Clarinetist: Singapore

December 24, 2012

Dear Mr. Friedland,
Thank you very much for your amazing site of clarinet resources!
Having been a clarinetist for 7 years I am now looking to obtain an instrument of my own. I have just entered university, and as such playing the clarinet will now most likely be restricted to various performances every few months or so with the university wind ensemble.
The university does provide for the loaning of instruments, however, for every performance I would be using a different instrument (and occasionally a different model) which is a bit frustrating as it takes time to get used to the feel of every different clarinet. I also would like to be able to work on various solo pieces out of personal interest and challenge on the side.
I would hence like to ask for your advice on the following:
Which model of Clarinet would you recommend?
-Buffet-Crampon: In Secondary school and Junior College (Middle and High school respectively), I played on the Buffet RC, RC Prestige and Tosca Clarinets for 2 years each. I did like the feel of these and I’m leaning towards getting an RC Prestige. (Have tried a Festival once but did not like the very high resistance of the instrument.) However I have read your articles on the inconsistency of Buffet Clarinets and am a bit concerned. (Not sure if I have just been lucky in the instruments loaned to me?)
I would also like to ask if the differences between the bores of the Tosca/R13 family and the RC family of Clarinets are very significant? I enjoyed playing on the Tosca (as well as the RC Prestige), but the Tosca is rather pricey, and I have never had the chance to play on an R13 before. Have come across a Conservatoire model as well but am unfamiliar with the characteristics of this model.
Also, if I do get a Buffet Clarinet, would you recommend getting a wooden instrument or Greenline?
-LeBlanc: I had the opportunity to use the LeBlanc Bliss for a few months, however I absolutely did not like the feel of the instrument (no control over tone and even intonation occasionally, almost as if it was too free blowing).
-Selmer: Several friends have recommended the Selmer range of Clarinets, however, I am very unfamiliar with the different range of models available and their respective characteristics.Not sure if this is relevant, but I have been using a combination of Vandoren B45 mouthpiece and Rico Grand Concert Evolution (Size 3) reeds.
Would you recommend getting a second-hand instrument? I have found Buffet Clarinets (RC and RC Prestige) between 3 to 5 years old on sale, but I am wondering if this is advisable.

Thank you very much for your time and have a Merry Christmas!

Yours Sincerely,
fom Singapore

Dear Singapore:
Thank you for your recent letter concerned with purchasing a clarinet.

Since you have asked several questions, allow me to answer by asking you a question? If you have just entered university, what are you planning for a degree program? If it has anything to do with Music, I would suggest that you start with the Music Department. I am going to assume that you are planning on studying music. Without mentioning your career goal, you should determine if there is a teacher of clarinet in that department. That is the best place to begin your search for an instrument. If there is either a clarinetist on the faculty or there are any ensembles within the department, you will find the best person to ask will be the clarinet instructor, or the Band or Orchestra director. He or she will be best able to help you in your search for your first clarinet. the instructor should have the most knowledge about clarinets, and certainly will have an opinion. Here is my first bit of advice. Because clarinetists and/or ensemble directors are paid to teach and to give advice, they will most probably have an opinion, and that opinion is something they have spent many years of study and hard work to form. Carefully consider the advice given to you because it will center on a particular brand or model of the instrument. If you know anything about the horn they are suggesting and you can also afford the instrument, I recommend that you purchase that instrument. Trust me. That person will be your teacher of clarinet or your director or conductor. You are probably going to be there for at least three or four years. Ask them what they suggest. Ask them to select the instrument for you. Ask them to play the instrument that you select. And, if you’ve learned anything at all, buy that instrument,if you can. This will be your teacher, or your ensemble director. You are beginning to study in University. You need a new clarinet, your very first. The advice that you receive is quite important to you and will carry you through until you receive your degree. Since you do not stipulate anything about yourself except that “you have been a clarinetist for seven years”, one would need to know if you have either studied the clarinet for 7 years or if you studied prior to beginning university. I will assume that you have been studying for that long, which means that you are a clarinet student. This may be your very first private instructor. This will also be an important relationship for your time in university. Whatever level you are, tread lightly with your instructor and ask many questions, for you have a lot to learn.

Carefully consider any information you are given. Take their advice. It is one of the biggest reasons you have entered University. I would hope that you are in a fine university with a fine music program. I would not buy any instrument without the advice of your clarinet instructor. I would have to hear you play to determine where you are and then may make a suggestion. But, at this point I would be reluctant to give you any advice. That is why you are going to university.

Best of good luck with your studies .



