The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

April 26, 2013

Let me begin by making an apology to all healthcare providers, for they do a magnificent service to us all, especially to diabetic folks like myself. They are all quite wonderful, and I have a superb dentist, who happens to love music, and a nurse practitioner, and various professionals who tend to my extremities, for which I am quite thankful(both my extremities and the healthcare providers) We have also had the arrogance that exists only in the healthcare areas, oh, yes, and in Music Departments everywhere, to say nothing of all organized or disorganized religious groups,and orchestras ;which reminds me of a story attributed to Brahms:

He was supposedly quite an astringent fellow, despite the ethereal quality of his perfect music. He would frequently make damaging statements at gatherings. At the conclusion of one gathering, he is said to have made this comment: “If there is anyone present whom I have not insulted, I apologize.”

I have had several questions concerning teeth and playing the clarinet, naturally double lip, which as mentioned, is the most perfect way of cushioning your teeth while playing. It is perfect in my view as it is very natural to cover both the lower and upper teeth with the lips. Here is both the benefit and the deterrent. When you cover both upper and lower teeth with the lips, you may experience pressure either in the upper or lower lip. If this prssure is applied with too much intensity, you may experience pain , caused by your teeth cutting your lips, either upper or lower. When the discomfort becomes more intense, we have the little culprit called pain which ensues, possibly causing all kinds or avoidance reactions, leading to changing the position of the embouchure, which is bad, because it just transfers pain . Pain is what it is. Yes, like this writer, you can get some preparation H, which is actually for another place, or any of the oral antiseptics containing the material that dulls pain. This is a blind alley because you really need as much sensitivity in your embouchure as possible. So, you may choose to live with the discomfort or actually try several other solutions. Not liquid solutions, which alleviate other kinds and types of pain. I have known several clarinetists who will fold a piece of cigarette paper over the lower teeth, which will help slightly, until you bite through it or it just falls apart in your mouth. Then, there is a further solution which is have your dentist make a fitting(at considerable cost,of course) that will fit over the lower teeth. This works for some folk, however it is not preferable. A third way is to have your lower teeth shaved down.The dentist will see or feel a jagged edge down there and will simply grind it down to smoothness, which can help to an extent, Of course, the best way to avoid pain in your lips is to play without biting on the reed. However , we know that biting causes pain, to say nothing of perfectly ghastly noises and a general irritation which can spread to other areas. Tuning is difficult ,if not impossible. We know that tuning of an individula note is difficult, there usually being a couple of ways to achieve making a given pitch either higher or lower, which requires either opening or closing the throat, shading the actualy fingering of a note, or using the lip. Don’t even try the latter method, which result in a net loss of the note itself.Here is where the absolute beauty of the double lip embouchure comes into play. If you continue with this embouchure, you will find the pain excruciating, and then what happens? You stop biting, using the corners of the embouchure to hold the clarinet in your mouth. After a time of not being able to play high C or the thumb F without something kind of help with other fingers, your embouchure will begin to straighten, and strenghenand the whole thing becomes self-corrective,  resulting in a better sound, and a smoother legato. Why? Because if you bang your fingers on the clarinet. it will hurt your teeth, right? Right. And your legato will go from smooth to bumpy, which can turn into a chain reaction of unwanted sounds.Those are several reasons that this embouchure is superior, and is the most natural for the clarinet and for the avoidance of discomfort.

Some, if not all of the finest clarinetists have used double lip embouchure. Names like Harold Wright, Gaston Hamlin, Ralph Maclane, Gino Cioffi readily come to mind .Tom Ridenour uses it too, and he makes the best tuned clarinet.

