A professional Clarinet

December 28, 2010

Dear Mr Friedland:

I am currently a high school senior soon-to-graduate. I already been pre-accepted to my colleges that I have applied to; however, I still have to undergo my auditions to be approved by the music department. I am trying to get in to the music departments as a clarinet major. However, I am greatly struck my one problem, and that is my incapability to buy a professional horn due to the financial crisis that my family is currently going through at the moment. I am required a professional horn for my auditions, which are at the beginning of January. My parents have offered to spend up to 600$, perhaps $650, for a clarinet as a Christmas gift spending, and I wanted to ask you, where I can find such clarinet. I have thoroughly searched over ebay, from R-13’s to even the Selmer 9 and 10 series and the CT and BT. However, they all seemed to be quite expensive, and I was wondering if you could give me advices or even other websites that have better deals for offer. This is a rather urgent message, because the clarinet I am currently using is a plastic student model yamaha, which I’ve been playing on for the past 7 years straight, and not only is it required for me to get a professional horn for the college auditions, but a time for me to move on. This is a important matter for me, and I was wondering if you could help me out as soon as possible. Thank you, and I greatly appreciate you reading this message.

Regards,

Michael

Dear Michael:

What is a “Professional” clarinet. When looking about for a definition of the word professional, curiously we see no reference to material things,   simply describing various and sundry types of professions in many different areas of expertise, always of a high quality, high standards of professional ethics, always owing a higher degree of expertise to ones specific profession. And this of course, includes the profession of musician.

Now we find a young man who needs to possess a professional clarinet in order to persuade a music department in a college or university that he or she be permitted to become part of this department.
We have no definition of a “professional” clarinet, but do find a number of qualities a professional must have ,or be able to acquire within a University.

There are however, ample suggestions as to what a professional clarinet might be through a clever slight of hand and mind which defines instead by name or position only, an active player, professionally employed. We use these players by determining what is their current instrument, and the definition begins a circuitous task by definng what a professionals clarinet might be. The connection is made by thinking, “here is a professional player. He or She currently plays the following brand of clarinet: could be any name, the only criterion being the fact that it is being played by a person called professional.

So within North America, we know the following brands of clarinets are known as professional clarinets, not because they may or not be perfectly in tune, have a pleasant enough response or play with ease, when managed by a professional. As we all know, they are called Buffet, or Selmer, or Yamaha, or Leblanc, less popular may be called by many names and may be called professional, but it is never in any way defined to a degree wherein a department calling itself a music department can actually  determine a professional list of clarinets.

I take great issue with the very idea that a university music department might suggest or insist that a student play a certain brand of clarinet

Many of the above named list can be individually very poorly manufactured and unacceptably out of tune.

Let us return to the music department that stipulates an entering student must have a professional clarinet.

It simply doesn’t work, meaning nothing, BUT defining very poorly a list of insruments that may be called professional.

I worked briefly with a well-known music department , one which insisted that all clarinet students play a Buffet clarinet/

The insisting came from the clarinet professor, a mediocre performer at best, with no real experience, no orchestral experience, little teaching except for high school, and a terrible attitude, both sexist and chauvinistic concerning the clarinet. Of course, this person was a “Buffet Artist”. He had written a “book” for his students, a mishmash of collections  of other peoples writings.poorly put together and printed by the university.

He was not professional, neither was his clarinet playing.

One does not have to attend a university in order to be a professional clarinetist. One must simply play more beautifully than the others at the audition. But the University can allow less than really talented clarinetists through the maze of courses, “sucking up” to various teachers having the committee sold on yor thesis even though it’s been done to death, and voila,you have the DMA, and then you can compete with the others who apply for the same position demanding mostly the terminal degree, but not really having the sense to discern between the truly gifted clarinetist and the many who are less than gifted, which any player will tell you, vastly outnumber the gifted musician.

Keep warm and well and practicing.

best regards,

sherman friedland

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Embouchure Problem: a proper approach

December 10, 2010

Dear Sherman,

Have you any reports on the possible advantage of filing the two front teeth to lessen the effects, when playing the clarinet, of biting on the lip and mp? I have had it done, mainly to shorten the teeth which were too long for proper chewing, but I also noticed they were then much smoother on the biting edge, and thus less likely to cause discomfort. Thank you for your interest and comments.

Dear Richard:
many thanks for your question concerning this common embochure problem which, at this time of the year,would seem a lot simpler than filing income tax, (if you will pardon the pun).

I have experienced this question for many years and know of many clarinetists who have filed their two front teeth, either the top two or the bottom two, (the middle teeth of course, unless you have snaggle tooth issue with something else, an incisor which comes out only at night when you prowl the forest, or perhaps two incisors, the better to inflict lifelong ecstacy upon your victims, to say nothing of lifelong life).

