Consider the purpose of a synthetic

Consider the purpose of a synthetic reed

Readers of this blog know my experience with synthetic reeds, going all the way back to a frustrated clarinetist choosing to play a Fibercane reed while principal in the Milwaukee Symphony in 1963, to later experiences with Legere and finally with Forestone,which is my choice for a synthetic. It is my choice because I simply let it stay on the mouthpiece,practice, and put the horn away, with reed affixed to mouthpiece, take it out the next day, and continue my practice. It is this consistency from day to day that I find the best reason for using any synthetic reed, but specifically, Forestone because it is most consistent. It plays the same each time I pick it up, and is dependable for quite a while.
In the past five years or so, I have both read and written many words about the synthetic reed. There is no question that these reeds do play, and while some play better than others, it will serve the clarinetist well if he or she considers his or her purpose for using such a reed.
While the reeds are constructed from a more vibrant and lasting material than 35 or 45 years ago, and there seem to be many types and as many brands, the very first advice that a clarinetist must know is :for what specific purpose will I use this synthetic reed?

Will it take the place of a fine, well chosen concert reed, that reed which you have either picked from several boxes, breaking them in, sanding them in various ways in order to get the reed , the special reed upon which you will play the Mozart, or even the Neilsen Concerti? After attempting this task , I find and have always found the synthetic reed to be not up to that standard. A few words to explain why. As you play them, they first vibrate and play very well. After choosing your strength and finding it, there is not a lot more to do, The way it plays is the way in which it will play..It may play in that manner for a long while; the makers talk of this endlessly: the perfect reed, the answer to that ultimate dilemma, finding a wonderful reed. Seldom if ever, have I ever found a reed that played perfectly right out of the box, and even can remember a time when I was surrounded by 300 hundred reeds, choosing one for a concert on some Sunday afternoon, and never finding it, and finally playing the concert on a reed that I didn’t find ideal in any way. After that concert , there were as many people who came up and wished me well, and felicitaions for the wonderful playing.”Thank you, thank you”, I said dutifully, not believing a word of what I was saying or what they were saying.

In the very final analyses, it is you yourself, the clarinetist, who chooses, and only you will know. If it has been a concert of which you are proud, you know it, and few can convince you except yourself. The business of perfection is very very personal, and only you can tell, the one who has played. I have played concerts wherein I was satisfied, even proud of my performance,my tuning, my sound, my various degrees of proficiency. And I must say that they do outnumber the others, the ordinary performances. Recording every time you play a concert is a wonderful idea, something which I have done for many years, and collecting the good ones assures you of what you have played.

Finally, the synthetic will not provide this kind of assurance, not in the final analyses. As concert day and time approach I am fixated on the response, the quality, the dynamics, all of those things and as I play and rehearse, I constantly criticize,which is the name of the game. Is my playing, my reed up to my standards? Sometimes yes, less so, no. The synthetic reed does have its uses: that everyday practice reed, that reed to play, rushing to a rehearsal out of a cold car and into a cold room, the reed who’s pitch  can be assured.

But, I have found that the more I practice, the more flaws I find. And yes of course, this is the nature of the woodwind player, that person who strives for perfection, whatever that standard may be,most probably wll play on a reed made of cane. These synthetic reeds designed by professionals for professionals, for any and every possible playing condition never seem to suit me like the reed I have carefully chosen in the usual ways.

Daily playing , regular playing is a different story. The synthetic may work perfectly, but the mindset must change slightly.

Stay well, and keep practicing.


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