Which sounds better?

January 27, 2013

The computer brings one much closer to the world, sometimes alarmingly so. And with it is the limitless opportunties offered by Youtube, the great music making current and past history of performances available a ones fingertips, or eyes and ears (with decent speakers). We have been listening to a lot of the Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, who is possessed of formidable technic, some 40 concertos in his mind, and a quite beautiful understanding and love for both the phrase, and the audience.

But, I am also acutely aware of all of the many clarinetists, both out there on youtube and within the orchestras of the world, and what it is that they are playing.

I have listened to several Tchaikovsky Concerti, with Lang Lang and the better world orchestras and, while listening the other day, and of course, watching. I saw the Philharmonic playing the Tchaikovsky with Lang Lang, and watched the big clarinet solo in the first movement. Whomever it was who as playing, he was having a great time, moving back and forth, and playing the solo, just a little out of tune, and rather strained sounding. But, he was enjoying himself.As I looked at his clarinet, I saw this strange colored barrel in the middle of his clarinet. It was difficult to figure out why, given the somewhat strange quality I heard and saw.

And again, I thought of The Emporers New Clothes, the fairy tale quoted in my piece on the search for the perfect mouthpiece. Of course, I know of where this fad comes, its history and the incredible growth of the fad. It is very similar to other fads, such as the one wherein you could have someones put your clarinet in an oven, take it out, never put it together again , and have a better more cohesive sound. They did it with flutes ,as well as other instruments as well. The fad faded.

But this one is spreading somewhat and I have no clue as to the why and wherefore of strangely stained wood used for different pats of the clarinet, either the barrel or the bell. These woods ae always something different, cocobolo with its euphemistic musical sounding name , coming to mind.And, for what they are, they are really costly, and they would have to be. They are money makers. Big ones. I had a student ,years ago,who came to a lesson with one i her case. It was not on her clarinet. I asked and she told me its name, and that she had been given to her at a Clarinet Convention. She said it would have cost 200 if shehad purchased it. She did not play her lesson with that barrel, and she had never played it for herself. It had been a gift at a gathering of clarinet students, professionals and the myriads of salesmen and gimmicks they sell, or give away, at first. With advertising ,giving the items to well known players, having the players make an ad with the gimmick on their clarinet, they generate interest, and with interest, comes sales. Give me a break! Please, and give my students a break, please. But we and they are born every minutes, as PT Barnum once said.

What is even more bizarre is the maker of these parts, on another Youtube, demonstrating in about five minutes, how to change the sound of the clarinetist by simply and quickly drilling something wider. That, is laughable, to an extreme, It becomes both The Emporers New Clothes, and Beauty is in the eye or the ear of the beholder, at the same time. It is really quite simple, similar to the famous “blindfold test’, anther completely erroneous procedure in which someone demonstrates different clarinets, or mouthpieces or reeds, in front pf a group from behind a screen. The differences are, whatever they may be, discernible to those listening. Or to some of them, or to none of them. Or.”let me see the hands of those who think that reed or clarinet or barrel or bell, was different”? “And, it what way? Too dark, too light, and dark and light is totally and completely in the eye and the ear of the listener.

Of course, and without a doubt, we are talking bout gigantic sales pitches, for they all are attached to things which make money, and big money, at that.

We used to have arguments many years ago about soloists, Heifetz or Stern, or orchestras, the Philadelphia or the Boston, or the Cleveland, or Szell or Rinier, or Halls, Boston Symphony Hall, Severance Hall in Cleveland, or the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and which orchestra sounded better and why? My answers were always the same, in order to make a comparison, one has to hear the soloist, the orchestra, the hall or whatever one is comparing, simultaneously, which is an impossibility.

That is where the great resolution of all of the above problems, the contests, the soloists, the clarinetists, the halls, the orchestras, the interpretations, and and all the rest of it: that resolution being, “it is a matter of opinion”

If the colors of the different woods being used were all colored as the rest of the clarinet, that is to say, BLACK, would there be a difference? And could you sell that difference? In both cases, I think not.

We must remember always to poractice, to make perfect, the music, which is most important.

stay well.


A fad is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period, generally as a result of the behavior’s being perceived as novel in some way. A fad is said to “catch on” when the number of people adopting it begins to increase rapidly. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone.

