From Tom Ridenour (March 18, 2013)

March 19, 2013

You are absolutely right–every clarinet player dies a little in a cold performance hall. I remember well, I certainly did. I recall in a cool Sanders Theatre in Boston, Harold Wright came out on stage to play the Mozart Piano quintet with his clarinet tucked under his suit coat. He looked worried. As always, he played great!

Of course, hard rubber clarinets free the player from such worries—and it IS liberating. As you kindly and rightly note, hard rubber has many, many virtue and advantages, but the pragmatic concern of freedom from the fear of cracking during concerts or while on the road may be the greatest—-especially for the working clarinetist.

Second, I’d say I, personally, like the color of the tone of a hard rubber clarinet; it is softer, not in volume, but in shape, which is naturally less harsh and pleasing to the ear–more akin to Rosewood than Grenadilla wood is.

Running a close third, or maybe tied for second, I’d say the wind resistance is more even, and this makes phrasing more effortless and response at all dynamics more secure in all registers.

For those who think logically about the clarinet and musical performance it will be clear that these features make up a formidable set of advantages. And then, nowadays especially, there is the issue of price–which is no. 4 or, perhaps, no. 1—depending upon whether you can or can’t even conceived of being able to pay for an outrageously priced wood clarinet.

In my view: That’s four strikes–the wood clarinet is OUT!

The real outrage, in my view, with wood clarinets is very little of the high cost is related to making the clarinet actually play better. If I were to write a step by step approach to making a French wood clarinet in the 21st century, the first step would say something like this:

Step 1. Start with several million Euros a year of legacy, entitlement, upper management and retirement expenses and make sure the losses they impose are made up by French government subsidies, robbed from the French tax payer–whether he plays the clarinet or not– to support unprofitable companies because they are part of “the French heritage.”

Step 2. Buy a large amount of Grenadilla wood….etc.

All this the high price is meant to cover, at least in part–and, as I already stated, none of it has a thing to do with making the actual performance quality of the clarinet the least bit better.

That’s offensive to me.

Without the government subsidies that high price would double or even triple just to cover the inflated overhead of Buffet Crampon, and keep the company out of the red.

Thanks for having the courage boldly go where no other clarinetist has gone, and state the plain truth, with no concern about whose ox is gored in the process.

Tom Ridenour deserves an award because of his many musical discoveries,and his extraordinary ear. The story of ebonite is very old, but Ridenour has something which very few possess, a very sensitive ear, and the ability to use tools which are connected to his ability to hear. Over many years, he has developed his skills and can literally tune and or change any clarinet for the better. This led him to the first hard rubber clarinet which was something else: it was in tune, better than most clarinet made of any price, thus affording the young student the ability to start on a good instrument, proper tuning, long lasting and dimensionally stable, available at a fraction of the French made Grenadilla clarinets. He has made a very fine sounding clarinet available for young student,for about 1 thousand dollars,:better than any clarinet that can cost 4 or 5 thousand dollars, or more. This combines the gift of a good ear, and the experience developed to allow him to make excellent advances in the manufacture of clarinets. His many inventions include barrels, many books on fingering and an excellent book on advice on reed fixing and choosing, and a superb series of brief seminars offered to all available as close as your computer, and at no cost. He deserves the praise of the entire industry


Trust me:”Every clarinetist dies a little, playing in a cold church”

March 18, 2013

As early as 1960, as a young student, I had thought of manufacturing a clarinet of a material other than wood. Not only was my thought unoriginal, it was childish, especially in retrospect. “Resonite”, the Selmer Company’s version of a plastic clarinet had recently been announced. I clearly remember the picture that appeared in all of the music magazines of the time. It showed a new Studebaker Automobile actually being held off the ground supported by four clarinets made from Resonite. At the time, I thought it a funny ad because it was so absurd. How and why would anyone support a car on four clarinets? Of course, it was a method of advertising and was quite successful at the time. (In actual fact, there had been an entire clarinet section of a Midwestern Marching Band using clarinets made from hard rubber,though unadvertised) in order to stave off the effects of rapidly changing temperatures. Then again, this ad had to be brand new, almost a rule for advertising a “new” product. As that young student, I knew that the material was artificial, or certainly not wood, my instruments of choice, simply every young player. wanted a wooden clarinet, and my desire was for a Selmer (Paris) wooden clarinet.

I learned and experienced early on, that a wooden instrument must not be subjected to rapidly changing temperatures. The instrument would be subject to cracking at the worst , and a lengthy period of time before the instrument would be warm enough to play properly in tune, and it was just unpleasant playing on a cold wooden clarinet. one learned to always allow a wooden instrument to adjust to the ambient temperature of a room of about 72 degrees Anything even in the 60 degrees average could and did cause all kind s of tuning problems.

