THE (hidden) AGENDA

February 27, 2010

In this world many many people have an “agenda” An agenda of course, is not just a list of things to be discussed,perhaps at a faculty meting in a university, or even at a gathering of the family. We hear frequently of an “agenda” of course, in Washington ,DC within the halls of Congress, where it is most directly used. The meaning of the word “Agenda” changes from the list mentioned before. It becomes a reason for stating an idea which is really not what the congressman is saying. What he means, he doesn’t say. He says something else.
Mostly the congressman is talking about his main reason for being in Congress: staying there. He will say working for his constituents, but he (or she) will do it in such a way as to divert the direct meaning from keeping him(or her) in his seat(in Congress), but to helping some poor person within his constituency. And yes, the line does get blurred, but that’s the point.
John McCain, the former presidential candidate, is now in the fight of his life in Arizona, his home state. But he has a war chest built of some 5 million dollars and he will use that money to try to keep his seat. Actually, McCain, a very bright but cranky senator , who was all over the place in his campaign, most probably is a victim, a serious victim of PTSD, which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a illness suffered by many who have been in war, but even worse, been held prisoner in war, as McCain was. His most famous comment during his campaign was “the American Economy is fundamentally sound”, a couple of weeks before the American economy tanked, almost bringing down the world economy.
Elliott Spitzer, former governor of New York had an agenda: appearing squeaky clean while in his office in Albany, but cavorting with prostitutes as his main occupation. We also know that Governor Mark Sanford of North Carolina had a hidden agends: it was a mistress in South America. He left his job, stating he was going to hike the trails of Appalachia while traveling to Argentina to see his love. Prior to this, he famously turned down the stimulus money provided for his miserably underemployed state, and by ordering his staff to use both sides of a “post-it” note. )It is not known whether he allowed them to write on the glue of the “post-it”) Agendas as such, go on and on, and in the political world it seems to have become the main reason for being in DC, and the “doublespeak” has become the overiding reason for the inability of congress to do anything.

Back to Music

I am a musician and I have been one for more than 60 years. In my youth I went to college in Texas and actually majored in Music Education for a while.(but then, I too had an agenda: I wanted to get away from home, and was able to get a full scholarship to do it.)
One of the courses I took was “Baton Twirlng and Drum Majoring”, a course in which I actually did a routine with two batons in order to pass the course. But the real reason for this course was to explain to potential band directors, the ins and outs of running a high school band in a small town in Texas. There were all kinds of variations taught on how to steer students toward various stores to buy instruments. Buying a particular instrument which would provide the dealer more of a profit than another instrument was one of the most important issues because the more students steered toward a certain instrument, good, bad, or terrible, the better the gift to the band director would be, which could be almost anything in the store, frequently stoves or dishwashers , or even hard, cold cash. Believe it, and please trust me. It is true.

This unmusical agenda having to do with products made in the music industry is in full force today.
Clarifying it is one of the reasons I write these articles. Yes, it is my opinion, but  , an informed opinion.

Getting down to the Clarinet, we are surrounded by all kinds of agendas having to do with the selling of musical instruments, specifically in this case, the clarinet. Advancing the sale of clarinets is done by advertising of course, but very frequently the most money in advertising is spent on the most expensive clarinet. Why? Because the profit is more, pure and simple.

Things like musical integrity are always tossed out of the window. The Agenda is profit. It is not good music, good tuning, good sound; it is profit.
It extends to all areas of the clarinet and one has to be quite careful in purchasing a clarinet. They can cost up to 5 or 6 thousand dollars, which is a lot of money for young clarinetist to pay, or better yet, for the parents of a young student to pay.

What happens when a great designer of clarinets, one with many great insturments he designed to his international credit, decides to go into his own instrument business and because of his expertise, designs an instrument which he is able to sell for a 5th of the price of the five or six thousand dollars?

And made from a a stable material, which is easier to machine, and that has a pleasant sound. There are many many clarinetists who are grateful for the appearance of an affordable clarinet, and many more who play this clarinet and who find it preferable to a wooden instrument, prone to weather changes and to cracking. I have a set of these clarinets and play them for the reasons of beauty and of music.

But I am proud to recommend them because of my knowledge of the business, of what happens in a college where chlldren are playing their expensive wooden instruments, (bought by their parents), for hours and hours in band rehearsals, cracking them and having them bound together by the extreme changes in temperature and the fact that the wood is not properly aged or even machined.

Most of us know that there is another instrument out there, one that exceeds all wooden clarinets in material alone. The sound of hard rubber , while different, is preferable to many people. or indiscernible between that of wood.