But, if you have a hole or a callous on your lip, you can try your dentist. If he knows nothing, he is not telling the truth, and he has an ulterior motive, which will usually cost lots more than your clarinet(s). Simply put, you do not bite your lips or put a hole in your head from the clarinet. If your healthcare provider doesn’t know how to fix it, he has a hole in his head, or a card up his sleeve. One hears ittle from Mdical Doctors about your condition, simply telling you to take a medication, and you hear even less from a toothcare provider. That is, until the discovery of the internet, and of course, GOOGLE and other avenues of information. I had a terrible battle with a healthcare provider about a drug called Januvia, which helps in conrtolling blood sugar. I asked him about it, and he didn’t kow it existed, and he dragged in that huge book of all medications. SInce it was new , it didn’t appear in his book so, I went home and downloaded the information, and left it with his secretary. The next time I saw him, he was absolutely white with fury. He said he had never ever prescribed this medication for anyone, implying that it couldn’t be anything but ridiculous. It was a terrible appointment, Not only did mhe make me wait, but slammed the door on the way out. A couple of months later, he came in an told me it was an excellent drug. That is the truth. It has become very popular in this high-sugar town. It is not a bad drug, but the best one for sufar is putting less of everything into your pie-hole.

Stay well, and keep practicing, and don’t bite. If you wish another “solution”, try Cabernet Sauvignon.


From The Tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth, by Robert Benchley

‘The nurse appears, and looks inquiringly at each one in the room. Each one in the room evades the nurse’s glance in one last, futile attempt to fool someone and get away without seeing the dentist. But she spots you and nods pleasantly. God, how pleasantly she nods! There ought to be a law against people being as pleasant as that.

“The doctor will see you now,” she says.”


Thumb rest update

April 20, 2013

I have written more than several articles concerning thumb rests, their placement, and their purported adjustment possibilities.

I had a hiatus of these complaints when I used a thumb rest called the Thumb Saddle, designed by Tom Ridenour, and used to keep at least two of them in my case always. Their cost is not prohibitive. To pay tendollars for almost anything for your clarinet is almost surprising and makes one feel one is in the time of the Great Depression. Really, what can you buy for ten bucks? Nothing. I am one of these nuts who remembers prices from my early childhood. I will give you several examples: I used to go down the hill each Sunday morning to get six bagels and a quarter pound of Lox. My father or mother gave me .27 cents. The six bagels cost 12 cents, the lox cost .15. Cents, mind you!Smoked Salmon these days, can cost 20 bucks a pound, and bagels can be six dollars for a dozen, especially the best , Montreal bagels. But, I digress. Moving forward on this journey into reverse DScience fiction, let us think of Van Doren Reeds. On a Friday afternoon before my Saturday Morning lesson in Rosarios Resonant Rumpus Room, which is what I called the room where all of us would play for one another, I would go to Rayburns and get 5 boxes of Vandoren Clarinet reeds. They would cost me 3.75 a box. Mrs. Sterberg, Rays mother, would give them to me for nothing. She was always very nice to me. There were 25 reeds in each box. Can you believe that!? Actually in retrospect, it didn’t matter, because none of the reeds played without sanding ,fixing, scraping, and saying an incantation over, the praying to Vanadee, the Reed Goddess. I may have mentioned that when I used to visit Lindas Parents in Long Island, we would always pass the Van Doren Nursing Home. This is true. The colors were purple and yellow, the same as the colors on a Van Doren Box of 25 reeds (which didn’t play). This is a case where the price was totally non consequential, The reeds played the same, regardless.
Back to Thumb rests. Yes, I thought and still think that Ridenours Thumb Saddles were terrific, price and all. I once wrote him a letter about them and he answered back saying, it didn’t seem to matter what shape they were, what mattered was moving your thumb to a different position. It remains one of the great clarinet buys. If it were made by a big company, it would cost at least 99 dollars, on special, and you and I would still buy them. What Ridenour said to me, “MOVE THE THUMB’ was most correct. Moving the thumb almost anywhere will ease the discomfort of the clarinet on your thumb>
Which again brings me back to the subject matter of this piece. Thumb Rests. As I aged, the difficulty pf the thumb rest became more pronounced. Why I didn’t have a clue is almost beyond me. I was getting pain from the weight of the clarinet, not the thumb rest. Almost no mature player plays without some kind of thumb rest help. There are neck straps , large and small thumb cushions, pieces of rubber, all kinds of things available. You can spend a fair amount on some kind of cushion, but one of the better of the free thumb rests are those things on milk machines in schools, the little rubber tube out of which, the milk comes. They are mostly made of clear silicone and , after you cut the piece off, it will stretch to accommodate your thumb. You just leave it on the horn always. I used them for many years. But then, my discomfort worsened and I started to blame the manufacturers of the thumb rests, I found fault with them all, without exception. Actually, the only one I really found perfect was the thumb rest of my C Clarinet. It was perfect. Why? It wasn’t the thumb rest at all. It was the weight of the clarinet, it being much less on the right thumb, it gave me less discomfort. Where was my brain? I have no idea, but feel somehow that there are folks out there who may share my affliction with the shape, placement, and positioning of the clarinet thumb rest. It is not the fault of the thumb rest. It is you and me, and all others who get discomfort after hours and hours of playing the clarinet. Many of our thumbs are not strong enough to withstand the constant weight of the clarinet. So, at present, I play everything on the C clarinet, If it is a Bb part, I get a C part, or simply transpose the part. Much of the standard clarinet chamber music is much less difficult with a C clarinet, and frankly, I hear better on the C, and it seems to have a more pistine purity than does my Bb. But,in actuality, we are talking about less weight being the critical factor, though the C clarinet is really a pleasant experience.

