Fear, Lennie, Trouble in Tahiti, and after

June 1, 2015

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Above 1960, Carol Plantamura, sf and pianist, George Crumb, rehearsing.

I have been quite ill for more than two years, am now unable to walk, and in a long term care home.
they do what I need, and i am comfortable and well cared for.
This site has been my second career in music, and i have, almost desperately, been trying to write something that would be true, of quality, which has eluded me until, perhaps today.. It started with a call from my doctor telling me to go to the hospital, as I had pulmonary edema.

I was given an echocardiogram, and told to go for angiogram, which found an aortic valva worn out, was told that i had about two weeks to live, unleass i had surgery, was too old, abd offered a less invasive surgery that would provide me with a replacement from a pig( ), faster healing less invasive, and possible.
It took abot a year, operation successful, except that my femoral artery ruptured and I lost almost all of my blood.
I survived and much of this will describe the last year and where I am today.

One of the many gifts we have, is the joy and recollection of musicswhich we havent remebered for years.  Truly unbelievable,

That is what I did before lunch: listen to, and watch, Trouble in Tahiti. (you can find it easily on youtube.) This work, like all of Bernstein, contains all of Bernstein; three notes followed by the leap of a sixth or seventh; before On The Waterfront, and of core West Side.

And I was at the  rehearsal in Waltham, at Brandeis Univesity, invited by my teacher, who was playing Bass clarinet . 

It is where I first heard Felix Viscuglia, who was playing eb clarinet, as beautifully as this difficult opening can be played. In retrospection, he is the finest player of my lifetime. Playing all on everything, and exemplary saxophone, as well.He had the intuition of Wright, without quite the imagination and pristine presentation. But phil could do all of the possible with ease. He became my best friend in the business, my most fondly remembered, may he rest in peace.

more soon.


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.

sherman


Legato, getting even; the how

December 23, 2014

I have always considered the Debussy Rhapsody, for clarinet and piano to be one of the most challenging of the repertoire, even though the Mozart is more difficult; total transparency for the entire half hour of performance. And it must all be beautiful, from beginning to end. I have played it many more times than the Debussy, but never perfectly.There is always something about which I am not happy. Sometimes one note out of place. And you remember that one note forever.

After playing our clarinet for over 60 years or more, i have come to the conclusion that there but three notes on the instrument that pose the most problems in all of its considerable repertoire. Only three notes. Those three are heard at the very beginning of the Debussy Rhapsody for clarinet, written in 1909. You see, I had previously selected the three notes, and then came to the rhapsody, thinking to myself, Why did Debussy choose those three notes to begin this gorgeous little work? (Which,incidentally, nobody plays perfectly.) Virtually nobody, I only wish I could hear Harold Wright do it, for I consider him to be the finest musician clarinetist of my lifetime. But, I never heard him perform the work.

We know that as the new president of the Conservatory, Debussy was asked, by Gabriel Faure, to compose two works for the prize consideration, and the two were the Rhapsody, and Petite Piece.  Did he know the clarinet intimately? No, he did not, but somehow chose those three notes, open g, throat Bb and C to begin the piece. And I have come to the conclusion that the three comprise the most difficult problems of the learning of the instrument, especially in the delicate context in which they appear.”piano, reveusement”(quietly, dreamlike) And that context is legato, with small “crescendi and diminuendi”. How did he know? He didn’t ,I reasoned; but, my friends, I do know, and indeed, so do you.
The open g on the horn is the very first note one learns. It comes out sounding either as a noise or a thin sharp note similar to an open string on the violin. I am sure you all remember, and some, like myself, will never forget . It becomes easy and later becomes the note you try your reeds with. toot toot toot on that first Van Doren,or Rico, or who only knows what. That is the note upon which you will gauge your progress. Your embouchure will form itself around tempering that thin sound and blending it with all of the other notes you will learn. And you will determine that going from that open g to all of the following notes will be the most difficult, the first note to  travel to and from is the thin sharp g,to the throat Bb. Easy enough to approach ,like holding a chicken wing with the left hand. Easy to make, but comes out sounding like a chicken wing , or even worse. First, it is by its very nature a bad thin and sharp note and not even the correct fingering, but an incorrect fingering. It uses the register key which makes for the tuning, and so, depending upon our ability to hear, or perhaps our talent, we learn to negotiate that very difficult incorrect fingering. And the first giant problem with which you are confronted is moving from the throat Bb to the clarion C on the third space. Easy enough to finger, but going back and forth is almost impossible. Unless, of course, you try a gimmick or two or three, like holding all of your fingers down as you move from the Bb to the C. It seems to work or to make it easier, but it makes it impossible, because the tuning of the Bb is changed as you hold everything down  in trying to make actual legato. What you are doing by holding extra fingers down Becomes your undoing, and most,or many do it. (which makes their Debussy clumsy sounding).

