Your sound and how you speak with your sound, to the conductor

January 29, 2014

Concerning the embouchure for clarinetists, you will be the judge and the jury, and there is nobody else to advise you, or that can advise you. It is always the perception of the listener to your sound, his or her, or their reaction , which will determine everything in your musical world
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The question as to embouchure, is however an interesting one because it concerns the most basic aspect to be considered by every clarinetist: the sound. And its perception by the listener

For the sake of careful consideration, what constitutes sound on the clarinet?

Answer? nothing. We never consider the quality of sound of a clarinetist, but , we consider always, what is it that actually reaches the listener? The reactions.The conductor Your teacher? Your friends? The others, those with whom you compete? For a job? Consideration? Interest of a possible future friend? or another person with whom to play chamber music?

We are concerned primarily as to the perception of the various listeners. What is their reaction to our playing?

I can remember vividly, coming into the Conservatory Cafetieria and hearing the other clarinet students. The whispers were horrible and frightening. “Mazzeo student” Bad sound” Thin sound” “Hi” or no look at all, which I considered to be very bad indeed. My god! What did they think of me? and basically, did it matter? Does it matter to you? I guess i am speaking basically to clarinet students enrolled in music schools. But, if you play in a band once a week, how are you given your seat? Your chair? And who decides?

One of the very first totally thrilling incidents I experienced was in the All New-England Band in 1951. The conductor of that festival was William Revelli, conductor of the University of Michigan Band and Music Program. Four of us from Brookline High was chosen to participate. It was very exciting, or unnerving. I was sitting in the long row of clarinet players and Mr Revelli went up and listened to each clarinet player play his tuning note, Bb concert. When he heard mine, he said “Take first Chair”…. Shocking , and the thrill of my lifetime.
The most important thing in your musical life is how people react to your sound. The boost and encouragement I got from Revelli has lasted until this very day.
IT’s not about embouchure, reeds, clarinets, or moutpieces, or even ligatures. It is almost only about how your sound is perceived by those who are to judge you.

How do you get the job? What does a conductor listen for? How does he or she judge? How does anyone judge? Including you, yourself?

I once auditioned for the late Max Rudolf. He was the conductor of the Cincinnatti Symphony and the Metropolitain Opera. . His had a distinguished and long career . He had me play the clarinet solo in the slow movement of the Beethoven 4th Symphony. It turned into somewhat of a pleasant discussion. It was mostly about where would I take a breath, and I cannot remember the salient points, save for the fact that he was interested in how I conceived the solo, my understanding of the dynamics:their range, and where and how I would breathe. I could tell he was interested, that there was something , perhaps unusual, or special in my conception of this great work, that was of interest. He seemed a very sincere and honest man, and certainly, I was in awe of him. He then asked me to play the rapid articulation in the Overture to William Tell. At that time, I could not double toungue , but was able to play it at a reasonably allegro tempo. He then talked about his conducting and with whom he had been very impressed as a conductor. I was not pleased because it turned out to be Stanley Drucker, the long time Principal of the New York Philharmonic. At that time I did not know Drucker, but of course, was terribly envious of his position.

What Mr Rudolf said about Stanley Drucker was new and different . I had never heard a conductors perception of a player He told me that , when conducting the New York Philharmonic, it was actually possible for him, the conductor , to improvise in his conducting, and that Drucker could follow his improvising. Now , this was the most important thing I took away from that audition. It was Stanley Druckers ability to pick up even the faintest change in the baton technic or in the eyes of the conductor, while playing solo clarinet.

Unbelievable, and it has stayed with me forever. That audition was worth a lot . I had been just a dumb clarinetist . prior to Max Rudolf. I have never forgotten his comments and of course, changed my opinion, my clarinetists opinion, of Stanley Drucker. I had never cared for his sound, or his embouchure, or how he blended with the other woodwinds and his tuning in the orchestra. But, Stanley Drucker was the most consistent principal player of any orchestra, and certainly had the longest tenure.