It does create a problem for the whole clarinet manufacturing industry. You have to acquire it through a single individual meaning what? Where does the money go? To the designer of course, after he pays his expenses for manufacturing his design. It doesn’t go to the music store, so they are almost always willing to steer students toward what they themselves sell, the ones that  cost five grand and provide the most profit.

It has almost become a mantra for me, trying to point students and their parents toward buying clarinets at a fifth of the price of the costly French grenadilla clarinets. It is not advertising, it is telling the truth as I have come to know it.

The kind of prejudice outlined above goes throughout the industry and into the repair of clarinets as well.
Just think, if a person brings a clarinet for repair which cost them initially a thousand dollars, how in the world can a repair person charge what they do for a horn that cost 5 thousand? They can’t.

This frustrates them, so understandably, they will denigrate the horn which is less expensive. This has happened to me, and I am one of the better known clarinetists in Montreal, if not elsewhere as well.

This is what I’m hearing about lately, the same old agenda song.

Stay well and keep practicing.

This is written for you and for TR.

Sherman

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Klezmer Equipment. Is it special?

February 27, 2010

Dear Sherman ,
I’m David from Florence , Italy .
I’m 37 years old and I play clarinet since only two years .
I have a Buffet B12 , a Vandoren B45 Mouthpiece and I usually play with 2 1/2 reeds .
I’m a lover of Klezmer Music ( especially Giora Feidman ) and since a few months I began to
“experiment” with this kind of music .
I’m thinking on buying new stuff , but I’m a bit confused …
Which kind of  mouthpiece / reed do you think should I use for klezmer ?
I know Feidman plays with the Pomarico equivalent of the M13 and a 1 reed , but probably he can play with any kind of stuff …
My teacher told me that maybe it’s time to buy a better clarinet …
On ebay I found various Leblanc L7 , Selmer CT ( which I think are among your favorites )
for a very reasonable price ( around 400 / 500 € ) , but the local repairman told me
that they are usually not much in tune , and maybe a Buffet
would be better ( E11 are sold on ebay for almost the same amount , 350/400 € , a wooden Yamaha around 300 ) , and
that it’s not a good idea to buy a clarinet without trying it first ( which makes sense to me … )
For the mouthpieces … Pomarico ( crystal or ebony ) as they are made here in
Italy , are not much more expensive than imported ebonite ones ( 100€ vs 80€ ) .
Could they be an alternative ?
Hope I made few mistakes with my english 🙂
Thanks for your time and your great blog
Ciao
David

Dear David:
Thank you very much for your letter concerned with equipment, especially that which would favor playing Klezmer Music.
First, I would suggest that you emulate Giora Feidman, who himself is a great classical clarinetist, having played in the Israel Philharmonic. But , while Pomerico mouthpieces are made in Italy, they are quite dissimilar, one from the other, so if you have a teacher, it would be a good idea to have him pick the mouthpiece for you. But keep in mind that the M13 is an excellent mouthpiece and that they are much more consistent than are Pomarico these days, probably less expensive as well. M13 is the Van Doren representation of the Chedeville mouthpiece.
I feel that both the Leblanc L7 and the Selmer CT are much better in tune than is any Buffet, except if you buy a clarinet picked at the factory in Paris and by a professional player. They have less quality control than do Selmer or Leblanc. I have found Leblanc to be an extremely well built instrument and consistently in tune, (those made in France, not the US). Yamaha is also better tuned than is Buffet. I would suggest being extremely careful in buying any E11, B12, or actually any Buffet, especially through Ebay. Again, I would suggest that your teacher help you choose. If he or she is a player, they frequently have access to used instruments and in that way, perhaps you will be guided and be able to try the instrument you are buying. I would further suggest that you do not buy any clarinet from an auction.
Finally, I would strongly suggest that the music you make and/or admire starts first in your head and then your technic and embouchure.
You will play what your head and all you have learned in any style you choose. There are really no instruments, reeds or mouthpieces that are better for Klezmer, Jazz, Classical.

Good luck n your clarinet playing and in your search for equipment. In cane reeds, I prefer Zonda, in synthetic, Forestone, if you get them in Italy. They are probably terribly expensive, so stick to cane, that from South America being very good these days.

Stay well, Sherman


The Bb/Eb,side key problem

February 26, 2010

Dear Sherman

Apologies if this is a simple question with an obvious answer. I have problems with frequent ‘bubbles’ in the d sharp/e flat pad (i.e. lowest right hand side key). I spend far too much time with cigarette papers and blowing into this pad, only for the bubble to return soon after. Is this only avoidable by drying my mouth more effectively before playing? I don’t think I’m a very wet player! I play an R13, though suspect this is extraneous information.