We spend so much of our time looking at every instrument made, any way of moving the toungue or the fingers faster, choosing ligatures and barrels and all matter of ways to achieve  an imagined technic, always having to do with speed, that we neglect the basic reason for the clarinet, a single line instrument which emulates the voice. We see our teachers moving back and forth during lessons, always encouraging the students to “sing”, to bring something special to the music, to make it sing means to achieve a quality of sensitivity in our playing.

And the word that helps to define this sensitivity is seldom found. It is most difficult to achieve, and there are no words to sing. We have to play a melody seamlessly, smoothly, with understanding and direction. Legato is the most important way in which we express the intent of the music. Much of legato is written into the music: forte, piano, pianissimo , sforzando, and all combinations thereof.

Getting back to the Rhapsody, how do we learn to play those three initial notes? We make a musical context by making the three notes blend with one another: the g must be in perfect context with the Bb, and the next clarion c is the most difficult note. Not to just play, but to play so that the three sound totally connected, exact same timbre, quality and dynamic. In listening to the many fine players who have recorded the work, few do it with absolute seamlessness. Perhaps they may have been nervous, spending more time encountering the actual difficulties which abound in this little 9 minute work, but they seem distracted enough to almost ignore this first measure, which actually sets the context for the entire work. Legato is its secret, stage presence is also part of the mix and control of these difficult moving notes. To take the audience with you as you open the piece becomes the whole work. And so, while not being g, Bb, and c, it is the way we from one note to the next: the same sound as we move from and to each note.
There are a myriad of ways to achieve a seamless and beautiful legato, including by rote, actually copying what you hear , or are made aware of, listening to those around you, but copying is what should come naturally, though not completely.

You must choose the note on the clarinet that gives you most pleasure to simply play and hear. Perhaps it may be f on the 5th line of the staff, Is it your best quality of sound? Your very best. Play it, listen to it and enjoy the pleasure it gives you. When you know f is the note, carefully go up one half step to f#. Carefully duplicate the same quality of sound. It must be perfectly the same, save for the pitch. Then, connect the two notes noticing no difference whatever in the quality of the two. If you use the fork f#, there may be a slightly more brilliant quality. Try to make the sound, the timbre, exactly the same, even. Here is where you begin to strengthen your embouchure, your actual perception of the sound you are making. Now, for this apparently simple process, much time may be needed, listening, before you begin to notice the results. No movement of your mouth should be seen. (yes, keep a mirror on the stand). While any music book can help, the Gaston Hamelin Study of Scales can be one of the better. Somehow I feel that the French legato is more preferable.Or perhaps it is Hamelin nimself, who is considered to be the father of the so-called American School. This is the same Hamelin who was Principal Clarinet of the Boston Symphony, who happened to play a Selmer clarinet made of metal, a full-boehm instrument. His contract was not renewed by Serge Koussevitsky. conductor of the BSO, so, he returned to France, and happened to take a few students with him, among whom was Ralph McClane, who became Principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was the beginning of the so-caled american tradition of clarinet playing. *(the story goes that there was a standing ovation given the BSO, and when Hamelin stood, he waved his clarinet, and when Koussy saw the photo, he took offense)
Back to “getting even”. this comparing of each note as you slowly go up and down in half steps is part of the process of developing a perfectly even legato. This becomes more difficult when encountering notes that are more difficult to connect smoothly.
It may be news to some, but pianists have the very same problem, as the keys can be terribly uneven as played. Many concertizing pianists have their own piano, which they simply play at every concert. Horowitz was one, who also would only play at 4:00 PM on a Sunday. Perhaps that can be called an eccentricity, however here was aplayer who still dominates the world of piano, even though he has been gone for several years.
Most other pianists simply have to deal with different actions with totally different timbres.
As the sound of a soprano has to have an even sounding range, so too, does the clarinet/It is one of the facets we look for when acquiring a new instrument.
This kind of evenness throughout the clarinet is the thing for which we strive.
Getting even, is developing a totally smooth production of sound. HAMELINS scales can help, though your ear is the final judge before you audition.