The late Pasquale Cardillo,esteemed second clarinet and eb of the Boston Symphony had his teeth filed, as have many others and I am sure their stories are all somewhat positive, or not. Many clarinetists I have known commonly fold a piece of cigarette paper, moisten it, and shape it to fit over the two middle lower teeth to lessen the impression of these teeth on the lowerlip as one plays. This can be called biting, or not. It really doesn’t matter what it is called. If it causes you discomfort,you must attend to all problems in building a proper embouchure. There is no actual definition of a proper embouchure. Each of us are different. I have told students for years that if we were made to play the clarinet, we would be born with mouthpiece already in place. All of us know this is not the case. Over a period of time we learn to hold the clarinet in our embouchure. Mouthpieces and reeds are parts in this development as much as the clarinet itself. The object of this process is to the development of a method of naturally playing the instrument so that it becomes  a thoughtless process to simplify  playing.

I myself learned that filing a tooth which I felt inhibited my   legato, to say nothing of my staccato) would be beneficial. But, and this is a big but, I never knew if this small alteration helped my playing at all, mostly because I was unable to remember exactly what I sounded like prior to the alteration, which is a terrific lesson. having to do as much with any change or trying to measure something like the quality of sound of an orchestra, a great symphony, for instance, how does one compare the Boston Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic. You would have to have them play the same piece at the same tempo, and to be accurate, in the same hall. Have we any idea of the cost of that little test?

Back to teeth filing, (while I would prefer to stick with symphony orchestra comparisons; there’s more noise there, more opinions, and many more answers, more fun,too.)

I knew some players who had their top two teeth filed so that the opening formed a semi circle in which the mouthpiece fit just fine. The only time it didn’t look absolutely hilarious was when the guy had the horn in his mouth. ) but, between us, it sounded not too great), and as I remember; neither did the fellow sound great before the filing.

If perchance, you want the filing because you are biting, forget about t, as it’s easier to stop biting ,for instance,like switching to double lip, which, with time will make you sound like Gino Cioffi and Harold Wright, both double lip players,both Principals in the Boston Orchestra, and amongst the most beautiful sounding clarinetists who ever played Van Doren. Or didn’t.

A final word or two. Dentists can make you a cap that fits over your teeth and will protect against jagged edges cutting into your lip while playing,and /or biting.. The obvious advantages here are that you can remove the small appliance to feel and hear if there s a difference, and you can always request your dentist to change or adjust the cap. This makes this a more professional approach on your part, making sure you hve room in which to navigate around your decision, and it will ultimately give you many more controllable choices. Please keep in mind that teeth can be forever for a clarinetist; never a worry, just keeping up maintenance, or it can be a lifelong nightmare. One can be a wonderful musician in either case, but if you have the choice, choose forever!

Stay well, enjoy your filings, your dental bill and practice Daphnes and Chloe on both the A and the Bb clarinets and the Eb part as well

happy reindeer. Stay well.

sherman


Digitilization, Sampling, Outsourcing: where the gigs went and are!

December 5, 2010

This article appeared largely from The NewYork Times. I have added commentary as to the overwhelming cause of this musically suicidal  problem.

We have done it to ourselves.

Let me go back a few years, perhaps a few more than that. There used to be only one recording of large symphonic works. That has increased exponentially.Recording technics have also improved exponentially. Early on, it was found that any error could be repaired  first with a piece of tape, then digitalization. All of this without an extra take. Then, helping along with this real mass suicide came listening to recordings. In the comfort of your living room, the clarinet solo from any orchestral work sounds nothing short of terrific. When you go to the concert hall, and listen to the same work, the clarinet solo sounds less present, softer, even more difficult to hear. It is within your sphere of hearing that the competition has taken place. You choose the recorded version electronically enhanced, and you save gas,and parking.

But, you have lost your right to hear  purity. And that has cost us all

“In New York’s classical-music world most of the attention falls on the big boys: the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the major international orchestras that pass through Carnegie Hall, the glamorous soloists who can earn tens of thousands of dollars an appearance.
But night after night highly trained players traipse from Washington Heights or the Upper West Side or northern New Jersey or Long Island to play church jobs and weddings, Lincoln Center and Broadway summer festivals and fill-in jobs at the Met and the Philharmonic. They occupy the ranks of a dozen freelance orchestras, put the music in Broadway musicals and provide soundtracks — or at least they used to — for Hollywood and Madison Avenue. They form the bedrock of musical life in a great cultural capital.

It was a good living. But the New York freelance musician — a bright thread in the fabric of the city — is dying out. In an age of sampling, digitization and outsourcing,(sampling: when you, as a professional musician, are asked to record perhaps a scale or a few notes.You get paid. This sample(s) is then used to re-record all kinds of other music, and it’s all you New York’s soundtrack and advertising-jingle recording industry has essentially collapsed because of this digital simulation. Broadway jobs are in decline. Dance companies rely increasingly on recorded music. And many freelance orchestras, among the last steady deals, are cutting back on their seasons, sometimes to nothingness.”