I had never thought of the interaction tnat takes place between a soloist within the wind section and the conductor during the very crucial time of live performance. how you are perceived by those who listen to you, is crucial. That first impresson can hold the key to your entire future as a clarinetist. Certainly it became my most important consideration.

Everyone plays well, but it is the one who listens and judges who is most important. Something to remember.

keep practicing, and listening.

sherman

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A clarinetist’s formation

January 24, 2014

As did many of you, I became involved with the desire to play the clarinet while I was in high school. I was 15, became obsessed with the music of Benny Goodman and decided that I wanted to play the clarinet. His music, style and demeanor took over a good part of my life. As previously mentioned in these pages, my parents were unimpressed wih my desire. A musicians life was simple. To them, it would be the life of a bum. They were born , and bred in Russia and came over to the US early in the previous century. So, they suffered through the Depression My father variously sold crackers, drove a truck and then finally landed a job as a truckdriver  for my uncle Joe, who flourished selling plumbing supplies. Before I was ten years old, I was working for him in the canteen, a concession from the government, on which he bid and won and operated in a Service hospital for a numher of years. Winning the bid moved the family to Boston, when I was seven. During those war years, he and our family flourished and did very well, perhaps prospered is a better word, but only to the extent where savings were created. They knew nothing else but trying to make a dollar in those years. My brother and I worked there in this fast food place for patients, in the Public Service Marine Hospital in Brighton , Massachusetts. I liked the work , serving the patients cigarettes and coffee and whatever else we sold here. Business during those war years was excellent.. I worked there until I ws to enter High School. My older brother and my mother also worked there. He hated it and she loved it. She was able to flirt, scrutinize for thievery  and would fequently go downtowm to Filenes Basement and buy clothing for the patients. These guys had been merchant marines, risking their very lives in unarmed ships taking supplies back and forth to The war in Europe. Those that returned had been paid huge amounts of money for their risky service. Because we were located in a service hospital for wounded , we would frequently get large shipments of virtually everything that was scarce to most others in that period of war. We got large shipments of cigarettes which were terribly difficult to buy during the war, and all kinds of other things. The place really was good investment for my parents

That is when the music started. Somehow I got a set of records of the Philadelphia Orchestra playing the Grieg Piano Concert with Ormandy and Rubenstein. This gorgeous music became a center of my life.. In high school , I became involved in the Jazz Club. We listened to music virtually all of the time I wasn’t listening to Grieg. It wasn’t just Goodman who impressed me. It ws his playing. There was a joy and exhuberance which I
found enthralling. My folks never encouraged music for me, but went along, knowing in their hearts that musicians walked the streets, as I was to hear over and over again.
But, as has also been mentioned befroe they got a clarinet and lessons for me, and happened to luck into a wonderful clarinetist and teacher, who was also making a living; he, in music, by playing the Operas , when they came to Boston, and teaching at NEC and peddling lessons and instruments. But, as I have said, I was very lucky, for he was truly gifted, a wonderful clarinetist, and a fine teacher.. He simply always sounded terrific to me, and he became a role model. And so too, did Benny.

I promised myself that I would practice every day for half an hour, as I had been instructed, would stop squeaking forever and would never ever give up the clarinet. . I remember making that promise. You see, my parents always said, and repeated that I started many things and would always give them up. How many things can you start and give up by the age of 15?