stay well,
sherman


Clarinet Connect/ Debussy Rhapsody , Petite Piece, Garde Republicain Band

December 17, 2014

But, wait a minute! In order to set the story correctly,let me tell you about my early years as a young student who fell in love with the clarinet. I had a really great teacher who knew the value of playing and not just practicing. On day, he told me about the New England Conservatory band. I thought, well, a band is a band is a band. After all there was the high school band , but this band was no high school band, It was a band shaped along the style of the famous Garde Republicain of Paris. Total different instrumentation than that of our high school band.Actually, it was more like an orchestra, with large sections of first clarinets and seconds, roughly that of an orchestra, with clarinets instead of strings. Now, the conductor of this conservatory band, meeting on Saturday mornings was Georges Moleux. He was at that time principal bass volin of the Boston Symphony.Actually, he had been a first prize winner at the Paris Conservatory in both double bass and clarinet. For me, that meant everything, as I thought nothing further could be achieved. This was my beginning of learning of the great growth of the clarinet in FRance, due to the grandeur of the Napoleonic WARS, THE TRIUMPHANT BANDS THAT WERE A PART OF THE NAPOLEONIC TRADITION . It is one thing to mention the Dixieland tradition, but quite another to realize the immense growth of he clarinet in France as a direct result of the napoleaonic war tradition.

Debussy: Première Rhapsodie, Petite Pièce

The breakthrough as a composer came for Claude Debussy (1862-1918) around 1909. The premiere of his opera “Pelléas and Mélisande”(Score of which is at the New England Conservatory)in 1902 received a rather cool response from the public and press, but the performance in London’s Covent Garden on 21st May 1909, was received triumphantly. The performances of “La mer” and “Prélude à L’après-midi d’une faune”, the previous year had been a great success.

Now his music began to find recognition in Paris and as a result Gabriel Fauré who had been director of the Paris Conservatory since 1905, nominated Debussy into the “Conseil Supérieur” (Board of Directors) of the institution.

One of his first tasks was to compose two mandatory pieces for the conservatory’s clarinet competition. In December 1909, Debussy began writing a rhapsody for clarinet and piano which he finished a month later. On 14th July 1910 the jury, which included Debussy, judged the performance of eleven candidates and the following day he wrote to his editor, Jacques Durand:

“The clarinet competition went extremely well and, to judge by the expressions on the faces of my collegues, the rhapsody was a success. […] One of the candidates, Vandercruyssen, played it by heart and very musically. The rest were straightforward and nondescript.”

The official premiere of the Rhapsodie was on 16th January 1911 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris with Prosper Mimart as solo clarinetist and it was to him that the piece had been dedicated. Debussy was so enthralled by his interpretation and commented quite spontaneously that this was one of the most pleasing pieces he had ever written. This enthusiasm would have encouraged him to adapt the work for clarinet and orchestra in the same year and it is this piece which is well known today.

