For Every Clarinetist and teacher

November 8, 2013

The following is a letter from a clarinet student from 45 years ago or more, when I was teaching at Plymouth State College of the University of New Hampshire, my first college job. It was a fine learning experience, filled with joy and learning, things we never finish doing. My hopes are for all of you to receive such information from long long ago. Yes, we were young, eager, playing sharp, and always looking for a step up. Stay well.

“Hello, after 45 years! This is Bruce Bean, now Connery, who was a senior at Plymouth State when you were teaching there. I have remembered you and your dear friend Dr. Wolf, who I learned passed away several years ago, all my life. I was so impressed with Dr. Wolf when you and he performed at PSC and we had the opportunity to meet him personally in a program he presented to the music students. I must again thank you for giving me an opportunity to begin my music career in Littleton, NH, when you wrote a great recommendation. Although Littleton did not work out for me in the long run I taught successfully in Plattsburgh, NY for 12 years before leaving teaching to work in municipal administration in CT, where I still reside in the Town of Monroe. After retiring from that position I have returned to teaching and have 45 students for private lessons, including 3 clarinet players! My most noted student from Plattsburgh was Richard (Ricky) Sherman who now is Chairman of the Flute Dept at Michigan State. He is really cool and reminds me of you. I shall follow your blog from now on and certainly would love to meet you for dinner, concert, whatever, if you are in the NYC area (I live only 40 minutes north of the city). So glad you are still sharing your musical gift with others.”




Ligature,contraption for reeds, also defines the word noose

November 2, 2013

Actually, after playing for a lifetime and collecting many of these , the whole experience is a bit funny, a little extraneous, and, beside the point. I have several sets of crooked plastic drawers. They were never really straight, but always ideal for putting stuff in. If I open a drawer, which is always opned crookedly, I pull it out and find the following: several small screwdrivers, reeds made of every material I can think of. several unopened boxes of shaped wooden pieces that go on the mouthpiece of a clarinet and make a noise if you hold it or screw it on a mouthpiece. There are probably 20 or 30 of these things, mouthpieces as well. I used to try these mouthpieces with the pieces of wood screwed on. Like many of you, I was totally obsessed with the noise that the mouthpiece and the shaped sticks made. Every now and again, I was pleased with the noise that the thing made, would screw it on to the mouthpiece with a piece of metal or sometimes a piece of leather or some artificial material. When I was young I used to use a piece of shaped metal with two screws which I tightened almost into submission, I thought to myself, the tighter the better, a good seal. I was a dumb clarinet player kid, trying different things, making a lot of strange noises each and every day for a long time. These metal things are called ligatures. I have owned hundreds of them, maybe more. I had a very thin one, metal, kind of decorated, very light in weight, which I liked rather well. Perhaps it was the decoration of the metal, perhaps its weight . It had a name embossed into it. I think the name was Bay. I remember playing with a guy named Bay in the American Wind Ensemble. that group was conducted by a fellow who had married into a family that made soups. I think they were named Heinz. . He married the daughter of Heinz and a mediocre trumpet player became a conductor of band music. We used to play on a barge in Pittsburgh, Pa. Actually, it was a very good group of players, all kids like me who played hight and fast and impressed the trumpet player husband of Mrs Heinz. So, this group of university musicians numbered 56, the numbers of varieties of Heinz soups made at that time, Or maybe someone told me that story over a beer, ….. maybe a soup. Who knows? The soup had too much salt and probably killed hundreds , if not more, of clarinet players who had screwed their ligatures tightly enough to finally break through the metal, which was very thin and not strong enough to withstand the pressure of those little screws. All my reeds had marks made by the reed having been screwed onto the mouth[iece so tightly as to make a really good seal., I thought, idiot that I was.When I was finished with a reed, I would remove the ligature and the reed would be affixed to the mouthpiece as if welded there. I always got pleasure knocking the reed off its seal, and letting it fall to the floor, gone and forgotten. The longer I played a reed, the longer it took me to find another. I learned about that too, after repeating the whole procedure maybe a thousand times.. For a while I collected clarinets too, but never had as many clarinets as I had reeds, or ligatures, or mouthpieces. Once, I had a recital to play in Milwaukee at Alverno college, where I taught on a part time basis. It was on a sunday afternoon. I actually went through three hundred reeds, trying to find one that I thought would sound ok for the concert, I never found one and played on a piece of junk. and everyone offered me congratulations, and a friend took me out to a nice restaurant for a steak . After a long time, I began to understand how to pick reeds that might play through a concert, and provide me with enough security to play well enough. I never ever changed a reed during a recital, never moved it. Didn’t believe in changing reeds while playing. I had studied for a while with Fernand Gillet, who had been the principal oboe of the Boston Symphony. He would tell me ,  us, that one should never change to a new reed before a performance, Better use one that you had played , If the new reed was in any way strange, you had to cope with a new problem. I stayed with Mr, Gillets advice. He had told us that he was collecting two pensions: one from the Boston Symphony, the other from the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris, as he had played principal in both orchestras. Gillet also told us that he never ever made a reed in his life. He used to get them from a guy in France, with whom he would trade an old suit for a bunch of reeds the guy made for him. Nobody ever did anything like that. Lots of people didn’t like Gillets sound but he could play anything that was put in  front of him. Perfectly He knew what to practice and how, and he taught us to learn in his manner. And it worked , always . Fernand Gillet was a great oboe player and an even greater teacher . At the New England Conservatory during that time, the teacher for clarinet was Mazzeo. If you didn’t get along with Rosie, you were soon  judged lacking in sanity, and you either left or got another teacher. Fernand Gillet ws also a wonderful clarinet teacher. He could look at you playing a passage and say, hold this finger longer, or accent this particular note. It always worked and he was an oboist. Lots of clarinetists used Gillets oboe method book.

stay well, and never play a concert on a brand new reed.