In high school, I quickly became involved in every musical organization, the band, the orchestra and the chamber music ensemble, which was called the “Orpheus Ensemble” I worked through Klose, Kroepsch, Baerrman,and was told to buy the Bonade Book of Orchestral Studies.. I was told to study the first studies in the book, the clarinet parts of the Beethoven Symphonies, to which I applied myself, never ever having heard the works from which they came. I went way ahead of Beethoven, learning as many of the notes I could, without ever hearing any of the works. I loved them and memorized the entire book in a short time. I will not say how accurate was my playing, just say that I was in love with these notes.  Which has always remained.
I progressed very rapidly, able to copy sound very well and began to actually sound like I was playing the clarinet. But, it was to be years before I became professionally involved with the clarinet.. I learned that I was to think of the clarinet as a Selmer Clarinet, to desire and to play one. own one(this was Boston in the 40s .)I learned and listend to Scheherazade and other pieces filled with clarinets, and continued learning and relearnig the studies in the Bonade Book. It must have been really funny sounding because I was only beginning to listen to music,  these works from which my orchestra studies came. It took me a long time to get t o a Brahms Symphony and I simply didn’t have a clue as to what it was about. Not a clue. It sounded confusing, and simply could not pick up the form of the works. I knew only the soud of the clarinet, with which I was endlessly fascinated.

My brother was going to College and got a job in Washington, DC, working for the government. We drove to see him in DC and I practiced the whole way, in the back seat of our 1948 Nash, we bounced along . The most important thing was my promise to practice. I don’t remember how long it was, how many years I never missed a day. I think I got pneumonia one time and was too sick to blow the clarinet. My clarinet for those years was a metal Pedlar clarinet. It was in one piece in a fake leather covered case, and I was extraordinarily proud to have it, although it remained a rented instument for several years.

I practiced all of those etudes, yes,.including Rose, and whatever else was on th shelves in Rayburns Music, where I had my lessons. I became enamored with the Polatscheck books for clarinet. Thee were two: one quite simple , but melodic, the other, compliex and made from actual repertoire Victor Polatscheck was the principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony during those years, and excellent and thoughtful musician.

The army came along for several years and I was stationed with one of the better service bands. More and more clarinet music. I fell in love with the Boston Symphony Recording of the Berlioz Fantastic Symphony , a beautiful looking album to which I listened thousends of times.

There existed at the time, The Seventh Army Symphony, made up of all service members. There was an opening and I wanted to audition  NO.he first seargent flatly told me, promising me an assignment to Fort Hood, instead. That was the end of that.

I graduated from te US army in 1957 and enrolled in Boston University, studying with, of all people, Gino . We called our teachers by their first names when they weren’t around. He was truly a gifted wonder of a clarinetist, however we were not meant to be. He wanted me always to buy either his clarinets, or his mouthpiece or sell me insurance. There are many true Cioffi stories within these pages.   All the superlatives are true. So, are the stories.

I left BU after a year and was advised to audition for Rosario Mazzeo, bass clarinetist and personell manager of the orchestra. I was accepted,audtioning on the Nielsen,  This was a formative time and I spent about 5 or maybe 6 years with him. He was a mentor, a friend, and an unusual teacher, precise and exacting. All during these years, I auditioned for whatever was or seemed available, never being hired until Milwaukee, where I discovered orchestral life was not a glamorous as perhaps the image I had built in my mind. For some, certainly yes, for me, there had to be something in addition to playing .

I resigned and went back to Boston  to complete a graduate degree, having decided that university was more interesting and had more  opportunities than playing in what was not a great orchestra.

Teaching at the University of New Hampshire was not an unpleasant diversion, but, still too narrow a scope. I wanted to do more and found an excellent opportunity in Montreal at Concordia University, where I organized and conducted the university symphony orchestra for 17 years and started the Chamber Players, a group dedicated to the performance of 20th century classics. I was asked to perform i many many concerts for Radio Canada, an experience unto itself. It became known that I knew virtually every piece that included clarinet, and we played many concerts, making four  professional clarinet recordings as well.

In montreal during this time, early music was in vogue and generated a large audience in many of the churches and other such venues. I learned that the recorder existed, was an easy instrument to learn, and had none of the complex difficulties, such as reeds, or even embouchures for that matter.