Fairly recently Barbra Streisand appeared to a sold out audience in Central Park. Her accompaniment consisted of only  5 players. By the time it was simulated digitized and otherwise electronically reproduced, it sound like an entire orchestra.

At what point are we musicians actually stealing from each other?

“Contracts for most of the freelance orchestras expired in September, and the players face the likelihood of further cuts in pay, or at least a freeze. All these orchestras rely on donations and, to a small extent, government grants. The Great Recession has taken its toll, putting a number of them under severe financial pressure.” The recession is not the culprit, at least mainly; it is sampling, digitalization ans simulation.

“This is first time that there are quite a few managements coming to us and saying, ‘We just don’t have money,’ ” said Eugene Moye Jr., a veteran cellist who serves on the players committees in several orchestras. “Our community is under a lot of pressure. Our jobs are melting away. We have a lot of people who are right on the edge.”

The Brooklyn Philharmonic, founded in 1954, has essentially stopped performing as an orchestra. The Long Island Philharmonic has only one concert scheduled this season — a Broadway medley — because of financial problems, although it is continuing its education programs. The Opera Orchestra of New York, which canceled its season last year, has come back with two concerts this year. The American Composers Orchestra is down to three concerts a year in the smaller Zankel Hall instead of five in Carnegie Hall’s main auditorium less than a decade ago.

The Queens Symphony, which is supported mainly by the state and the city, has reduced its size to anywhere from 17 to 36 players from around 65, which means presenting smaller-scale programming. The Westchester Philharmonic, despite the star power of its music director, Itzhak Perlman, has $385,000 of debt and has had trouble paying its musicians. The American Symphony Orchestra has run $300,000 to $400,000 deficits a season for the last several years, with the gaps covered at the last minute by donors.

In the face of such problems the American Symphony is seeking a novel solution. It has proposed a contract that would provide a regular paycheck to its players in exchange for their commitment to play more concerts and the option to carry out nonperforming work, like teaching, coaching or benefit concerts.

The freelance system as it now stands cannot support the musicians, especially with Broadway work drying up for them,” said Lynne Meloccaro, the ensemble’s executive director. Orchestra officials hope the arrangement will solidify the roster, improving quality and making the orchestra more attractive to donors.

“We want this to work,” said Mr. Moye, the chairman of the players committee. But he added, “We will not be made into a group of indentured servants.” But with sampling, which we originally record ourselves, we create the electronic competition with which we self destruct. And the proof can be seen above.

The freelance life has always been fraught with uncertainty. But many musicians say they relish the variety and spontaneity.

“I have always been so thrilled and grateful for the music I get to play,” said Elizabeth Mann, a flutist who performs with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, two of the elite ensembles. “The lack of stability is something you have to reckon with.

(Did this musician ever make a sample?) (Have you?)

Other freelance orchestras include the New York Pops, the Riverside Symphony, the Bronx Arts Ensemble and the Little Orchestra Society, along with the Mostly Mozart and American Ballet Theater orchestras. Some 520 musicians populate the rosters of freelance ensembles, said Jay Blumenthal, the official in charge of freelance contracts for Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. Mr. Blumenthal said the orchestra musicians generally earn $252 a performance, and $50 an hour for rehearsal.

Clay Ruede, 55, typified the freelance life that once was. Soon after he arrived in New York with his cello in 1977, music making filled his days and evenings. He crisscrossed the city for recording sessions, Broadway shows, substitute jobs at the Metropolitan Opera, gigs at the Mostly Mozart Festival and rehearsals with his Arden Trio.

He played his last Broadway show, “The Color Purple,” in February 2008. He hasn’t recorded a movie soundtrack in eight years. With his income down from six figures to about $30,000 this year, Mr. Ruede (pronounced REE-dee) has sold his spare cello and bow, put a playlist from a gig with Bjork on eBay and plans to short-sell his house in Englewood, N.J., to make ends meet. It didn’t help that a divorce from the Arden Trio’s violinist led to the group’s breakup.

“The last three years I’ve just been barely making it,” he said. “I’ve done stuff I haven’t done since I was a teenager: playing weddings for cash, cocktail parties, things I never would have deigned to do. But you do what you have to.” His next steady engagement is not until March.0

As early as 1963, when a clinician for Selmer, I was in Paris, at the Selmer showroom. I heard coming from the back a tenor saxophone playing a scale. Then it changed in mid-scale to a clarinet, and then many more. The sounds were far from perfect. They were totally simulated. But then, sampling came in, and it paid you to record  let’s say, a chromatic scale.. But it paid a mllion times over for the reproducers.And it took away your own work

Please keep practicing, sound as good as you can, always.

stay well, sherman