Ridenour’s Low C Bass

lowCbassI have been a clarinetist for almost as long as I can remember, about 65 years, which may have some pertinence to some. As a 15 year old kid in Brookline, Mass, Dick Greenfield , a gifted horn player, and my friend, used to go up to the Band room in Brookline High School, and , we’d just “hang out” as the popular parlance goes. (or, has it gone, yet again?). Corley, our band director gave us the keys,with which went free access.

We’d play warmups of orchestral passages, which we knew, for each other, and then we would go into the cabinets where all those new instruments were stored. And, we would party with them. I loved the look of the Bundy flutes, as there was a similarity in the key arrangement to that of my metal Pedlar clarinet. So, I put it together, started to play on it, and “lo and behold”, I made a sound. I actually made a sound.

That was the beginning of some kind of illness. For a kid who could barely play Rose”, #1, I was nothing, but eager.

When we got our first Bundy resonite Bass Clarinet, I was crazy to play it at our first band concert and did.We were playing the first movement of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony, the band arrangement of which starts with the Bass clarinet playing the familiar melody, and there I was , holding my  clarinet, and the Bass, on a neck strap, playing the melody, prior to putting it down and continuing on Bb with the familiar ostinato. That was pure joy. I had gotten the bug and made the rounds of all the woodwinds, save the bassoon, which we had not yet acquired.

For a young kid. it seemed like an achievement of some kind.

But, what it was, it has remained with me,always.I’m sure there are those out there, who may agree.
The fascination for clarinets has never left, except for lately when other things matter more than clarinets.

The Bass Clarinet has always fascinated me. Of course, there is a
story which goes along with this story here , as well. When in high school and playing on this new Bundy Bass we had received, I really thought that I was hot stuff, and , maybe for high school , I was. But here is the story. My teacher, a superb player was asked by Rosario Mazzeo to join the Pops Tour, which was to leave shortly, and he was somewhat bothered by what he considered a nuisance. So, he told Mazzeo that I was the person for the job. And, I had an audition with Mazzeo, who in several years, would become my teacher.

Ready for this?
He asked me to play Bb , asking me to play an E major scale to the altissimo and return. I did, somewhat good, but, with errors and (only the lord knows). It was a short sudition, the shortest I have ever experienced. Mazzeo said, “you have the bgginnings of a good sound” Come back in five years!

I think I had the courage to put the clarinet back together and stagger down the three flights of Symphony Hall stairs.It was of course, unforgettable. I learned more about the business of clarinet playing in that five minutes than I ever did.

Mazzeo was bothered that someone would send a student for a position he himself didn’t need, and reacted normally. KILL the messenger, if you get my meaning.

I learned to really play from that little horror, and studied with Mazzeo for 6 or seven years, was probably one of his better students, played “his” clarinets with great success, all the time realizing that only one brand of a new instrument would never make it. While everyone in Boston played Selmer, really nobody else did. It was known as a “Jazz” clarinet mostly, and remained so until the last five or ten years when their newer models virtually took away that “crown”.

As mentioned however, the bug stayed with me, and I have owned more clarinets than I can even remember, with no regrets.

The Bass Clarinet is a fun instrument to play, especially if you have the good fortune to play “Pierrot Lunaire”, by Arnold Schoenberg, in which you double on Bb and Bass and is a virtual dictionary of 20th Century clarinet practice.

But other than that, and a few other pieces, especially some Opera, Wagner, it is an instrument that is seldom used. There are some lower bass clarinets, but there is simply not that much repertoire of interest, and it remains a costly purchase.

The clarinet pictured above is the best priced, and best  instrument of its kind, and weighs in at less than three thousand dollars, including the whole thing. It is made of hard rubber, meaning it will not bind or crack and keep its pitch and tuning virtually forever, and if you don’t bash your friend in the head with it , or drop it off the bus, you are in business, until you graduate , ot change your major, whichever comes first. And brother, you will change your major, and may even graduate.

It is made by the designer William Thomas Ridenour, who has designed the worlds finest clarinets. I’ve never met him, but adore his instruments. His designs include, the Opus and Concerto, as well as the Sonata and others of the Leblanc  name. These instruments seem to have recently been discontinued, the inside story being incredibly convoluted. I believe the instruments have been reissued in hard rubber by the Ridenour organization. I have the Libertas; less to buy, even less to worry about , and , a great player.

Keep practicing, remembering that music is one of the more beautiful things we have been given to love.

Best, Sherman

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