John A Bavicchi, composer of many works for clarinet, died on December 9, 2012

December 22, 2012

Bavicchi died in bed on December 9, 2012. The obit says that he died peacefully after three or four months of deterioration. He was 90 years old and he surprised many people by leaving us.He had said in the last few years that “death was unacceptable” As some readers of this and other sites are aware, he was a composer of many works for the clarinet, among which are several Sonatas for Clarinet, a several solo clarinet works, a Quintet for woodwinds, composed for The Milwaukee Symphony Woodwind Quintet, which we premiered sometime during the 60s, duets for flute and clarinet, trios for clarinet, viola, clarinet and cello, and many others. They are of considerable interest and difficulty. I have recorded his Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. the First Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, the Canto #1 for clarinet alone. They are all on The Concordia Commissions. They are still available in some collections. interest to anyone who plays the clarinet and/or who performs contemporary works. He wrote symphonic works for Concert Band, all of which were written for the MIT Concert Band, John D. Corley, director. They toured for 35 years ,probably performing in most universities and many schools nationwide, and several here in Canada, in Montreal. That Band played mostly contemporary works of great difficulty, many of them composed by Mr. Bavicchi for Corley and the MIT Band. In 1989, I toured as soloist with them, performing his clarinet Concerto, dedicated to me. We flew to Florida and played the first performance of that Concerto at Astronaught High School, which was located in Titusville ,Florida. That was a cold February, there was a coating of ice on all the orange groves as they had been sprayed with water to hopefully prevent ruination of the crop. On the way to the city, there were a line of cars along the side of the highway, a two lane highway on the way to Titusville, which is near the Kennedy Space Center. Everyone was out of their cars looking up at the sky, where there was a great amount of white smoke . The shuttle with 8 astronaughts, had just blown up.All were instantly lost. It was a shock for us, and for seemingly the whole world. After a while ,we continued on our way to Titusville, and I guess there was a decision to be made whether or not to perform the premiers of the Concerto for Clarinet and Concert Band, and indeed the entire concert. There was rubble all over the roof of the motel at which the band was housed for that night. Corley made the decision to perform the concert. It was attended by a large, largely silent audience, and I think it went well, though it was a bizarre evening to be sure. We played the entire tour in Florida and it was a mixed bag, as they say. Playing music has been my occupation, and my love, but this was a terribly shocking situation. As some may remember, there was a woman astronaught, who happened to have been an accomplished amateur pianist. The eight deaths and the explosion was felt by the entire world, similar to the Kennedy Assassination. I remember thinking that many people were dying throughout the workd from starvation without so much as a murmur by most. Why was there such a clamor over the explosion of the Shuttle on that February Day?

Actually, I no longer remember some of the comments made by members of the audience, many of whom worked in that industry. I doubt if Astronught High School still exists,(it does, and has about 1200 students)

I played Bavicchis music for about 50 years at least, the last time being a concert at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2006. I premiered two works, one by Thomas McGah, a member of the Faculty, for Clarinet and piano. It had some kind of title with Italien musical expressions , and I lterally slaughtered the performance. It may have been passable, but I remember it as an abject failure. I never ever make a foreign noise on a concert and I did in thie performance, which means to me abject failure. If you are a player, do you feel those failure feelings, ever? The other work was the last work John ever wrote for me, called Six for Two, six short pieces of medium difficulty. Except for one note, which I swore he wrote knowing I would remember forever, and that was a pianissimo high A, with not one note of preparation. Just there, to be played softly. It went, but I was not happy with the quality, and I hated John for writing that A. I should have played it down two octaves. It would have been the same contrasting color and played without worry. Having performed in so many hundreds of concerts or contemporary music, one would think it didn’t matter, but it did to me. And of course, the kindly Bavicchi mentioned that the first three movements were played to perfection. How come that comment stung and has stayed with me to this very day?

I met John Bavicchi in the Cafeteris of the New England Conservatory of Music in 1957, upon being discharged from the US Army, and was attending NEC. I had heard that this person was a composer and I approached him . We had a coffee and I asked if I could buy some of his music for clarinet? He was amazed, truly amazed. He said, you want to buy my music? I thought one paid when one bought or received a piece of music. I imagine that was the thing that interested him, but he was always intensely interested in those who would perform his music.

John Bavicchi wrote the most difficult music for the clarinet as existed at the time. It was not like the Donald Martino “Set for Clarinet”, then considered the most difficult work for clarinet. It was more difficult, always totally driving fast and with unmusical leaps and awkward countertpoint, and always always dissonant.At that time, it was mostly in manuscript, Johns own, quite legible as he frequently worked as a copyist for many composers. He worked fast and was very accurate. Of course, now manuscript is seldom seen as there are all kinds of programs which will print out the parts beautifully; desktop publishing, it was first called, and programs like “Finale” were truly incrdible back in the 60s and 70s, and are still. There are even some apps which will write the music for you. Could that be correct?I do think so,but I cannot attest to the quality.

I am getting to the point where new musc is not as interesting as it once was. I still love the clarinet, and I shall always. It has been my life .

stay well.
RIP John A Bavicchi.

The duets for flute and clarinet are especially accessible , so too is the Second Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. His OPus 1 is a work for Clarinet Trombone and piano.Perhaps you may wish to avoid that one.