But this “resonite” was by comparison, indestructible, and it was a great selling point. The only detrimental aspect was that the material was used for the manufacture of less expensive band instruments, specifically marching band instruments, and of course, there were , even then, many many more opportunities for playing in a marching band than for anytnng else. So, the Selmer Signet clarinet was manufactured quickly and cheaply. They played well, but of course, there was no refinements, this not being the priority. All kids in marching bands played plastic clarinets, actually, or metal clarinets, and those metal clarinets were really junky as a music emitting material.

In more recent times, the 70s and 80s, I played literally hundreds of concerts for the CBC, in many of the local Churches in Montreal. They all had one thing in common: They were cold, freezing cold, the pianos usually untuned for the rehearsal, sometimes for the concert as well. These were “remote” concerts. There were no retakes, and no excuses made for ill-tuned playing, coming in from a cold car, to a cold church, little lime for warming up, infact it was an impossibility. Trust me, every clarinetists dies a little in a cold church

My idea evolved slowly, but surely. Why not, I thought< get two clarinet-sized pieces of resonite and take them to Paris and have Selmer make them into the most perfectly refined and finished clarinets available. Certainly, my unevolved idea totally without thought, seemed a good one. In my mind, I saw them putting the piece of resonite on a lathe and slowly grinding it away until it became the instrument of my dreams. Of course, it was totally childish and just a thought, but, I thought, possible in some future time. The idea never left me until I discovered the clarinet made of ebonite, which of course, was hard rubber. Of course, those first popular ebonite clarinets were designed and manufactured through the efforts of William Thomas Ridenour. I first wrote to him perhaps 25 years past and asked him if he had one. He answered promptly, that he had a hard rubber clarinet that was "a killer", as e called it, and it would cost about 1100 hundred dollars. At the time, it was still much less expensive than a wooden instrument. Futher the material was much more stable, available and much less complicated to machine. Mr Ridenour had been the designer of the Leblanc Opus Clarinet, Leblancs manufacture that was considered the finest instrument on the market. An early hero of mine, Larry Combs, wth whom I had known and played with in the American Wind Symphony in 1959 and was then the Principal in the Chicago Symphony, played the Opus. At that time, with the wind symphony, where he was the youngest and far and away the best clarinetist, Larry traveled quickly to Eastman, then to the New Orleans Orchestra, then to Montreal as eb clarinet, evolving to Principal, and then, to Chicago, first, as Eb, then Principal, remaining in that position for thirty years. When i first met Larry in Pittsburgh, he looked at my Full Boehm Mazzeo System Clarinets and said jokingly that they looked like Christmas Trees, a remark which is hard to forget, for young kid as I was then. Even at the age of 19, he played better then anyone else in the section. Elsa Ludewig and Peter Hadcock were also in that section, so long ago,alomg with the kid with the weird looking clarinets, me. We all marched forward in different ways, and we are all retired now.

I will tell everyone who wishes to know why Mr Ridenour made the wooden Lyrique. These are my personal reasons, based upon the following: I have played perhaps thirty of Toms rubber clarinets, buying them at all prices imaginable from all sellers imaginable. Every single one of them played in tune, with or without a machine, to my ear, or to a tuner. I played many of them in rehearsals for a performance of The Quartet for the End of Time, by Olivier Messiaen, which we played in Alexandria, Ontario in 2006. Every clarinet of the many hard rubber instruments, blended extremely well with the piano Cello and the Violin, and my colleagues were extremely solicitous with their comments. It was an outdoor venue, had a big audience, but, also a terribly windy day, so the recording was useless. In fact I played it on my Selmer 10s at the last minute, and frankly it wouldn’t have made a difference. When Mother Nature decides to rear her head, forget about Messiaen or just about any outdoor music. I am sure you have all experienced wind at a quiet outdoor concert.

Finally, the only thing left to say is the following and that concerns any discernible difference between wooden Lyrique and hard rubber Lyrique. There is but one> In an orchestral situation, really a big orchestra, the wooden Lyrique will penetrate just a bit more than will the ebonite. That is my only statement on the difference. It excludes almost every single one who may read this, because big orchestras are dwindling rapidly and sorrowfully most of you will never play in one. In all other situations, the ebonite Lyrique will not only suffice, but excel, and it will not deviate in pitch or fit or anything. It is superior to wood dimensionally, as said. If you are playing “Ein Heldenlenben” by Richard Strauss, any of the parts. you will be in a big orchestra. Play it on a wooden Lyrique. It will carry better. Tom himself, agrees. So does this fellow in England who plays on a set of Lyriques.(Leslie Craven) I have many of each. Good luck. Stay well.And practice the Strauss part, no matter upon which horn you play it.

