More: on testing new instruments

November 26, 2014

How many clarinets have you tested? And, have you always used some kind of digital tuner? And, has it caused you endless joy? At the first test? But, less on the second, and sequentially, cause more frustration? Leading to drink? Or some other kind of break? Testing yet another clarinet? Against which one?Did you forget?
And, which reed did you use? Mouthpiece? Do you remember?
What is your teachers phone number? Will they charge for the call?


The whys and wherefores follow: Using a digital tuner, or any kind of tuner to test notes on a clarinet, determining which of any two notes are better in tune with one another, is a losing battle. Believe it or not, most, if not many clarinets are built mostly in tune, save for a few very well known problems:
The lowest e and f on most clarinets are or tend to be flat, considerably so; the throat Bb, not being the true Bb is usually stuffy and sharp. The so-called open g is also slightly sharp as is the G#, all throat notes.

When you use a tuner to determine where these notes are, the initial digital or other response is usually higher by as much as ten cents than the actuall note being tried. Then , the pitch settles to where it actually is. Of course, this is all determined by your familiarity with the instrument and the equipment you are using, the mouthpiece, and reed. More importantly, your clarinet development is crucial.

Have you been playing long enough to have developed an actual correct embouchure, well developed in all ways, and do you have a perceptive ear. This of course, assumes that you are a serious clarinetist, or an advanced student. Having been through these kinds of tests as a young man, I can attest to this searching quality, but even more so, to the extent of which mouthpiece sounded better, going all the way into the whole clarinet. After many years of testing,i am well aware that there are numerous aspects of what can be called musical sanity on display.

But, I have had an long and successful career as an offering in my favor.

Anthony Gigliotti, Principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia orchestra, was a life long player of Buffet clarinets, until of course, he allowed the Selmer company to practically duplicate one of his clarinets, which became known as the Selmer 10G clarinet, and was quite good, though not, a Buffet clarinet. Mr Gigliotti also had Buffet send him 55 clarinets each year. He went through them all, and picked two , which he then gave to Moennig, the famous clarinet technician in Philadelphia, for tweaking, and then he would allow two of his best students to play these clarinets.

Of well known clarinetists of the past, I know in gneral, of their procedures for trying these instruments. Mostly , they played extremely well known folk songs, or perhaps national anthems or very familiar melodies. Why? To determine how these melodies fit into their “ears of acceptance”. If they played a familiar orchestral excerpt like the clarinet in Egmont Overture, by Beethoven, did the interval to the high c, go perfectly smoothly and with the correct feeling in the upward slur. They did not try to determine if any single notes was either in tune or how much deviation occurred. That would have been quite obvious from a simple few notes played .

Of course , we are speaking of players of all levels of development. My specific point here is to well develop your study of the clarinet prior to engaging in testing activites which may be reached more successfully, later in your clarinet experience.

Stay well, and keep practicing to a musical goal.



Don’t tune your own clarinet until….

November 13, 2014

when, as a young man, I used to visit as many repair shope for woodwinds as I could find, used to watch the techies working on clarinets, sometimes my teacher with me, and then, alone. Once I was able to purchase a Yamaha from a pawn shop, fairly new, and I was aware of the model and all its features. It was a model 62, and looked very good. Upon playing it when I got home, I found several bent keys and a few stuffy notes,but knew it was a fine instrument.

I brought it into Twigg Music in Montreal for a techie to obserVe. Withou even playing it, he took the instrument and pushed the entire right hand keys stRucture against the radiator next to him. Nothing else Then, gave it to me to try,,,and it played perfectly. He ws talking with the other techies as he did these simple procedure, and hardly stopped talking. I was there for maybe 10 minutes. In other words, he saw immediately the problem, and was correct in his repair.

This takes experience. Another time, I was in with my teacher concerning a tuning problem, the Technician played the horn listening, then took a small tool and rotated it into the tone hole next to the bad note, and it was fixed and in tune in a few minutes. This took the ability to hear extremely well, plus the experience necessary to adjust the opening of the correct tone hole.

Another time, I was about to play the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto in Tanglewood , Gunther Schuller was the conductor. I remember it being a warm muggy night. I swabbed my clarinet prior to the performance.The swab stuck in the middle of the horn. It was immovable.(so was I) Finally, one of the members of the orchestra fixed it. He took a small wrench which he had, and unscrewed the hexagon shaped speaker key, which was on all Selmer clairnets at he time. It took three or four minutes, and I was able to get out of a real panic with the experience and his knowledge.

( speaking of swabs, I was once fired from a summer job playinh in small band n New Hampshire. Dyson Kring, the “conductor” and keeper of the meager funds we received, told me that I swabbed my clarinet too much. His name used to make me smile. I guess my attitude didn’t help things)

A clarinetist wrote me this letter “Hi Sherman I have a Selmer Series 10 II that plays well in tune and has good twelfths except for throat E –E is almost 20 cents flat, F about 10 while D is right on. I have tried many barrels and mouthpieces but with same results. I am contemplating undercutting the high end of the second finger tone hole hoping that I will not upset clarion B and C too much. Do you have think this is the right fix or is there another cure for this?

In the first instance, I think the writer meant ¬†low e on the clarinet,but it is slightly confusing. If it is the low e, the 12th above would be the clarion b. The “throat e” would make the 12th abovehigh b and c. In either case, my advice would be, don’t touch it until you can bring it to a technician, one who is both experienced , can hear, and can work the gouger with enough of both, to help you. Thanks for your letter and question. My own experiences, reflecting upon my youth,tell me to keep away until this discipline and experience has been gained. Stay well, everyone. best regards. sherman

Acker Bilk, 85, dies after lengthy illness

November 3, 2014

Mr Bilk was a clarinetist, whose few popular sellers were shown again and again in trailers for movies. His “sound” was unusual and seemed to be derived from that of Sydney Bechet, who was a great player, and made a number of recordings, playing both clarinet and soprano saxophone. His influence was felt by Bob Wilber, who performed frequently in clubs in Boston reminding me of the many times I heard him at Storyville and other clubs in the area

Bilks most famous song Stranger on the Shore was the UK’s biggest selling single of 1962 and made him an international star.

Born Bernard Stanley Bilk, he changed his name to Acker – Somerset slang for “mate” – after learning to play the clarinet in the Army.

His last concert was in August 2013.

Pamela Sutton, who was Bilk’s manager for 45 years, said he had “been ill for some time”, adding: “He was my great friend and his music was legendary.”

Stranger on the Shore was the UK’s biggest selling song of 1962
Born in Pensford in Somerset, Bilk tried a number of different careers before borrowing a clarinet and copying recordings of famous jazz musicians while in the Army.

He formed his first band in Bristol after his demobilisation.

Known for his goatee, bowler hat and fancy waistcoat, Bilk was awarded an MBE in 2001 for services to the music industry.

He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000 but recovered and continued to play concerts, the last of which was at the Brecon Festival last year.

US number one
Bilk told the BBC in a 2012 interview that when he wrote his biggest hit Stranger on the Shore, he did not immediately realise it was special.

The instrumental made him the first artist to have a simultaneous chart-topping hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States.