It was published as “Première Rhapsodie”, but a second rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra was never finished.(But, it was finished and has been recorded with my dear departed friend, Felix Viscuglia, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boson Symphony)

The second mandatory piece was “Petite Pièce”, a work of only 36 bars and lasting just under two minutes. For the Rhapsodie the candidates had several months preparation time, but this piece was to be played “prima vista”, that is, by sight. The technical difficulties, therefore, are not so great, but the jury would surely have expected correctness in the execution of the punctuated rhythms which run throughout the entire piece. As a composition that was intended “only” for an exam, the “Petite Pièce” is a wonderful and charming little work, not to be taken too lightly.

The Republican Guard is the heir of the various bodies that preceded it in the course of French history whose task was to honor and protect the high authorities of the State and City of Paris : Gardes Françaises of the Kings, Consular and Imperial guard of Napoleon, etc.. Its name derives from the Municipal Guard of Paris, established on 12 Vendémiaire XI (October 4, 1802) by Napoleon Bonaparte. It distinguished itself in battles of historical significance, including Danzig and Friedland in 1807, Alcolea in 1808 and Burgos in 1812. (yes, there was a battle Friedland, and there is a street with that name running from L’arch du Triumph ((I was a bit too young))
In 1813 it was dissolved following the attempted coup of General Malet and replaced by the Imperial Gendarmerie of Paris and then, under the Restoration, the Royal Guard of Paris and the Royal Mounted Police of Paris. In 1830, it was recreated, and again removed after the Revolution of 1848 in favor of the Civic Guard (which proved to be a transient institution).
June 1848 saw the creation of the Republican Guard of Paris, including an infantry regiment and a regiment of cavalry. It received its insignia July 14, 1880. It took part in the First World War and saw its flag and banner decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honour. During the Second World War, it reported to the police headquarters and took the name of Guard of Paris. Part of its staff rallied to General de Gaulle and the Guard was involved in the fighting alongside the FFI at the liberation of Paris.
In 1952, the guard was renamed the Legion of the Republican Guard of Paris and took part in the Indochina War, which earned it the Croix de Guerre.

At one period during its growth, there were no less than 126 clarinetists studying in Paris at the conservatory. Many of our predecessors were among them. including Georges Moleux, Alexander and Henri Selmer and many more. During my years in Paris I was taken to lunch several times by the Selmers, riding out to Mantes in their big Peugeot with the air suspension.

happy Holidays  keep practicing

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.


Benny Goodman ” Avalon” the whole story

October 30, 2014

Like many of you, Benny Goodman was my inspiration to play the clarinet. Soon after I started, I found him, wore glasses like, listened to all his records, followed his career in swing and jazz and his study with Reginald Kell, his commissions of “Contrasts”, by Bela Bartok, The Copland Clarinet Concerto, Darius Milhaud Clarinet Concerto and all of the others. I listened to the first radio performance of the Copland on NBC radio in 1947, and was a devotee of him and his music for much of his life. AS i’ve written previously, I met him while in the Milwaukee Symphony, and reminisced about his complaints about the local musicians who played in his “pickup” quartet.
I had to play both the DFebussy Rhapsody and the Weber Concertino in rehearsal with the Orchestra. He just came ih, asked me if I played any Jazzand we went to the hall. He said to us all, “playing in this hall is like spitting in the ocean”, and then played with the most relaxed unforced sound I thought I had ever heard.
The version of “Avalon” in this writing is almost the same as he played on his Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938.
I still listen to it quite frequently and always find it quite wonderful. I wish I aged as well as Avalon.
But, wait a minute! there is a very interesting story to tell as well concerning this old standard.
It has to do with another famous clarinet solo, from the Third Act of “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini, composed in 1900. The clarinet solo of which I speak is in the third act of the opera. ” E lucevan le stelle”, which is like Avalon, but in minor. It speaks of the heros love of Tosca, before he is executed and Tosca commits suicide. (yes, it is dark, but one of the most sensually gorgeous works one will ever hear. It certainly affected me in that way.

In 1921, the famous pop singer, Al Jolson, recorded “Avalon”, which became very popular. It is virtually the same melody as Puccinis, but in major, rather than minor. Puccinis estate sued Jolson and the other authors of the pop tune, and Puccini was awarded 25,000, a huge amount of money in the 20s.