The specific nature of the behavior associated with a fad can be of any type including language usage, apparel, financial investment,advertising, and even food. Apart from general novelty, fads may be driven by mass media programming, emotional excitement, peer pressure, or the desire of ‘being hip’.


Mouthpiece for clarinet, an endless quest

January 25, 2013

Dear sir-
First, thank you for your time devoted to these Q/A posts. I have found so many answers applicable. After reading many of your suggestions, I understand your ambivalence toward direct mouthpiece recommendations. So please indulge my own vintage mouthpiece question.
I currently play on an R13, vintage Harrison ligature, Zonda 3.5 married to a Stowell Wells and Schneider mouthpiece, stamped B2. This mouthpiece was suggested to me in highschool as a mate to my pre-R13 by Ron Sadler, Sadler Music, Aurora IL. It was love at first play! To this day, nothing else comes close in ease of play, full sound in concert and w/ the right reed, the ability to “growl.” A tighter embouchure makes it sing; loosen and “choke up on the bat” and it’ll honk. If I had a dollar for every player who wanted to trade me on the spot for that mouthpiece, I could buy another horn!
Over the years, I have tried other mouthpieces, but not yet found an equal to my favorite. In my quest to collect mouthpieces (truth in jest), I’ve acquired 2 other SWS mouthpieces. The first, also stamped B2, itself played like a dream and had a great “southern drawl” but was warped and while great on its own, couldn’t hold tune with a group. I traded it to a guy in New Orleans, LA in 1990 for a Bobby Dukoff alto mouthpiece; sassy, loud and could it bend a note!
The second SWS mouthpiece has no stamp. It’s facing is MUCH more open and I have yet to find a reed setup that works without a LOT of breath. It’s just no fun to play. Additionally, it has some scrapes in the bore. While I don’t think they really affect the playability, they are ugly.
My question is thus. Should I invest in a reface/refurbish job? I do love the play of my favorite SWS. The thought of having an alternate is seductive. (Obviously, I recognize the likelihood of effort and cash to no avail.)
If I do go the refacing route, to whom should I turn? Ideally, I’d mail both my SWS mouthpieces in hopes that my favorite could be duplicated.
Walter Grabner lives close to me (< 1 hour) and refaces for $100. Vytas Krass offers a vintage reface for $85. (One of his reworked SWS is currently listed on Ebay for $300!) Behn's website looks techno-cool and refacing is $75. DT Woodwinds advertises a vintage HR refacing (Don't know what a Harold Wright facing is) for only $55. Finally, Richard Hawkins (respected by you, I know) refaces, but has no price listed on his website.
Or, should I leave this piece of Chicago mouthpiece history unaltered for another player to enjoy its original character? I've visions of one of those guys sitting in a tiny workroom in a Chicago highrise, scraping and sanding until he got the sound "just right" for his customer.
Am I being overly reverent or am I trying to put AC in a Model A?
Thank you for your perspective.
sincerely DL

Dear DL:

The mouthpiece phase,is a time wherein we try clarinet mouthpieces for a period of time, or indeed, forever. Mouthpieces can be a simple route from you, the reed and your mouth, to the sound of the clarinet, or it can be long dark alley, grabbing one by the throat relentlessly ,and with endless variation, until you are forced to either resort to practice, or simply try another mouthpiece(s) until you are “taken away”. One may wish to ask whether one starts with the concept, the reed, a particular blank, a Zinner perhaps, or another of the many.On occasion, one may be directed toward an aged”famous” mouthpiece, the measurement of which were used by any number of great and late clarinetists. This is a huge cottage industry, with thousands being spent. What is one receiving for the hundreds of dollars? Will it be any better than your 65 dollar Van Doren, or yor Stowell, or whatever it is you thought about initially?Or, your Rico? With regard to all mouthpieces, all those who are mouthpiece craftsmen, and in general, to all who feel that each mouthpiece has a special ability to impart a certain individual response, let me suggest that, I would respectfully remind you of the wonderful story by Hans Christian Anderson called the Emporers New Clothes.

(“The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Danish: Kejserens nye Kl├Žder) is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” The tale has been translated into over a hundred languages.)

Searching for the elusive quality hidden within a new mouthpiece, a refaced mouthpiece almost immediately distorts your original idea of change, and dilutes what it is for which you may be looking . Or, it may lead to an entire lifelong quest, for something which is either, not there, or completely distorted by your search. It is terribly easy to be deterred by a certain quality you think you may feel from the mouthpiece, but then realize that for what you have gained, there is an equal loss in another area.