Nikkan Gakki, quite acceptable prior to becoming Yamaha

December 21, 2012

Nikkan made quite an acceptable instrument. They played well, came in different qualities, and even the least expensive clarinets played quite well. You will see the occasional one in some of the auctions. And some of those look as if they were never played, keys gleamingly new and shiny, intonation, totally acceptable , even on the cheaper models. Having spent a number of years buying and seling clarinets online, I never found a really bad Nikkan instrument. In 1970, they were bought out by Yamaha.Presently, you will come across the Yamaha wooden clarinet, which is also labeled Nikkan. It is the 301.It is similar to the Yamaha Allegro 550, now discontinued. That too was a good horn. It had gold plated posts and came with a cute leathette zippered cover At that time, their best clarinet was the Imperial.(circa 1970) I own one of those, bought for next to nothing from an auction site.There were certain features which are still present in the Yamaha clarinet: They all had slightly less resistance than the usual good quality French clarinet, and they were intune where the European instruments were hilalriously out. On Nikkan, the throat, the lowest notes and the altissimo, all were intune. The intonation on a an average French instrument is good except in the aforementioned places, and the Japanese clarinets were and are astoundingly even in quality. I never knew why, but never had a Yamaha that was out of tune. Let us quantify the models, both owned and/or played, My very first Yamaha was a 64, in Bb. What fun that instruments was to play, absolutely effortless , and very even. Soon I acqired a 65 or 66, which was the A clarinet, then 70s , then 80s, all while I was teaching in Montreal. As I have mentioned ,the music stores were only too eager to allow me to try and use for as long as I cared to. These Yamahas were like Leblancs in Montreal at the time. Nobody bought them. They were the joke of the entire industry. Actually, many Yamaha and Leblanc clarinets were the best instruments ever made. While they didn’t have the Buffet “ping” as they called it, they had other terrific aspects, already mentioned above. At the time, I was also the Conductor of the Concordia University Symphony Orchestra. I did this for 17 years. It was comporised of music Majors from the department and other schools in the area. One time I had a first clarinet who had an absolutely exquisite sound. He was attending the University of Montreal. We rehearsed and played in a big echo-filled Loyola Chapel. That fellow sounded absolutely terrific. I don’t remember his name, but I do his sound. It was beautiful. He was not even a clarinet major. What kind of instrument, I asked him? His answer came innocently back. Leblanc Symphony.
I had had an unpleasant experience with Leblanc while I was playing Principal in Milwaukee.The office for Leblanc was in Wisonsin, and they came forward with an offer to give $25,000 to the orchestra if I would play Leblanc Clarinets, and the Woodwind Quintet of the orchestra, which played many school concerts, was called. The Leblanc Woodwind Quintet of the Milwaukee Symphony. As a young man, this offer , presented to me by the General Manager, gave me an incredible headache and I was stressed out for days, or as long as this business lasted. $25,000 was a lot of money in the early 60s, a big donation. I wrote to my teacher, the late Rosario Mazzeo, who was at the time personnel managaer and bass clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was aghast and wrote me a letter telling me how crooked Leblanc was, throwing money at literally every decent clarinetist . The strange things about Leblanc at the time is that They were probably the best clarinet being manufactured at the time. <They still are of extreme high quality.And of course, Larry Combs and Eddie Daniels spread the Leblanc mystique quite far indeed.One other historical connection and that was Professor Stubbins who developed the Stubbins mechanism, which coincidentally, was produced by Leblanc.They were marked Noblet, but I knew a clarinetist who had a lovely looking Symphony ,silver plated, which he admired. Professor William Stubbins taught at the University of Michigan from 1960 to 1975, and is listed in the faculty as clarinet and percussion. Stubbins and Mazzeo, whose clarinet was produced by Selmer had little love for one another. Some of the Stubbins are quite good, though the mechanism for the production of the throat Bb was not terribly reliable

In fact, the Leblanc and the Yamaha clarinets have served to completely change the problem of having to have a technician live with you and tune your Buffet, whch, after an expensive tuning and regulation, will play about as well as the others.I have a few Amatis which are easily comparable to any of the others, and beat them on price by quite a little.

Prhaps the worst aspect of the extensive and intensive advertising is the stress on the sound which the clarinet makes. This of course, is incorrect. It is you, your mouth, ear and brain which does the whole thing. The Sound!
It is called concept. When you first hear the sound to which you aspire, you probably don’t know it, but if and when you begin the study of the clarinet, it is buried deep in your sensibilities, and will develop as you do. As a younger student, I knew(I thought) the sound and the name of every American and Canadian principal clarinetist in every orchestra which recorded or played on radio. It is true that the many advertisements in all the music journals professed that every clarinetist played a Leblanc, or any of the others. Vito Pascucci altered many a Leblanc bore by widening them so they would have a “bigger sound”. There are still many Leblancs which must be carefully scrutinized for scratches in the bore. According to Tom Ridenour, they used the wrong reamers frequently, and he stopped that practice when in charge of the clarinet division, also designing the Opus, the Sonata and others .

Have a happy holiday season.
stay well.