letter from a “new” Selmer Centered Tone owner

February 25, 2015

pict08Dear Sherman:

I became the owner last September of a beautiful Henri Selmer Paris Bb clarinet,  Staff at the orchestra have been unable to provide any information about this instrument’s history. This clarinet has a distinctive octave vent with a 6-sided vent hole cover. It is a seven ring clarinet with alternate Eb/Ab and C#/G# fingerings. Can you add anything to my understanding about this particular clarinet?   I.S., LONDON, ONTARIO    

This question with its implications is reminiscent of many years of my own clarinets and even a good part of ny career. For me, the six sided vent key saved an entire concerto for me, and one that will never be forgotten. In the mid 60s, I was a Fromm Fellow in and at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. Actually, I had just gotten married and we spent our honeymoon summer on the Lake near Tanglewood, looking at a small faamily of Canadian geese who also chose to live near our cottage on the lake. I remember it as a beautiful, even pristine summer. We had a lovely dog, Taffee, a Shetland sheep dog, rescued from the spca in Lenox and she stayed with us for 15 years. At the beginning of the summer, I had auditioned in order to play the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto during the festival, conducted by Gunther Schuller. I won that audition and played one of the first prformances of that work. It was on the first night of the Festival of Contmporary music . This was no ordinary work, terribly complex and technically challenging as well. I remember only one thng about that concert, and frankly, it was not the Concerto, it was however, the six sided octave vent key. Directly before the Concerto, I was swabbing my instrument. I don’t remember the direction of the swab, but it stuck, and the more or less that I pulled on it, the more stuck it became. Picture yourself. This had never happened, before or after and momentarily I panicked. I passed the clarinet around so that the others sitting nearby could see my problem. In a few moments, another clarinetist opened his case and took out several small wrenches. One of the wrenches fit the six sided vent key cover. It was cleared of the swab in a few moments. Things proceded as expected, but I have never ever thought of the work since, only the panic of that big selmer swab stuck in the top joint of my Centered Tone Clarinet. Somewhere 808 sometimes listed as a Mazzeo System clarinet.your description, you mention the 808 model, I studied with Mazzeo and played this system of clarinet for many years, and found them superb and excellent., and totally reliable. I can easily imagine the possibility that your instrument was once a Mazzeo System instrument. Not everyone was as happy as was I and there was only one reason. The system was unavailable from any other clarinet manufacturer and this was the time of others, especially in orchestras. Selmer has always been at the forefront of model changes and innovations (think of the 10G and other models)

The hypothesis is possible. But, so are others

In any event, what is important is the quality of your instrument, its response and your enthusiasm. Thank you,




“Gladiator” was life affirming Nathan Friedland

February 24, 2015

When I told my ten year old daughter I’d bought a ticket to see “Gladiator Live” at Place des Arts, she responded, “Daddy, why would you pay 120$ to see a movie that’s like 15 years old when you can see it on youtube for free?”
Part of the Montreal en Lumiere festival, “Gladiator Live” featured the film shown on a huge screen with all its music played live by an orchestra of 82 players with a choir and a female soloist conducted by Justin Freer. The challenge: how do you keep a massive orchestra in time with a film that has so many action scenes and so many cuts that the music must be accurate to a split second with what’s transpiring on the screen? Not to mention that this must be done in front of a massive crowd of roughly 3000 people in a jammed Salle Wilfred Pelletier theater filled with fans who paid as much as 150$ to see the show go on without a hitch? This was a massive endeavor.
As the show began, and I watched a film I had seen 15 years ago at the movies, I remembered that back then I was not married and did not yet have a child. My father, a musician, teacher, and conductor, was well back then and when this film came out, he considered an attempt to play it live with his former orchestra from Concordia University. As a child, I remembered him conducting concerts at Concordia, but never really understood what the audience got out of watching a bunch of people play a bunch of seemingly unrelated notes. He used to say “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
As the film unfolded and its themes about family, home and honor took shape, with a magnificent soloist echoing a haunting theme while a massive orchestra backed her up, I looked up at the conductor and realized what my father meant. I was there to see him. It reminded me of my youth when he seemed like a king on stage. I was there to see where I had ended up. I began to cry as I had realized that perhaps through music, I had become what I am now: a father, a nurse, a husband, and then, just after the intermission, it happened.
Up until that moment, Justin Freer kept the orchestra in time with a small computer in front of him. It played the film but with small captions and a white dot that flashed periodically to be sure he could keep the music dead on with what was happening on the audience’s gigantic screen. All of a sudden, the computer went black. He did not panic but began shaking his head pointing at the screen attempting to signal someone to try and fix it and 3000 people now knew that because technology had failed him, he was flying blind. The action continued and he kept his orchestra in time by looking up at the massive screen and remembering what notes they had to play, exactly when they needed to. A technician crawled up onto the stage like he was a sniper in a jungle. Flat on his belly, he was at the conductor’s feet, fiddling with wires as Russell Crowe battled for his freedom. The technician failed and the screen stayed black. For ten minutes, Mr. Freer and his orchestra wowed the crowd with their impeccable timing that seemed accurate to a split second and I thought to myself :”My Dad could have done that”. Magically, the computer lit up, there was a brief pause in the score for the time being, Freer wiped his brow and the orchestra had not even missed a beat.
The film’s ending features a heroic death of the main character and a soaring moment of music that is life affirming. I watched it until the very end then 3000 of us stood and gave a 5 minute standing ovation.
I realized that my Dad is a hero, and that maybe I am too.