I have related the story of a student who, upon entering a university music department, was teased about his mouthpiece, not being one of repute. “Why don’t you get a real mouthpiece”? The real mouthpiece was never defined as such. but was truly part of a hazing routine given to many a clarinetist in a Music Department . Daniel Bonade espoused a medium reed on a medium mouthpiece, a wonderful idea which did not separate a student from his ideal which was of course, the music, and always the music, the original endless quest.

Let me conclude with a true story. While studying for some degree, somewhere in a galaxy far away, I was given 6 crystal mouthpieces to try. When hearing the price,$6.00, I bought them all. They were labeled GG; AND i found that GG stood for Guigui Efrain, a very nice guy whom I had known at another University,(another galaxy, but I forgot)He was a prince of a fellow from South America, was rather small, and played on a full Boehm one-piece Buffet, which he held on his knee with a small velvet cushion. Naturally, I thought his sound was unclear and fuzzy,(which I thought about everyone, somehow). But he played very very well. The GG stood for his name, but the mouthpieces were made by Pomarico, the one who stayed in Argentina, not the brother who went to Italy, forming the other Pomarico mouthpiece company. At 36 dollars for six, it didn’t matter at the time.

I took them home and tried them, and for some reason, they seemed all stuffy and fuzzy. Then, on the third mouthpiece, labeled "-1", I heard a voice from the next room, "what's that"? It was my wife, who happens to have the most sensitive ear I have ever known, and she thought the mouthpiece had a special quality. And truthfully, upon further investigation, it did. It had a lovely covered sound, was capable of producing or reproducing anything I heard or was given to play, and it became mine, so-to-speak. I really achieved rather marked success with this mouthpiece, and was simply attached to it, very happily. Reeds were a bit difficult to choose, but played beautifully after I got the knack. I played on this crystal mouthpiece for 5 or ten years until, during the intermission of a chamber music concert, a student, who happened to play in the second violin section of my orchestra, came back to congratulate me and his raincoat brushed across my clarinet,which fell on the floor, mouthpiece first. It broke, and I simply, without tears, drove quickly home, and got a spare crystal, one of the six I had gotten, came back, finished the concert with success, at least, no problem. I still have the recording and it is wonderful. But, after that concert, I was unable to find a mouthpiece that played anywhere near to the original GG crystal. Rosario Mazzeo had a mouthpiece problem and I sent him the other four, which he played and liked.
So then, it was Van Doren for a number of years, then another Van Doren, an excellent mouthpiece, and as you know, they don't shatter and ruin your life. As the crystal did mine. You are left to your own life to ruin your life, which you will or may.
Crystal is a truly superb material with which to make a mouthpiece, but you must keep it in a vault, lined with padding, and never leave. If you do, your mouthpiece may fall, may break, or what have you. At the time, it seemed a heart-breaking story, but I did finish the concert and it sounded terrific. Something however, had changed with the broken mouthpiece, and I never got over it.
Stay well, practice, and if you play on crystal, live in a padded cell.


Auditions, and possible pitfalls

January 6, 2013

This post will cover many aspects of a career as clarinetist, which is most probably, out of the question for most, if your name is not Morales. (Actually, there are plenty of good clarinetists, as some of you may know. But of course, there is a long road from learning to put the clarinet together to winning a symphonic audition. Here,Morales excels. The pressure of the audition has been exponentially increased by the numbers of fine players at the audition, if in fact, they are allowed, or invited to the very audition. I listen to literally hundreds of players a week on the variously available watchable and listenable venues, really a great pleasure. But one must ask themselves, how many of these truly fantastic technicians, masters of tongue, circular everything, literally, faster than a speeding bullet would get hired.get the job? Probably not one.

I had an excellent student who was going to audition for the second clarinet job with the Toronto Symphony, a good player. At a lesson, he brought in the audition material, which is now always available, and played for me. He told me that nothing would be said at the first round. If one played less than perfect, a small bell would be sounded. That’s it. you would be finished with this particular audition. He played for me, the Scherzo from the Midsummers Night Dream, by Mendelssohn. At about a dozen measures in, at the place where one has to go to the middle b and then down again, I told him, they would ring the bell. His rhythim wasn’t that good, and he missed a fraction of a fraction of a second, getting back. In Toronto, at the audition, that is the exact place he heard the bell. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that the most important thing in an orchestra is to be able to play in perfect time. That is the body of most important disciplines to be either demonstrated at the audition for your teacher and/or your conductor or that “paid by the hour” audition committee.

