Does the perfect reed need perfection

I remember many years ago, preparing for a concert at a college in Milwaukee, a Sunday afternoon in winter, brght and sunny.
I needed to select a good reed for the afternoon concert at 3:30. It was before noon.
I was playing very standard repertoire, perhaps Sonati by Honegger, Poulenc and Brahms and a new work either written for me, or something in manuscript. It doesn’t really matter.
Things were going well. I already had several possible(s). I was “up”.You know up,don’t you? We all do. It was a concert at a nice hall, good pianist, Good player, me.

Time passes. There are more reeds, now lining a mirror, drying, after having been tried and moistened. Still. no afternoon concert reed. Still “up”, but a little concerned.

It is 1 PM. Still a couple of hours before playing. I open another box. Of course, they are Van Doren, which I have always called VD.
(There is (or was) a rest home somewhere in Queens, seen from the Long Island Exoressway. It is called the Van Doren Rest Home. When you see it in the distance, it is colored blue and yellow, looking like a big box of Van Doren)

Well, it has now become 2PM. just an hour before playing. I am completely without clothing, sitting on my chair, and totally surrounded by about 10 boxes of Van Doren reeds. (this was in the 60’s and reeds were exponentially cheaper than now) There were also 25 in a box, cost 3.75

Now, they are prohibitively priced, and they have names similar to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, different cuts, different prices, all high, screaming “more consistency”, and producing the same inimitable Van Doren lack of quality, and/or consistency. Or you might say, “He doesn’tknow how to fix them”.

And yes, there I was , with no reed, and an hour to go.

(now, the reed cognescenti are saying or thinking, “well, he didn’t break them in”. or he had the wrong clarinet, or the wrong mouthpiece, or…what have you.)

It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You know the feeling. It is not “UP” It is panic time.

So finally, I choose one, get it on the mouthpiece.(at that point in my career, I would never change a reed during a performance or even move it on the mouthpiece

With that many variables at stake, you do not have the time nor the luxury of choice. You play on what you have.You must.

Well, I thought I had never played so miserably poorly. It was truly horrble. No, I don’t have a tape. Actually, I wish I did have a tape, because you never really know until you listen afterward.

This is the lonly way to hear yourself. You listen to the recording of the concert as soon as you can after playing it. This is excellent advice, because you know both the feelings you had during the perormance and you simply hold those feeling up against the recording: a difficult , costly, but sometimes a wonderful learning experience.

Marvin came up to me after the concert. He asked to take me to dinner with his girl friend, Emily. I went, trying to show nothing, but feeling utter self-revulsion.

He was an amateur clarinetist and Marvin congratulated me on my playng, all the while with me eating a pan-fried delicious steak,paid for by Marvin, or maybe Emily. Maybe,she was keeping him. I don’t know.

keep practicing.
stay well, sherman

Time permitting, this will be followed by another piece on what I did wrong for that concert and the choice of reed and the “perfection” needed in that reed.


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