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
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.