(By the way Anthony Baines,in his book on Woodwinds states that “ebonite is possessed of a more dulcit tone than is wood”)


Things to Try, and things Tried

March 5, 2013

Had an evocative note from a young clarinetist who had recently graduated with an advanced degree, and was very happy with his new acquisitions, some addition to his clarinet which he felt enhanced his sound in some way and made him feel encouraged about his sound. I had recently written an article which was concerned with the sound of a new acquisition. In my article, I had mentioned the Hans Christian Anderson story called “The Emporers new clothes”, a story which has been widely translated and is simply the story of tailor who brags that he can make clothing that will show imposters for what they are, and would be very beautiful.The emporer wears his new clothes and a young child says. “But he has no clothing on, and is naked”.
The young man with the new degree took my article to be a criticism of this new equipment. He suggested that I had criticized the equipment because I had never tried it myself. This is something I would never do, and in a long life as a successful Clarinetist Professor and Conductor, I have tried literally everything that I ever saw , including reeds, ligatures,ligatures with dinner plates, bells and barrels of every description, thousands of mouthpieces, and virtually every clarinet ever manufactured from every known material.Incidentally, the Ridenour barrel is a big help with the throat, at least it was with my Selmer 10s, (and it is readily available) I was a student of Rosario Mazzeo. He gave me a set of full boehm Mazzzeo System Clarinets which I played for longer than any other professional player, and also used exclusively while Principal in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I accompanied Mazzeo to Great Britain and demonstrated the Mazzeo System Clarinets for the CASS, the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain. And, I have tried every supposedly new addition having to do with the clarinet.I have been playing hard rubber instruments designed by Tom Ridenour for many years. And I have tried and tested his new Lyrique made from Grenadilla. The difference between wood and hard rubber are readily apparent. Grenadilla wood is more substantial from the standpoint of carrying power, but hard rubber is better in tune, stays in tune and stays stable.It is also the most easily accessible from the standpoint of cost and tunes better than any clarinet. It is easier to machine and it is more stable.
I am not unlike many of you readers who literally has spent several fortunes on equipment, always searching for something better, different, anything at all to change the quality of sound emitted from my clarinet. In the last few years, I have come to understand that the instrument is still lovely and beautiful , though, regardless of what new equipment I try, whether it be reeds, mouthpieces, accesories of all kinds, additions, and clarinets made entirely of different materials, or combinations thereof, and I have found that I still search for the beauty of the music, the beauty of the sound, the quality of the phrase, its length and beauty to be the one goal for which I will always search. I wish the young man with his new addition, and all those who try new or sifferent materials, that it is always finally the music itself, which is the ultimate goal of any clarinetist. I further advise all to audition whenever there may be a job out there and to get that job and be happy and fulfilled.

stay well,


Ridenour Responds II

March 1, 2013

The following was received from Mr Ridenour: The original article has been amended to include Harold Wright. sf

Sherman, that’s a very nice article–I appreciate your kind comments about the work I try to do. But it’s good to see that someone (you) is taking the time to remind younger players of the history we both lived through and the people we admired and appreciated. I did note you left out my most, most favorite clarinetist from that time: Harold Wright. What an superb musician—a real artist of the first rank.

I think it’s important to note, as you said, the clarinet has changed very little—much less than any other woodwind–even less than the Bassoon. Why? I think it’s because the Boehm system clarinet is a miracle of simplicity and completeness. It has such a perfect balance of simplicity and completeness to such a degree that any additions offered over the years have been largely resisted.

This, of course, is not true with the Albert design, which has morphed into the so-called Öhler system, or the Deutsch system, which is a mechanical monstrosity–and it still is not as facile a system as the basic Boehm system.

The Boehm system was a real stroke of genius, and almost all of the proposed additions have been rejected because, even though they might offer one or two advantages from the basic Boehm, they take away a dozen the Boehm offers in its original state. For instance, Mazzeo offered the enlarged side trill keys for better timbre of B and C using the side keys. Did we really need that? No. Any competent player would hardly use that–but, enlarging those tone holes takes away about 30 or more fingerings in the altissimo, because the enlargements ruin their resistance and tuning.

This, with all due respect, is marginal thinking on Mazzeo’s behalf–or, at least, that’s how I see it.
And so it goes. Oops, gotta run. Thanks again for a great article.