THE (hidden) AGENDA

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.



4 Responses to THE (hidden) AGENDA

  1. danop says:

    Sherman, you’re the best! I loved your story about “Baton Twirling and Drum Majoring.” You speak your mind and tell it as it is, even it challenges ideas that everyone “knows” are true. This article was a little different from many that you’ve written, but you had me hooked from beginning to end. Please keep them coming!

    As far as local music stores are concerned, I’ve noticed a lot of changes over the last 30 years. I live in the metropolitan area of a major U.S. city, and it used to be possible to shop around for “advanced” instruments. Once a student outgrew a basic student model horn, it was easy to find a more “advanced” instrument locally. Not any more.
    At first it was the large mail order outfits–with their lower overhead–that hurt the local businesses. Now its places like the large one in Indiana. Local music stores can’t match the prices of the big-box dealers with their big web sites. Some have gone out of business, and others have simply stopped selling the “advanced” instruments altogether.

    A store owner I knew very well once complained bitterly to me about these big outfits. He complained that there was no way that these mega businesses could provide the customer service that the local stores could provide. Yes, he was right, but I think most customers will decide to buy Horn A for $1,995 from a mega store in a distant city rather than pay $2,500 from a local business.

    To survive, many of the local music dealers specialize in basic student instruments (and the rental contracts that go along with them). They sell reeds, mouthpieces, basic method books, etc. Some provide music lessons. That’s how they make it. A few have a small number of “advanced” instruments, but the selection is limited.

    I know someone who owns a music store. He specializes in student instruments and rentals, and he stocks a few more “advanced” instruments. I once asked him why his selection of these instruments is so limited. He told me that if he wants to sell one of them, he has to purchase it. He has no way to return it if it doesn’t sell. If he deeply discounts, he loses money. The biggest reason though is simple: even though his store is in a middle-income area, he has very few customers who request these instruments.

    Perhaps the situation is different in New York, Montreal, or other large cities. From what I’ve observed, though, many (or most?) “professional” instruments sold today are purchased through a handful of specialty dealers located around the country, such as the ones in Las Vegas, South Bend, and New York. It would be nice to go into a music store and try out a number of instruments from a number of manufacturers, but this is almost impossible in many places today.

    When you mentioned wood and the price of clarinets today, I thought about a question I’ve asked many people: What makes a “cheaper” wood clarinet different from a more expensive wood clarinet from the same manufacturer? I’ve never received a good answer to this question. I once asked a Buffet rep this question, and I didn’t get much of an answer. I suspect that much of it has to do with the quality of the wood. I know that premium wood is becoming difficult to obtain, and I’m guessing that the cheaper wood instruments are made with lower-grade wood. From things I’ve read and heard (and I admit that I could be wrong), I’m guessing that manufacturers use wood filler and black stain to cover up imperfections in clarinets made from inferior wood.

    You’ve mentioned that the future of reeds could very well be synthetic ones. I think the same thing could be true with clarinets. I give LeBlanc a lot of credit for introducing the three versions of the Bliss. It seems to be a quality instrument at a very affordable price. I haven’t tried one, but I’m hoping to do it soon. Have you tried one yet? I don’t know if you’ve seen this YouTube clip of Eddie Daniels playing one, but he seems to like it.

  2. Hello and thank you for your reply. It is deeply appreciated. The only way I can respond is with my own experience teaching at a BME school, that is, a place where kids go to become teachers. These students mostly played Buffet top line, or expensive instruments, not worth the price especially the Buffet of the last few years. All the Buffets had problems, some big ones, including barrels totally frozen to the first joint, and a lot of accidents involving the plastic dowels on the little finger keys, to not even get close to tuning.
    That has been my experience. The exquisite irony here is that very few if any, will end up in any kind of playing situation. The best horn there was an OPUS sold to a student by one of the teachers at the school because he got spooked because it was not a Buffet. She paid a thousand and it is a lovely lovely horn. Did she know it? NO.Neither did the teacher, who was not a full-time and was berated by the clarinet chair for buying it. We are talking big-time subterfuge here. But, I would believe that the seller really was unable to tell himself. This is self-subterfuge. Yes, I told the young lady that she had the best clarinet in the clarinet student body, and of course, she was dubious.Concerning the Daniels clip, listen again. He doesn’t like it. He’s not pleased with the sound, and the low register is telling his ear something he’s not terribly pleased with, and finally, the high c to the d is either adjusted poorly or simply not in timbral sync with the rest. What is supposed to be a plug is not
    Stay well.
    best, sherm

  3. danop says:

    Sherman, thanks for your reply. You have a unique perspective from your teaching experience at the university level. Again, you have told it like it is!

    In the video, was Eddie Daniels just trying to be polite? Perhaps, but it’s a little hard to tell. He makes comments like, “It’s a good clarinet,” and “It’s a different kind of sound–maybe not the depth of overtones the other one has, maybe, but I can play it . . . and I’m going to buy it.” Perhaps (if he was honest about buying it), he was thinking of it as a backup instrument or as a clarinet for outdoor performances.

    Daniels tried the model with the composite body. It would be interesting to hear him play on the all-wood version and see if there’s any difference in the sound. Leblanc claims in their web site that the “proprietary material used for the Bliss clarinet body represents the pinnacle of modern composite technology . . .” It will be interesting to see if this material represents the future of clarinet making, or if it will be remembered in the future as a nice try, but nothing more.

    I’ve played on a 70s era R13 for many years, and I have no personal experience with Leblancs. When I get the opportunity to try a Bliss (it’s the all-wood model), and I’ll be happy to share my observations with you.

  4. The only choice in Leblanc clarinet is any of the clarinets still made in France, and most specifically the Opus and Concerto models, which set the standard for tuning and response within the industry. These clarinets were designed by Tom Ridenour, who left Kensoha to get back to Texas and is still designing instruments, as you know. He is currently producing the best clarinet in the industry, as far as material, tuning, resonance,intervalic relationships and price.
    I don’t play Bass any longer and am speaking about his Lyrique Bb and A clarinet.The Bb is almost perfect, but the A may be the best A clarinet,no matter where you are. I’ve written about it before, but want to end this discourse with the main reason I started it. Not since Hans Moenig has there been anyone who knew more about the clarinet.

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