Many thanks.

Peter

Dear P:
The question is simple, but the answer may help you and many others who may have the same problem, especially with this particular side key. It has nothing to do with drying your mouth and little to do with your mouth as such, but your breath.
The water,the bubbling, is caused by the condensation within the clarinet as your breath passes through the clarinet.
There are several very good fixes for this other then using papers and such to absorb the gathering of the “water”, however the best is to have a cork pad installed in that side key. I have them in all the keys in the upper joint of my clarinet. That is the same material you have in your register key, which is installed there at the factory .
Funny thing is that once the condensation is noticed, it reappears even after you absorb it with papers. More properly, first, absorb , then swab out the clarinet, and even open the key and look inside, for there may be a few drops still lurking. awaiting more hot breath to usher them into your eb key. And, one more thing: Open the side key and tilt the clarinet to the side and give it a couple of bumps on your leg, which will also assure you. (This is something that takes much longer to explain than to do.)
There is one extreme action: put a little dab of vaseline on the inside of your clarinet just above the tone hole which may serve to divert any stream of condensation. But a cork pad is the best solution, though not a lifetime warranty.

One other point which may be of service

G: When you put your clarinet away, always make sure you swab it first ad then leav a cigarette paper in the pad that has been leaking, which will absorb any spot of moisture that has gathered there. And one caution: Do not use those long brush which one is supposed to leave inside the bor i order to mop moisture. They are as good for helping moisture to accumulate  as well as perhaps absorbing it. Good luck and keep practicing.

stay well,

sherman


“Jazz Mouthpiece”, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Eddie Daniels, and don’t buy a Contra Bass Clarinet !

February 24, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland

What should we look for to play jazz on the clarinet, where bending the pitch (e.g., rhapsody in blue), maybe vibrato, etc., are important, different from – I assume – classical? An open mouthpiece with a lot of clearance, and a soft reed, or a closed one with a reed that is softer than a classical reed but still firm enough not to close up completely? A crystal or metal mouthpiece?
Second, I’m thinking of getting a tenor sax to be able to play much lower than clarinets, without the expense of e.g., a extended bass or contrabass clarinet, which cost thousands. But I would like a C non-transposing instrument because I want to be able to play at score pitch. (That’s why I bought a lyrique C to go with my selmer centered tone B flat.) I want to play music, not the sax, as it were. The only company I’ve found that makes these at a reasonable cost is called aquilasax in Australia. Any idea if they are any good? Of course, they say they are, but . . . Sometimes these are called “melody C” saxes, I think. Or maybe you can find a decent contrabass clarinet on e bay for much less. Ridenour has one he’d let go for 2300 but even that seems like a lot (for me, not for the instrument). I’d like to come in under $1500 and the aquilasaxes are maybe $600 to $800.

Comment: I think you have felt unfavorably towards La Voz reeds . . . my experience has been quite different, finding them excellent. In fact my lyrique C came from ridenour with a LaVoz that is the best reed I have except perhaps for my forestones. Very free blowing, responsive in all registers. Of course the others I have are from the 1960s, not played on in the meantime, so you could called them “properly aged”. But if Ridenour uses them, they could not be too bad – especially if they are included when he’s sending you an instrument to evaluate. I also find the Rico thick blank great as long as you use Ridenour’s Against the Grain finishing technique to get them to play at all – then they play great.
Thanks. I checked the forums for these questions before asking and did not see anything.
J W

Dear JW: Thank you for your interesting commentary, questions and possible solutions.

First, I do not think that any particular mouthpiece will facilitate the playing of Jazz an more than any other.So much of the mouthpiece is dependant on the sound you have in your head, and how you want to play. Lots of folk say the Van Doren  JB  is liked, and yes, some like crystal, but there is no favorite.When I asked Benny what he played, he had to look at the mouthpiece which had no name.Daniel Bonade espoused medium mouthpieces for all of his students, nothing extreme at all.
“Bending notes”, as you say is not a salient feature of any Jazz style or actually of any particular period in the history of music. Rhapsody in Blue is not really a Jazz piece, simply a reflection of the popular cultural ferment of the time and only some of its features. The glissando at the beginning of the work was more of a way of interpretation of the glissando, played by (I believe) Ross Gorman, a member of the Paul Whitman Band.
Some of us call it the worlds longest agogic accent, which is the accent by delay, the delay being the extension of the gliss, but certainly not cemented to Jazz.
The playing of Benny Goodman or of Artie Shaw was not particularly festooned with bending notes, though both used it.
Benny Goodman was a trained classical clarinet player and the “licks” he developed, the characteristic “Bennyisms” were not particularly bent notes. Artie Shaw was completely self taught and in some ways a more interesting and imaginative player than was Benny Goodman. Eddie Daniels, who carries their banner these days is just a superb player, playing all styles with equal excellence and excellent saxophone.