If you wish to listen to the Aria from Tosca, it can be found on YouTube, its title,” E lucevan le stelle”. There are many versions. Certainly best is Luciano Pavarotti.

The Benny Goodman  (also found on youtube)version is simply called “Avalon” with Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. and Teddy Wilson, Avalon being a place in California. Somehow the two seem to have  little comparison. But that is not the way the law suit was settled.

Keep practicing. Learn both versions, and play  or listen  often.
stay well.
sherman


Musical Chairs in New York, NEW YORK TIMES, by Gabriel Cohen

July 28, 2014

This is a very special article , which answers many questions for many readers and players. I am publishing it verbatim.

 

 

Beneath the stage of Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater lies a dark space with a low ceiling — a cross between a suburban rec room and a submarine. Shortly before each performance of “Kinky Boots,” 13 black-clad musicians file to their battle stations, each illuminated by a small light attached to a music stand. The expectant buzz of the audience filters down from a narrow opening at the edge of the stage.

As at any Broadway show, the musicians in the “Kinky Boots” pit are expected to play flawlessly for two-plus hours — even those who are sitting in for what may be the first time. During a recent Sunday matinee of the hit show, for instance, four of the musicians were substitutes, called in and asked to unobtrusively join a band grooving at the top of its game. After all, even Broadway musicians may want to take vacations, or spend the summer touring with Sting or the Rolling Stones.

“Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” said Ann Klein, 52, who replaced Michael Aarons, the regular “Kinky Boots” guitarist, twice in July. Ms. Klein has worked as a replacement on Broadway for five years, in five different shows. She has a career as a singer-songwriter and will pick up work on tour with other artists. But substituting on Broadway pays pretty well — like regulars, subs earn union scale, $227.42 per performance — if you can deal with the high stakes. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band,” Ms. Klein said. “So it’s scary.”

 

Brian Usifer, the music director and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” conducting during a recent Sunday matinee performance at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times
“Once,” Jeff Schiller, another “Kinky Boots” sub, recalled, “I got a call half an hour into a show, when a regular was experiencing incredible kidney stone pain.” Luckily, Mr. Schiller, who goes by the nickname Houndog, lives near the theater district. He swapped in between numbers in the middle of Act One.

Thankfully, this kind of quick-change routine is rare. Most subs get some notice before they have to step in.

Mr. Schiller, 55, has filled in on more than 40 Broadway shows, including “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Book of Mormon,” and he says that most productions follow a similar system. Each regular musician is required to name five possible substitutes, who learn their parts through a process called “watching the book.”

“If there’s room,” Mr. Schiller said, “you go in and sit in the pit and make a recording of the regular.” Then the subs go home and play along.

A regular works eight performances a week, but subs can do more if they’re playing in more than one show at a time. Indeed, Mr. Schiller has had 10-performance weeks. Part of what puts him in such demand is that he’s proficient on saxophone, flute, clarinet and a raft of other instruments. This flexibility, known as doubling, opens him to a wider range of work — not to mention extra pay.

Unfortunately, there’s a major downside to the sub lifestyle: There’s no guarantee of when you’ll play next. Mr. Schiller averages two or three jobs a week, but there are weeks when he gets none. That’s why he and Ms. Klein would love to receive regular chairs.
As recently as the late 1980s, playing in a Broadway musical was not considered the most desirable gig for a musician. Most professionals sought better-paying work in jingles and recording sessions. But as that work dried up, due in part to samplers and digital-audio software, the ace musicians gravitated toward theaters near Times Square.

But just as the competition for spots in a live Broadway orchestra has increased, the pit itself has contracted.

“The average number of full-timers per show has gone down by half since the 1950s and ’60s,” said Robert Meffe, director of music at San Diego State University, the author of a paper on the shrinking pit orchestra and himself a former sub.

According to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, there are only 349 full-time players on Broadway now. That means that all players — regulars and subs alike — must be in top form. “There’s a lot of pressure,” Martha Hyde, a frequent substitute, acknowledged.