Mostly, they are rank and file people who get paid an hourly fee for auditions, the very keys to your dreams of the future. The thousand and one reeds you picked through and finally chose to play and those very expensive horns you have purchased, or let us say, over purchased for this purpose. Chances are, you will not get the job. There is of course, great pressure on anyone who is auditioning for a job in a symphony.
Have you considered that pressure and how it may manifest itself on you under the severe stress of an audition? If you are driven to play professionally, you already know if you can play. You have played in dozens of school orchestras at many performances of difficult or just plain standard repertoire, and you have always landed on your feet. To get the job, you simply cannot make one mistake, not one miss, not one note out of tune or out of time. You probably know if you can do that or not. And, if not , you are hoping that you will not be asked that one excerpt that scares you, that may make you tremble enough to miss it.

You should not even be at the audition, if you do not mind this honest advice, unless you are absolutely fearless and are simply never ever bothered by anything in the repertoire. The final ability, which nobody really talks about ,is the ability to be able to convince the listener quality and power of your sound, your ability to execute each phrase perfectly, and that special something, part of the sound, your control of breath, your intonation and the ability to convince the listener that you can execute at the very highest of levels.

You see, there are literally thousands of recordings of literally every work of every composer, of the entire basic symphonic repertoiire, so, in fact you, the performer are competing with all of these recordings and performances. In fact this competition is circuitous and we compete with ourselves.

And then, there are the preparations which may aid us in our performances, which as mentioned, can be stressful. This brings up the subject of Beta Blockers, used for heart patients, but enjoyed with great relief by performaers of every type and certainly every instrumentalist.Officially, beta blockers are not approved for anxiolytic use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, many controlled trials in the past 25 years indicate beta blockers are effective in anxiety disorders, though the mechanism of action is not known. The physiological symptoms of the fight-or-flight response (pounding heart, cold/clammy hands, increased respiration, sweating, etc.) are significantly reduced, thus enabling anxious individuals to concentrate on the task at hand.
Musicians, public speakers, actors, and professional dancers have been known to use beta blockers to avoid performance anxiety, stage fright and tremor during both auditions and public performances. The application to stage fright was first recognized in The Lancet in 1976, and by 1987, a survey conducted by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians, representing the 51 largest orchestras in the United States, revealed 27% of its musicians had used beta blockers and 70% obtained them from friends, not physicians. Beta blockers are inexpensive, said to be relatively safe and, on one hand, seem to improve musicians’ performances on a technical level, while some say the performances may be perceived as “soulless and inauthentic”Don’t believe it. the pills make it easier to play.
Since they promote lower heart rates and reduce tremors, beta blockers have been used in professional sports where high accuracy is required, including archery, shooting, and snooker. Beta blockers are banned by the International Olympic Committee. A recent, high-profile transgression took place in the 2008 Summer Olympics, where 50 metre pistol silver medallist and 10 metre air pistol bronze medallist Kim Jong-su tested positive forpropranolol and was stripped of his medal.
For similar reasons, beta blockers have also been used by stutterers and surgeons. Remember
“The Kings Speech”? Beta blockers were not around in the 30s, but, wow, had they been, well no movie.

These have been discussed more or less in many articles on the subject of stress in performance. I myself was prescribed them for elevated blood pressure. They were very effective, until I had a performance. I found them absolutely invaluable for calming those twitchy fingers which can get you in trouble during a performance, expecially at the beginning, when we tend to be more on edge. I have never had to worry that I was taking performing enhancing drugs, but you see, I was, and still do, insublime innocence and joy.

stay well, and if you need them, take your beta-blockers.

best, always, sherman

The Ultimate Fiscal Cliff: Music

January 3, 2013

The term fiscal-cliff has gone completely viral and is now a catch phrase, pertaining mainly, to the totally dysfunctional and just plain mean US Congress, or more defintively, the US House of Representatives, the GOP lead group which seems to mirror the very disintegration of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. We know all we don’t know about the precipice, but as musicians, we have lived on that promontory for much of our lives.