New Orleans, La. Mardi Gras 1955

February 18, 2015

This is not Canada, nor Monreal, nor New York or Boston, or Paris or Fonainebleau near Paris.

Come back with me 60 years to the time of my bandsmanship, to one of the most briefly exciting moments of any year, Mardi Gras, 1955, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Some think of it as simply Mardi Gras, or in French Fat Tuesday, but it happens to be the very day before the start of the Lenten Season, the forty days during which many resolve to further resolve, be it diet or alcohol, kindness, love, and any or everything of this mark in the year.

Lent is very serious, contemplating the very birth of Christianity. But one day before, you, we, may do as we please, and celebration is one of the great things we do. It is the joyous day to celebrate the coming of the Lenten season, the coming of Christ.
The U.S. 4th Army Band

Ft. Sam Houston
San Antonio, Texas
The U.S. 4th Army Band (FAB) was one of the finest service bands during the Korean and Vietnamese Conflicts. The Commanding General at Fort Sam Houston in the early 1950s was Lt. General I.D. White who endorsed appropriate music for all occasions, a tradition which was followed for more than two decades. Warrant Officers Dawson McElwee, Emil Krochmal, John Parrott, Homer Tampke, Alexander Difronzo and others were able to obtain qualified musicians to provide fine military, concert, jazz and string orchestra music for the many requests. Of paramount importance was a weekly radio program, The 4th Army Show (Concert In Khaki beginning in 1953) a 30-minute show that included military features and the finest concert literature, broadcast throughout five states of the Southwest. On Sundays the band was found in the Quadrangle on the Post in a formal Guard Mount and concert setting. The FAB traveled to Houston in 1952 to honor the 1st Armored Division from Ft. Hood as they left the Houston Harbor for assignment in Europe. In 1954 all the bandsmen were fitted with smart “dress blues.” The FAB participated in the annual River, Fiesta Flambeau and Battle of Flowers Parades in San Antonio. The “Turkey Trot” celebration in Taylor, Texas was a frequent gig. While playing for a Boy Scout Jamboree on a ranch near San Antonio in 1952 a raging bull took offense and charged through the band. Fortunately everyone survived. Armed Forces Day always found the FAB in a Texas community for a special event. Governors called upon the FAB to march in the Inaugural Parade every four years. Falcon Dam was a Texas/Mexico flood control project on the Rio Grande River dedicated in 1953 by President Eisenhower and President Cortines of Mexico. The FAB represented the U.S. contingent. President Eisenhower was very complimentary regarding the band’s participation. The FAB was sent to New Orleans three times in the mid-50s. They led the Rex Parade at the Mardi Gras in 1955 and 1956, and were flown to New Orleans in 1955 to perform on the pier to welcome home a division from Korean service. The band performed at two movie World Premiers in San Antonio, and as a concert band performed as the official reading band annually for the Texas Bandmasters Association. The FAB String Orchestra performed for visiting dignitaries, including the Secretary of the Army and Mexican generals.

In 1955, I was a member of the 4th Army Band, designated as an eb clarinetist. That designation kept me from playing in the 7th Army Symphony, the passing of which earned an entire page in black in the national magazine on music,  Musical America. It had been a good orchestra, comprised of many  trained players, who at the time, toured Europe creating nothing but good will and good music for the hundreds who saw and heard the concerts. The cost per year for the 7th Army Symphony was the same as one medium tank. To have to cut the services and good will generated by such a group seemed completely without logic. When an actual opening did come through,the first sargeant was quick to tell me that the only other place I would go would be to Fort Hood, Texas, a very different place for a musician to be located during those years,(and these remembering the massacre of several years past by the jihadist psychiatrist). That was scary then and even now.

We were a Headquarters Band, serving the 4th Army Area, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, located in San Antonio, Texas, a lovely city, a wonderful climate, and, of all things ,dozens of used car lots, the place to exist for a bandsman, who was virtually free to roam the city. We used to regularly attend the Pearl Brewery, which made several presentatons a day, complete with refreshments of an alcoholic nature. Ditto for the Lone Star Brewery

Our duties were to play and record one radio broadcast per week. (Vic Damone was stationed with our band), play an occasional parade and not too much more., an ideal place to be.
That Tuesday morning, we were mustered to Lackland Air Force Base, loaded on a large transport by 5:am to be flown to New Orleans in order to lead the Mardi Gras Parade. It was a relatively short trip and we arrived early enough to start and lead the long parade. It was esitmated to be 13 miles long, literally dozens of ensembles of all numbers of musicians from every service branch. We lead the parade , a pivotal and importsant spot, for we were directly behind several horses, determining the exact course. Jose Mendez, a tall trombonist held that corner of the marchers. He carefully changeddirections avoiding the continuing obstacles caused by the animals.

Because of the length of the parade, there was a continuous spasmodic accordion motion, This was of course greatly enriched by the overwhelming presence of alcohol, frequently given or shared by everyone. I’m saying everyone!
After a few moments of marching, the groups began to slowly diminish in size./ After an hour, the parade began to diminish in size. As more time passed, the formations became spread apart as they diniinished in size. By the end of the parade, there were few bands fewer marchers and a final. rather shaky diminution.

Stay well, do not give up practicing for Lent.