As far as vibrato is concerned, in my younger years, I played with vibrato almost all of the time, mostly because of the playing of Reginald Kell,with whom I was terribly impressed . I still use it from time to time, and I play no Jazz, at least not for many years.

Speaking reeds, the Rico, La Voz, Rj Maier, Mitchell Lurie are not considered reeds which have enough heart, while reeds such as FOF Zonda, Rico Reserve, Rico Thick blank are more conducive. I like the cane from Argentina and find it better than any Van Doren, but of course, I have used many Van Doren, but played for a while the White Master, a German cut Vandoren, the cane excellent.

As far as a contrabass clarinet, forget about it.About saxophones made in Australia, they are actually companied in New Zealand and made in China. I have never played one, but clarinets made in the Orient are needlessly disparaged, for some play quite well. I would expect the same for Saxophones.

The C melody Saxophone saxophone was around for a long time and I’m sure you can find something used for little money. transposing Bb parts to C is a very simple transposition, something that was part of our education, and as I’ve frequently mentioned, I learned to transpose my lessons to several different keys.

There were always those who played saxophone and who tansposed by Clef, changing from Bb, to Eb, to C, by changing the clef. It may sound difficult, it is not, just a matter of familiarity.

LaVoz reeds are OK; certainly I played them for a while, as well as RJ Maier, as well as Rico, with all their various manifestations. They do not have the heart which is needed in order to play consistently in the upper registers of the clarinet, but many use them. You mention Forestone reeds, of which I have great respect. They need to make their product more available., and naturally the prices are quite high, especially if you get the wrong strength.
Tom Ridenour has done much for the clarinet and even more for the clarinetist and the students of the clarinet. His ATG method is the same for me as all of the things I have picked up after playing the clarinet for 60 years. He has got it all catalogued and arranged and it works. I hope I’ve answered your questions.
Keep practicing, and look for that C melody. Get it inexpensively, have it overhauled and you will be quite happy.
Sherman


Comment from readers on Forestone

February 21, 2010

So, I ordered three of the Forestone reeds that I had read so much about on your website, and I must say, I am very disappointed. I purchased sizes 3, 3.5, and 4. All of them play very poorly for me, buzzing badly and needing too much pressure to control. I find a cane reed, even one that isn’t exceptionally good, to be a far better choice of a reed. I mean, there is no comparison between the sound of a real reed to that of a synthetic. This is just my personal experience. I mean, maybe I am doing something wrong with them, but I really did not like them. Thanks for your time!

J

Hello J:
thank you for your note concerning Forestone reeds. From what I can figure out, you do not have the correct strength, which may be the most difficult problem with them, and that being the case, they will not respond for you.
I don’t know because I do not know you except for your note.
The problem with these synthetics is that they are costly enough, so the wrong strength makes it more costly, and that can easily turn into a giant frustration.
I understand your situation and feel that the company needs to make more reeds available for trying or that they should adopt a similar policy to other synthetics wherein reeds which do not respond can be returned for another.
Finally, my website is totally my own , my thoughts are my own and I do not mean in any way to advertise anything. These have been my experiences with whatever product I happen to be writing about.best regards, sherman

Hello again: I did receive a note from the above stating he meant no affront to me, wwhich I understand. And it must be interesting to hear me speak about simply finding these reeds wonderful, and then agreeing that that there is work to be done. Several of the posts I wrote extolling the virtues of these have been deleted because of what I have found from readers.

But yet again, my Forestone served me well after my visit to the emergency, very well. In conclusion, they do need to change their approach to their drive for customers, no question.

Stay well, and whatever you do, keep practicing.

S


The best Selmer clarinet?

February 3, 2010

Hi Sherman

It is me again The Swede.
I have a couple of questions that you may consider.

1.Is the Selmer Series 9 “the Selmer”

2.What is your experience or opinion of the Conns from the 50´s and 60´s. I have seen 2 for sale,one is model 78 (built in 1967)and the other is NNN something from the 50´s. Somebody said that they were the “poor man´s Selmer 9.

3.I have this 10/10 that is fully restorated. I have not yet the correct mouthpiece but when I blow it ,it reasponds very well with a very nice tone in the low register.However I can´t get it to work with my right hand fingers (after the break) Maybe if I play very slowly.I wonder How can this be???