We h=ear and read about the demise of the Symphony orchestra in the US, at the very least, most of them. When the Philadelphia Orchestra is in crisis, that is big trouble. And many others as well I started to write an article which would list the failing symphony orchestras, a profession for which I was trained and worked in and out of, for my life. But, upon consulting the internet, I was confronted at first by an article in ,none other, than Forbes Magazine, which stated that the Symphony orchestra can only be saved by discontinuing or diminishing their most important product,concerts, because concerts cost the symphony orchestra most of their budget. If Forbes for real? That would be analagous to removing your heart because you have chest pains. Please. Diminishing or cutting concerts is like suicide for symphonic music in this country and in Canada, as well.

It is not difficult to trace the difficulty within the organizations of symphonic music within North America. There is simply not enough of an audience that wants to hear symphonic music enough to pay for it. The movies, Sports of any kind, Rock Concerts, any Pop concert, affords the possibility of getting together with friends, getting out of the house, getting high, and a kind of euphoria which is not unpleasant, and of course, it puts off practicing. As a result, there is much more interest and enjoyment to be experienced by things that you know, or that you think you know. And ,if the rest of your friends go, why shouldn’t you?

But, within our school districts , music is not a favorite subject, nor is listening to this increasingly strange sounding classical music, of which I and many of the readers have spent a lifetime learning. I started playing in high school and was studying the Bonade Book of Orchestral Studies for Clarinet in my second year. I think I still know he whole book, every single page,even though my fingers have forgotten as has my mouth, but that is a whole other article. Of course, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was our model, the place where we all wanted to either go, for concerts or to achieve, as a lifetime position. We knew all of the musicians, and called them by their first name (but never to their face). “Oh, I study with Gino”, or “I study with Jimmie”, or with “Roger” and all of the others. I used to run up the stairs of Symphony HAll to get the best seats for the POPS and I would actually drop a handful of pennies around the bottom of the second floor of steps, to deter some of the other runners, so anxious to be there for a good seat, to listen to the music and to watch the teachers. I cannot think of any more stimulating event than a symphonic concert. It was the best thing about everything I knew. And there were others just like me.

But, by and large, that is completely gone ,disappeared from the places a teenager wants to go. Nobody knows or cares about the Classical and Romantic repertoire which make up the body of professional symphonic music, It is not taught anymore within the Public Schools, or greatly diminished. The piano, the greatest of instruments was the pride of every home which could afford one, and they were very easy to come by. All levels, all tunings, and all that incredible repertoire by Brahms and Beethoven and Schubert. The piano has disappeared and been replaced by the guitar, which has a distinctly different audience, repertoire , cost and general interest.

The interest of art music has been destroyed or diminished by lack of interest and of course, money, for the programs. Those people used to comprise the great body of the symphonic audience. Who doesn’t remember the New York Philharmonic Concerts for Children and Leonard Bernstein, played in Carnegie Hall, attended by oceans of young people , filmed and spread throughout school systems the world over? This was a time to be stimulated by the beauty of symphonic art music, repertoire and concerts for the Piano and other solo instruments, the emergence of the long playing record, then even more availability through the development of editing, the compact disc and digital reproduction.

Where does Forbes Magazine expect the audiences to come from, if not from the educational system.

In high school, we learned about the tape recorder which became more easily available at affordable prices. One time my friend Dick Greenfield and I went over to Corleys house. Corley was our inspiring Band Director. We played an Entire band arrangement by recording each part over the other, And to our ears, it didn’t sound bad. It was doable. In actuaity, I have almost every concert I ever played recorded and on tape ,transferred to disc. That is a lot of clarinet playing. Some of it is even good.Because of my high school adventures, and because many musicians learn from their own recordings,(the cruelest of teachers) But, back to our subject. What has happened to our audience?

As musicians got the diminishing symphonic positions, they themselves, proliferated. Simply everyone played and loved their flute, their oboe, their clarinet, and pleasure lead to desire to be able to make music, this great pleasure, one lifes work. (NOT). First , the seasons were enlarged ,so as to support the large audiene and of course, the musicans. We all wanted full-time work, a family demanded that. So, we taught, and taught and taught, and now the students are drying up, or going into recording and yes, editing , or popular music, which has a gigantic live audience. And so ,music in the schools is virtually moribund, dead, or dying.

love, sherman