble. As time as gone by, I have been hearing about more clarinets of this name.What attracted me initially was the statement in their ad that it has silver plated keys, which is impossible. I wrote them concerning the combination of rubber and silver producing sulphuric acid and they have now made their ad “under construction”.

Finally, I ordered one and received it this week.
This clarinet is made of hard rubber, comes with two barrels of different lengths.(The longer barrel produces a low throat Bb,.) mouthpiece, a ligature, a tube of cork grease and a reed.
It looks similar to my Ridenour Lyrique Bb clarinets.

Reading about it, there is a striking resemblance to the kind of thing which is written describing the seamlessness of the Ridenour clarinet, it imperviousness to climate change and of course, the fact that the material doesn’t grow from trees, it oozes from them.
The package I receives looked good, perhaps even very good. In some ways, there is a similarity with the Lyrique. But clarinets all look alike, don’t they.

The only thing in common is the material, ebonite, (hard rubber) and the similarity in shape and look. It plays easily and evenly.
The the chalumeau is  well in tune. The clarion is somewhat uneven and the altissima, starting with high C begins to sound rather sharp in varying degrees. This was all tested with three excellent mouthpieces, and an electronic tuner.
I have and play the original, the Ridenour Lyrique, and also his A clarinet. Ridenours are the best instruments for intonation in the industry.

The horn looks good, the keys work and she blows well , however compared to Tom Ridenours Lyrique clarinet and in fact, the 447, and the Arioso, the Orpheo 450, it is not as good. Finally, the clarinet is listed at about the same as the Lyrique; the comparison ends there , but not a bad instrument at all, and they offer a good year or two guaranty.

I paid 135.00. That’s free, comparatively.

Stay well, and keep practicing,

sherman


A Selmer “Centered Tone”, rediscovered

November 1, 2009

Dear Mr. Friedland:
I have a Selmer Centered Tone clarinet I got when I was about 10, probably around 1956 or so but not played for many years. Picking it up today it seemed to have a number of squeaks which I assume result from loose/leaking pads. Also, the ring on the bell has not been tight for perhaps 40 years. How do I tighten the bell? Can I put it back in playing shape with the kits that are sold for re-padding and lubricating? Is it reasonable to take it apart carefully for cleaning? It has a metal ring at one of the joints but is otherwise wood.

Is it possible to produce a shorter barrel joint so that it will actually play in C, so I can play with my son who plays the flute, without having to transpose?

When I was in high school another student had a clarinet which supposedly had fingering the made the break easier to cross but I can find no info on that system. I think it was a buffet clarinet. Are those better than the Selmer? I have no idea what the quality of my instrument is/was but I think it might have cost around 600 or so back then … is there a way to find out?
Thanks – J W,

Dear JW:
Thank you for your note concerning your “Centered Tone” clarinet. This was at the time, the best Selmer Clarinet; in fact I owned a set (Bb and A) for many years. To determine its value now would be fairly easy, since it is in demand and considered a clarinet good for playing Jazz because it has a slightly larger bore. Its reputation is excellent. To determine what it may be worth, look at an auction site that sells musical instruments and simply compare prices.
Of course the condition is crucial for these 50 year old clarinets.

I would suggest that you have it overhauled by a competent repair person. The pre-packaged kits are not something I would recommend at all.
The keys have to be stripped and the clarinet soaked in oil. All springs and pads and corks should be replaced and any cracks repaired. There should be competent technicians in the Boulder area. They will also tighten the ring for you, which takes a special tool. Replacing the pads is a precise job and requires someone who knows what they are doing, preferably with experience to which you can refer. There are many people who advertise, and when the horn is returned, all looks well, but it will have all kinds of small problems, which will not seem small at all.

It will cost you several hundred dollars, but for the clarinet you mention, it is well worth the price. But do get a reference.

As far as playing in C is concerned there is no barrel that is short enough, for it would take several in use at the same time to get your Bb to play in C and it cannot work. You are best advised to buy a C clarinet, as they are not terribly costly and you are ready to go with the same mouthpiece you use on the Bb.. Transposing to clarinet in C is something which is not difficult to do. For starters. if the key signature is in flats, take away two of them, and in sharps, add two. After that you simply play everything up one step, observing your new key signature and you will be fine.
Most clarinet students learn to prepare their lesson in both the key written and in the key of C, and in fact, sometimes other keys as well. Now, I am not advocating that, but if you can purchase a C clarinet, you will like it as it is fun to play, or you can learn to transpose.

As far as “the break” is concerned, that is basically a misconception, however there was a clarinet which made negotiating between registers much easier. I t was a Selmer clarinet designed by Rosario Mazzeo. There are still many of these for sale, but they must be adjusted carefully.

Finally, as to the squeaks you seem to be experiencing, they may be loose pads, or perhaps something closer to home.

Kind regards,
Sherman Friedland