Stay well, and rest your thumb, or?


Robert Schumann(1810-1856) Märchenerzä0hlungen (Fairy tales), Op. 132, for Viola, Clarinet, and piano

April 16, 2013


We performed this strangely prescient work last Sunday, along with works by Mozart, Beethoven and CPE Bach. While Ihave performed the Fairy Tales of Schumann several times, performing it in the light of certain facts concerning the composer really brought to mind new observations and even sensations regarding both Schumann and this work. It is well known that Schumann is both regarded as the very soul of the Romantic Period, but in addition he published Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik.  about music and musicians, which as the first journal to recognize both Chopin, Mendelssohn ,and the young Brahms, whom he called a genius He was also a  pianist, who ruined his performing career by a device to stretch one of his fingers, a device which spoiled his career. Not only was he a composer of a tremendous body of music, for Piano, song cycles, (some of the most beautiful every written) 4 very important symphonies, and many other compositions for literally every conceivable combination of performers.For the clarinet, he gave us the Fantasy Pieces, Opus 73, and the Opus 94, also called Three Romances, for oboe, but frequently played by clarinetists.The Three Romances are very beautiful, but for the clarinetist, it will be helpful if you can circular breathe, which I never developed.The late Ken Wolf re-arranged ome of the Romances, playing one phras,while I got my breath.
Robert Schumann also was married to a great pianist, Clara Wieck, despite the protestations of her father. Schumann had actually studied with Claras Father.

In October 1835, Schumann met Felix Mendelssohn at Wieck’s house in Leipzig, and his enthusiastic appreciation of that artist was shown with the same generous freedom that distinguished his acknowledgement of Chopin’s greatness and most of his other colleagues, and which later prompted him to publicly pronounce the then-unknown Johannes Brahms a genius.The sad tale of Schumann’s later life is well-known; at the time of Märchenerzählungen, or Fairy Tales, Op. 132, 1853, his bouts of sleeplessness, hesitancy of speech and movement, and deepening depression were getting worse. A temporary ray of light, in the form of a visit by the young 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, gave him one last creative outburst.

The Fairy Tales were composed during this all-too brief Indian summer with the youthful genius of Brahms. Clearly, none of Schumann’s difficulties with larger forces are evident here. In the Fairy Tales, he draws closer and closer to his solo pianistic roots. Schumann cleverly links each movement, unifying them with subtle thematic references. The more intimate Trio setting allows his subtle harmonies, such as passing augmented sixth chords, and intricate melodic passages to be thrown into high relief. These figurations do not lose their effect, even when the clarinet or the viola doubles the piano line, which is far from the case in the crowded over-orchestrations of his symphonic works and concertos.