The richest harvest of the recorder is the enormous amount of repertoire by some of the greatest composers that exists for the instrument. Handel Telemann ,Bach, They all wrote fine works for the recorder. I became fascinated with the music , set up a music stand in a bathroom and practiced away on the instrument at almost any time I wished. There was much to learn about the music itself, specifically the rich baroque ornamentation, of which , as a clarinetist, I knew little or nothing. I learned all of the functions of ornamentation of the Baroque period, and the actual improvisational passage that are or were available. As I became enriched with this information, I began to think of the possible interest in combining recitals of clarinet music with performances of music for the recorder.

With my accompanist, the late and greatly gifted Kenneth Wolf, we devised and played many concerts of this mixed media to considerable success throughout New England.

The next project came also from early music, for the classical clarinet, this boxwood three or four keyed instrument was becoming popular, actually had a beautiful purity of sound, which made incorportating that instrument into chamber music concerts another novel idea

Somehwere in there I founded the Mannheim Trio, with Valerie Kinslow, Soprano, and Boyd Macdonald, keyboard. We toured Nova Scotia one summer, which was great fun, and I learned to love Haddock.

In actuality, Early Music for clarinet players is a wonderful idea. Learning performance practice for a time about clarinet players know nothing, is simply a terrific and enriching idea. Combining early instruments and performance with more contemporary works makes for interesting and fascinating programming and a novel way to attract audience, while you are learning the various horns and ornaments.

Keep practicing, keep playing , keep learning as much as it possible.

Take a break, then start again.

best wishes

sherman


Harold Wright in Constitution Hall , Wash. DC

January 18, 2014

Dear Mr. Friedland –

Having just discovered your site I must say how fantastic I find it. Especially the mentioning of Goodman and also Harold Wright whom I believe was at one time the principle clarinetist with the Washington DC Symphony Orchestra at a time when I lived close by in Alexandria, Virginia. Thanks for taking the time to benefit clarinet players like myself. My question has two parts. A. – why am I having some difficulty hitting middle B on my Bb Buffet clarinet which has just been overhauled … the overhaul didn’t solve the problem … I am starting to think its my reed selection and then – B. – why can I not find when my clarinet was made which model it is …. it has these numbers …. the barrel 1231 660 and the two lower barrels have 10712 on each on the back lower just above the cork. I hope to hear from you and again, thanks for the site. F S,Delray Beach, Fl

Dear FS:

Thank you for your kind letter.

My wife’s parents lived in Delray Beach,  lovely place, but I heard lately that it is completely flooded from the inclement weather

It seems that you and I were in Washington DC at the same . I was in the US Army at the time and was attending the Naval School of Music, located in Anacostia, just outside of DC
In uniform, we could attend just about any concert without admission charges. And ,it was at Constitution Hall where I first heard this incredible clarinetist, whose quality of sound I found enchanting. That Hall had very good acoustics and this fellows sound just happened to float above the orchestra, at whatever dynamic he was playing or in every piece that included  clarinet. Actually, it was somewhat of an epiphany; a surprise that made me shiver with pleasure. I was already a clarinet player, more than 60 years ago, but quite young and, at just the right age to hear this exquisite playing, seemingly effortless, yet permeating the entire Hall.

Many years later, there was an opening for 2nd clarinet in that orchestra. There were 200 contestants and I got to play for him. I did not get the job, but was told that I had come in 3rd out of the 200. Of course, a miss is as good as a mile. but it was wonderful to play for this wondrous clarinetist. Of course, years after that, Wright became the Principal in Boston and remained there until his untimely death. Symphony Hall in Boston is even acoustically superior to Constitution Hall, and the sound remained always with that special unique quality. Pertaining to the recent post on dynamics in orchestras being quite loud , for almost all playing, Harold Wright refused to go long with this practice , which developed because of subtle or not-so subtle competition existing between recording, and live performance. As a result, the woodwind dynamics in the BSO remained, “as written” rather than distorted. Of course, this is opinion, but I would hope, informed opinion.