Sincerely

L K

Dear LK:
By “The Selmer, I take your meaning as THE selmer, the best, the classic. If I’m correct, I would answer NO, it is not the classic Selmer, the best or even second best. The best Selmer in my experience was the Centered Tone Selmer. This CT clarinet was a large scale production and was among the clarinets I played professionally, though I’ve tried many. It had a larger bore than the selmers of today, but not larger in the sense of being unable to control. Iused it to play in a professional symphony orchestra with great success. Currently and since the appearance of the Series 9, their bores are smaller, and I’m curently playing on a Selmer 10S, which was an improvement on the 10, which was a tuneful and pleasant instrument, though limited in its ability to play the long line with a good bit of color. The 10S had that ability, which probably means little. It was agood horn, though I found it to be small in sound and the 10S is capable of more breadth.

I have little to no experience with Conn clarinets, but I do know that the period of time to which you pertain was a good successful time for Conn and the clarinets were probably no exception. The Conn clarinet can be called anything. For specificity you would have to try the individual clarinet. Names can be called for anything, the”poor mans selmer 9” is nonsensical, meaningless, though pleasant sounding.

Te B and H 10/10 has an excellent reputation in the UK, but little here in the US. The main reason for this was the bore necessitated a special mouthpiece, with a matching larger bore for the clarinet. As I recall, the mouthpiece which matched that horn was a 923 or 926 B and H. At the point of buying a special mouthpiece, I lost interest.

As far as your not being able to play in the second register, that is a problem having to do with either your finger placement,or the clarinet being out of adjustment.

Good luck, and keep practicing.
sincerely, Sherman


Clarinets, Legends in the making.

February 2, 2010

Dear Mr Friedland:
My colleague in the orchestra in which we play has a leblanc ll Bb
which plays nicely in tune however he has bought a buffet e13 a to go with it and the barrel is always pulled out when he plays it.He uses a vandoren B45 mouthpiece on both.To my mind the buffet is sharp which is bad as he paid quite alot of money for it
I have bought a backup Chinese hard rubber clarinet for $130 which plays like a dream. It is well made and has silver plated keys and actually feels like a buffet. Above all it plays in tune, not bad as it came from ebay
i.

Dear I:
Well, to begin with , you have your model numbers mixed . As far as i know, there is no Buffet E13 clarinet. There is the R13, but there is only an E11 clarinet. Both of those would be quite expensive, and I’m hoping that the clarinet your stand partner purchased in an E11, is much less costly.. Look, this is not a matter of opinion; these clarinets can be quite good, but they need a real retuning by a technician, who can hear and who can act on his ear, which is unfortunately , not the case in many instances. What happens is the purchaser has to have a “Buffet” , a buzzword for something which at some point in sales history was a reasonably good instrument, some even better. I’ve had good Buffet clarinets and have had good results, but these instruments were always “picked” from a group of horns, picked as the best, never just ordinarily purchased horns.
So, your partner who bought an expensive Buffet, which is not tuning well is just the average story, more and more these days.
Yes, and I know you bought a Chinese clarinet which most probably plays better and tunes much better, but it does NOT have silver plated keys, which cannot be put on a rubber instrument, (bad chemical reaction) So, don’t believe the “silver played keys” story;

The tuning is another story. Lots of them play  nicely, and very well in tune. Things begin to go a bit astray in the second and third registers, but basically they are  in tune. I bought one, actually I have accumulated 3 of them and they are all quite reasonable. I have reviewed two of them within this website. The superb Lyrique, with the best tuning in the industry and the Orpheo 450, which is the “Best Buy”.
All Van Doren mouthpieces have a slight tendency to play sharp, especially the B45, their best seller. That is a playable super ordinary mouthpiece.
To conclude this entry, please tell me “what does a Buffet feel like”? Perhaps no response is necessary. But in truth, there are now many instruments of all prices which can be played in tune and sound well.
Personally, I have been a player and performer of Selmer Clarinets for may years, and indeed was a clinician for them. They had a wonderful reputation and a great deal of integrity both as a family and a company.
While Leblanc always made a fine instrument, they were not properly managed in the US in the 50s and 60s.
When Tom Ridenour became chief designer that changed, as he was the designer of the Opus and number of their top line instruments, which are still playing beautifully. They were standard setters.
Later, after leaving Leblanc, he designed the hard rubber instrument, now called Lyrique which is gainng so much attention for its excellence.
I have and play a set of his Lyrique Clarinets now, and am quite pleased and enthusiastic.
You mention ebay in a way that is disparaging. This is not necessarily the case. One must always remember in any auction,….Caveat Emptor….., which means buyer beware, even further, be wary and look carefully .
Keep practicing,
as ever, sherman