Despite the opposition of Clara’s father, she and Robert continued a clandestine relationship which matured into a full-blown romance. In 1837, he asked her father’s consent to their marriage, but was refused. Wieck ridiculed his daughter’s wish to “throw herself away on a penniless composer Early in their relationship, her father forbid them from marriage, however they persisted and spent their lives together until Schumann was committed to an asylum after several attempted suicides. He continued to compose, and, when he passed away , it was left to Clara his wife, assisted by Brahms to arrange his music, allow certain of the works to be published and edited. The other works were destroyed. The very last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published was the Opus 132, the Fairy Tales. For all clarinetists , it is a must for a recital and is one pf the more beautiful and difficult (for the piano) of all of his works. The clarinet and viola parts ae of medium difficulty, but the piano part is quite difficult, written very awkwardly for the fingers/ut, within the slow movement can be found dissonances which are strangely beautiful and resolved in unusual ways. These dissonance passage lie within a peacefully calm moveent, whicn I found to be incredibly surprising even yesterday. There are some performers who do not allow these passages and /pr dissonant note to be played in performance, howeverwhat you may think about changing notes should recall that the work is the last work that Clara edited and allowed to be published.

Works following Opus 132 were disposed of.These facts, I found fascinating. I had always been concernd about the “strange” dissonant passages found within an otherwise calm and peaceful movement. As mentioned above, there are some who leave out the dissonant passages and their resolutions , ss being mistakes or perhaps the products of a person who was considered as being insane, and who had tried to commit suicide several times. But then again, deeply respectful of both Clara Schumann and Brahms, both of whom had edited this work and had allowed publication, I found myself intent on both listening and performing these unusual dissonant passages. They are really quite lovely, regardless of how they resolve, and should be given special attention. Rather than demented, I think that Schumannws Fairy Tales, looks into the future.
Stay well, and get a good pianist for a performance of this. It lies awkwardly for the pianists fingers, so, take goodcare.


first entrance

April 6, 2013

For many years, I have been fielding questions from students of the clarinet on virtually all levels of accessibility and ability. Iniitially ,I was advised as to repertoire by my teachers. I knew no repertoire, had a pleasant enough sound, could play all of the notes on the clarinet with a reasonably good sound, and I b elieved that the sound of the clarinet was and is the most beautiful aspect of the instrument. Of course, making a beautiful sound is quite important, the ability to weave your sound in with the flow of the music is more crucial and, it is at this point that the art of the clarinet and the artist himself begin to join together in the making of the music itself.It is actually when you experience the first real joy of making music, when your sound and pitch and abilities to ebb and flow with the phrase and to feel that visceral quality of being an integral part of the music itself . I can remember quite clearly first joining in on a musical line while being a member of an ensemble playing chamber music. It was a piece by Mozart, an arrangement of one of the divertimenti, for five or six clarinets. The conductor brought us in, gave us the tempi and I was suddenly drawn into a hypnotic flow of notes and rhythms, which gave me an absolutely unique feeling. I was for the first time, an actual part of a piece of living music. I cannot remember ever being so excited and aroused in an artisitc way. Part of something musical, having to do with a group all having the same goal of playing a single piece together. The music came to a halt, then repeated itself and I found myself playing a series of connecting notes which seemed to join the two parts together. There were shivers running up and down my spine as I realised I had played my part as written and that my part connected the two sections of the piece. Can anyone reading this remember s similar experience, the first time being an integral part of a piece of music. a live player, playing a written part in a piece of chamber music, a few solo notes which connected two parts of the work. If you do, and I do hope there are many, you remember what sheer excitement and pleasure in music was and is. Playing chamber music becomes a great gift, a blessing, if you will.

(to be continued.)