Concerning your recently overhauled clarinet, I suggest you bring it back to the repairperson to check out the middle B. Obviously, they didn’t place the pad properly. It is an easy adjustment for a” techy” to fix. One or more of the pads are not seated properly. If it played well prior to bringing it for repair, it should be better , if not, bring it back for a check by the repairperson .

You barrel is difficult to place, as the only thing I can tell is that it is a 66mm, or seems to be. 10712 seems to be listed as having been manufactured in the mid 1920s, however, these lists of serial numbers can be found to be incorrect, and perhaps one should not take much stock in the year of manufacture. It depends on how the horn plays for you; on its response.

Hoping that this may assist you.

best wishes,

sherman


Dale Bartlett, 1936-2013

January 10, 2014

Valerie Kinslow, head of voice at McGill and a longtime collaborator, sent me a note a couple of weeks ago, telling me that Dale Bartlett was in palliative Care at Jewish General, I immediately called him at the hospital.
I told him that “we have a rehearsal at 7:30 PM that evening”.
He responded immediately, asking “what is on the program?” It could have been an actual call , as it had been made many times during a long and happy collaboration of many many concerts of solo and chamber music in Montreal, over a quick quarter of a century.
I was first introduced to  Dale Bartlett  “Le Paris”restaurant on Saint Catherine, where I was having lunch with Kit Kinneard, a producer for the CBC. It was a quick introduction and he seemed quiet and almost diffident., a smoker who deeply enjoyed his habit, which in the end at the Jewish, took this fine musician and dear person from us.
Did we actually play a hundred concerts of solo and chamber music together? I think so, perhaps more than 100. We played for Arts National, “Concert Intime”, Concordia University, and McGill, and for the Concert Series in Brome, for Constance Pathy, for dozens of CBC Remote Concerts for Francis Wainwright, another CBC Producer, and for Pierre Rainville in Studio 12 at the CBC.
Dale was the most consistent accompanist anyone could ever wish for, always prepared , always totally accurate, and a convivial and intelligent accompanist and collaborator, and a very funny guy when the mood took him.
When we played and recorded the 3 Sonatas for Clarinet, by Max Reger, he called them the “Ronald Reagen” Sonatas. While he did not drive an automobile, he was never ever late for a rehearsal or a performance. He smoked after.
We played an entire Recital at Carnegie Recital Hall in NYC on March 6 one year. That was my parents anniversary. They were living in Miami at the time, and naturally, they didn’t attend.
Instead, we all drove to New York i my diesel Station wagon, Linda, and my four children, Noah, Abram, and the twins, Nathan and Joe. I think it was the windiest weekend in history, snowy, blowy and , well, actually funny because we played “Hink Pink” on the way. The funniest retort came from Joey, now the Pastor at Evangel Church, the Pentacostal Center of the universe. His Hink pink was “Star Trick”, “hooker in space”.
We all stayed at the musicians hotel near Times Square, the name of which eludes me, but they had special musicians rates and it was a clean and easily locatable hotel near Times Square.
Let’s see, Abram worked the tickets at the door, and Nathan recorded the concert, Joey and Noah gave out programs, and we had a reviewer from The Times, Bernard Holland, who wrote a short equivocal piece in the Times, writing that I “Seemed very happy” , blew a couple of clams in the Bernstein Sonata, and played one of the Regers, a new Sonata by the (late) John Bavicchi, who was part of “Les Six”, which com[prised the entire audience. There would have been eight, but, since there was no Brahms on the program they deigned to attend. John made a party for us at The Intercontinetal Hotel, where he and Bevvy were staying.
We drove back to Montreal in the most miserable wintery , snowy weekend of the year. We had to search for a station which offered Diesel fuel, and it seemed like every other car on the road was in a ditch.
Nathans recording came out very well. Carnegie would have done it, but the fee was exhorbitant , as inflated as the audience was meager.
Dale Bartlett? He was only terriffic, tasteful and totally accurate, as only he could be and was , always. He smoked, after.

Dale, I love you, man, wherever you are.

sherman friedland