Hands Across the C.larinet

A young clarinet player really has very little about which to worry, least of all, the hands. I never had a single concern about my hands or their ability to manipulate the clarinet. Never did I ever think about my fingers. I played the clarinet , then bass clarinet,then just about all of the saxophones, especially playing baritone in a big 20 piece “big” band while in school in Texas. At age 16,I saw an ad in Downbeat magazine for   scholarships for “Dance Band” musicians. There were full scholarships available,and they wanted a recording as an audition. I borrowed an alto, went to a studio in downtown Boston, and recorded a couple of banal tunes; just the melody,no improvisation. It was almost a lark. But it became an incredible education. What about never having been presented with a big book of lead alto parts in a section of five  saxophone players.One can read well in lessons or in band, but a big band, with its manuscript parts, bad copying, falling pages, to a young kid who was actually a clarinet player, it was literally  insane . And, I was playing lead alto, With a full scholarship which included tuition and a few other things.( For me, leaving home and going to the west was the most exciting thing.) Of course, I was to return to Boston later to study the clarinet for many years. But Texas, for a kid from Brooklyn, was a real adventure. It remains in my mind forever and actually I was to meet my best friend, Duncan Hale there.Now, we grow old . me in Canada and him still in Texas. But hands? and fingers? The furthest thing from the mind. I played everything I could find, first , playing saxophone, until one day in a part for alto, I had to switch to clarinet. “Wow a real clarinet sound”, was what I heard, and that story continued . I first began to get pain in my left hand midway into my teaching at Concordia University, where I began to play many   chamber music concerts. The pain began to really get my attention and I started exercising the hand by squeezing a small rubber ball, then wearing very tight gloves for pain then, I finally went to my doctor who told me that I was suffering from an elderly ladies syndrome having to do with”pouring too much tea”. (great doctor) The surgeon to whom I was referred diagnosed the problem as DeQuervains SyndromeDe Quervain’s tenosynovitis (dih-kwer-VAINS ten-oh-sine-oh-VIE-tis) is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. If you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, it will probably hurt every time you turn your wrist, grasp anything or make a fist. Although the exact cause of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis isn’t known, any activity that relies on repetitive hand or wrist movement — such as working in the garden, playing golf or racket sports or playing the clarinet or lifting your baby — can make it worse. And it got worse. I started buying all kinds of gloves, braces, anything I could find to help ease the pain. The surgeon had an assistant make me a piece of plastic material which held my hand in a tight grip, but , to no avail. He then scheduled me for a simple day surgery. What this consisted of was him , making a small cut on my left wrist. The prep took a long time, including many baths and cleansings, it seemed, but the surgery was as simple and was done with no pain and no anesthetic. It was over in a minute or so. “You’re cured”, he said. He then told me that the scar tissue would allow the tendons to move more freely and the pain would be gone. And , it was gone , quite quickly. My left hand is still ok, unless I wear a large heavy wrist watch. Spooky little thing, that scar, but I was left in peace with that hand. And so, the years went by and I was testing and buying as many clarinets as I could. For about ten years, perhaps a bit more, I played the Mazzeo System full boehm “centered tone” clarinets, had a set of them. They played well and I think I played them for as long as anyone. From the standpoint of technic,they are a terrific advantage, all fingerings are pure, and anything is possible. They were good instruments, as well. BUT, all those keys, 23 and seven rings were heavy, to say the least. I removed the big low Eb key , but that helped little. And, my hands are small, fingers as well. During the last ten years, I started writing articles about thumb rests, simply picking them to pieces, because of what I said was too big or too small or unadjustable, or just plain lousy. But, dear friends, it was my right thumb, which began to ache terribly after a couple of hours of playing. I would simply have to stop playing and rest, as it really ached. Not only that, but it hurt and really damaged my control of legato. I retired from University, and we left Montreal for Cornwall, a smallish city in Ontario, where the taxes are much less and the Province is run with a modicum of sense, if not much more than Quebec. I found the most beautiful clarinet I have ever heard. It wasn’t the make, it was the clarinet itself. The c clarinet weighs less than the Bb and is intrisically, better sounding and feeling, much more vocal than the Bb, and better in tune. I started playing the Schubert Sonatinas for Violin, opus 137, and I absolutely loved them, and all the violin music I could find. Then the Pistolesis, friends and colleagues for years, formed a trio called the McConnell Chamber Players. He is a cellist, but also plays piano, and Sara his wife, a violinist, violist and a soprano as well. We payed the regular clarinet repertoire, but on c clainet, probably the original instrument for the Mozart Trio and other works, and yes, I played the Schubert Violin Sonatinas. Finally, my right hand was eased because of less weight of the instrument, but , not forgotten. I still became fatigued because of the pain in my right thumb,   hurt legato, perhaps the clarinets most beautiful feature. I went for weirdo expensive electronic therapy, with promises of it growing new tissue for my thumb. No help at all, all those lights going on and off. My thumb hurt terribly after a brief rehearsal. I tried a neck strap, to no avail, until my answer was given to me. The tip of the thumb wherein you hold the weight of the clarinet , is the weakest part of the wrist, the thumb having the most uses of either hand. I found a gadget, please don’t neglect this thing, as it may help you.I am reluctant to mention its name. Why? Because it becomes a gadget to try. These gadgets flood the musical instrument business. But, if you really love your horn and it is uncomfortable because of your right thumb, the Tan Koiman thumb rest can save your life and your phrasing. If not, it is not needed.   it transfers the weight of the horn to the joint next to the wrist, allowing a childlike freedom of every movement in your right hand.

Extraordinary.But putting it on the horn. confused me, I finally discovered the way, after carefully avoiding the instructions that came with it. I put it one with only one screw, and it is miraculous for anyone who has this fatigue and pain. I do not think I will play Bb again, mostly because the C is so beautiful, and I am ordering a c clarinet from Tom Ridenour(the best designer of clarinets), tonight, if he will attach the gadget before shipping me the horn. That is what I call it,  a horn;Most do. Keep practicing, it doesn’t keep you young, but it keeps you. best regards, sherman


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