Reeds, other than cane, philosophy thereof

I am frequently asked about synthetic reeds, and always give respones which are quite conclusive, and direct, like yes, no, good,bad, maybe.

However there is an aspect of playng the clarinet that is always left out. And it is left out because it is not  considered pertinent to the question.

We as clarinetists , engage in a certain practice , one that is endlessly repetitious.This takes more time than practice. We try reeds. We try them constantly, sometimes without concern for time or money ,family . As we try them, we are seaching for the response, that respnse, the one that says to the ear and the mind. “maybe”. this one may be able to be fashioned into a playable reed. We put it aside on the mirror or the glass, afraid to try it again because it will always change, softer, harder, tubbier. Oh my, do not try it again. Let it dry. Don’e even look at it. It may change. They all do, don’t they.

Look at the color. Is it greenish? Look at the butt. Is it uneven? Put your forefinger under the right side, then the left. The same?  Who knows? The mind can be boggled just from a few reeds tried utilixing those criteria. Actually, I used to limit myself to trying no more than three or sometimes 5 commercially made reeds at a time. After that amount, it is my strong contention that all your reed sensibilities are used up, and you are in danger of going thrugh the whole box. Have you done that?(……..don’t lie)

How many hours have you spent trying reeds? This comes to mind as I consider playing on reeds made from another material, usually some mixtureof wood and fibre and a bit of plastic , or whatever. These reeds have improved to a point wherein many  play them, or they say they do. (In the history of testimonials for woodwind products including imstruments, ligatures, reeds , cases, humidification devices , neckstraps, and on and on , even before you get to mouthpieces, there is an endless list of testimonials given for many reasons, few if any, being altruistic, meaning that the testimonials are given for a reason,usually payment of some kind or publicity of some kind. (There was a time when Leblanc clarinets were given for prominent testimonials, and many were given.)

But, when an ordinary clarinetist, whether it be student or more or less, tries a plastic or (pardon me) synthetic, the reason is sheer frustration. One cannot find a decent reed made from cane, or one thinks they cannot. (But, isn’t there always someone who has a book or  set of  insructions or a machine which does everything but play LeCoc D’or cadenza while telling you how to fix a reed?)

Going back to synthetic, (pardon me, plastic), if the  first reed you try plays well, why not play it? And contnue to play on it until it just stops dead? Squawk, and that’s the end.

My comment will be to that query is, we cannot, because we must try additional reeds, pick apart the qualities, and then select another, ad infinitum. Where we halt the process has to do with part of the drive for the perfect reed . Do we stop when we have a decent reed? Or do we continue?  Are we afraid of the change as the reed dries out? How many times has that happened to you? And because of the nature of the cane reed, the change can occur at any time, regardless of what technic your years of trying reeds  has given you. I have found over and over, that a good reed “is a sometime thing”, until it settles and you know what you have, both on your mouthpiece and in your case. Now, what do we do when we encounter the synthetic (pardon me, the plastic)? Do we actually know? We are used to trying many reeds. Do we actually know when the process has been satisfied? That is the question, for your shrink or your  mentor, your wife, your advisor, yourself.

Good luck with whatever it is that you have on your mouthpiece and in your case.( One more true story. I had a recital many years ago in Colorado. During the concert, I was forced to change my reed and continue the concert. It was quite successful. A week later, a faculty member who had been in that audience recommended me for a big University position. I received the call, and was told that I had the job, pending the interview, based on the reed-changing concert. Those were happy years, and I turned it down. But, with not an extra reed ready-to-play in my case…..well.) Can you trust it if it is not cane? Or can you make the switch. What about my sound? How was it? Was it in tune?

Keep practicing. It is  but a part of this whole business. I have found throughout the years, that there have been good periods and bad ones for trying reeeds. Try the morning, rested, fed and calm. Will you find more? Less? (To be continued.)

stay well, sherman


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