“I subbed on ‘Matilda’ today — mostly flute,” said Ms. Hyde, who has been doing this work since 1988. “Tomorrow I’m playing second clarinet and second flute on ‘Phantom,’ and the next evening I’m playing alto sax and lots of clarinet solos on ‘Chicago.’ ”

“It’s a little bit like landing an F-14,” she added.

“But your job is not to stick out or make a big statement. You emulate the regular; you have to be willing to be a chameleon.”

Brian Usifer, 33, the music director, conductor and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” makes sure his subs fit in. Every replacement starts in an audition phase. On a sub’s first night, though, he tends to allow the occasional error to pass. “It’s O.K. if a few mistakes happen early,” he said. “It breaks the tension.”

 

Also substituting in the orchestra that afternoon was Ann Klein, on guitar. “Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” Ms. Klein said. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band.”
Both cast and orchestra can see him in the video monitors, he noted, saying: “I try not to show it in my face if something goes wrong. But when you have a sub who is good and who everybody likes, I don’t have to worry about them.”

Though the pressure and lack of job security are challenging, Ms. Hyde sees some advantages to subbing. “It forces you to keep your skills razor sharp,” she said, “and you play with more people.” That can mean more contacts for future jobs.

Even so, most subs supplement their Broadway stints with other work. Mr. Schiller has worked as a composer, arranger, touring musician, copyist and instructor. Ms. Hyde is a member of a chamber trio called the New River Ensemble, which sometimes plays live to silent films by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

The route to a regular gig is not predictable, as seniority does not necessarily determine who gets those jobs. Contractors, hired by producers to put together orchestras in tandem with music directors, make those decisions, and personal connections can trump other factors.

Despite the competition, Ms. Hyde says that she has found much camaraderie on Broadway. She has been a regular four times, in shows including “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “1776.” Whenever she gets a chair, she hands out sub slots to musicians who have helped her in the past, but also makes an effort to aid hopefuls. “If no one gives the new people a chance,” she said, “they can’t break in.”

Tino Gagliardi certainly broke in: He played trumpet in and out of Broadway pits for 30 years, as a sub and as a regular, and now he’s president of Local 802. “Being a sub is far more difficult than being a regular,” Mr. Gagliardi said. “Regulars only have to know one book.”

“Once,” he said, “I was subbing on five different shows and was so busy that I actually walked into the wrong theater. It’s a very hard way to make a living.”

But those F-14s still need replacement pilots. The goal, as Ms. Hyde put it, is “to make it as seamless as possible.”

“If the other musicians across the pit don’t notice that there’s someone different playing the part,” she said, “you’ve done your job.”


“An offer he couldn’t refuse”

July 12, 2014

My father was dying. The most important valve in his body – his aortic valve which allowed oxygenated blood to be pumped to his brain and other organs – was severely damaged and was barely opening enough to allow him to stay awake perhaps 5 hours a day. A baseball lover, he couldn’t stay awake long enough to watch a game. He couldn’t concentrate or walk and after surviving a terrible winter complete with a bout of bacteremia (a blood infection), severe heart failure, two falls and a heart attack, he was referred to the Ottawa Heart Institute where we met a cardiologist named Dr Labinaz.
Ironically enough, my father, who loves the film “The Godfather”, was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. Either he would die in a few months from the damaged valve which would continue to close or, he could get a new pig valve inserted into his heart via a relatively new procedure called a TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve insertion). Only a decade ago, the only way patients could get a new aortic valve was with open heart surgery, the problem: there was no way my father could survive that extensive a procedure; he was just too sick. The TAVI meant that he would have the valve inserted via the artery in his leg and it would be pushed up to exactly the right spot where it would open, pushing the old valve out of the way, allowing the precious oxygenated blood to flow properly and perhaps save his life. Of course, he accepted the offer.
In a procedure that can be compared to changing spark plugs on engine without opening the hood of the car, the TAVI worked. The Ottawa Heart Institute and Dr. Labinaz were incredible. During the procedure, my dad’s artery – the tube through which the valve was inserted – ruptured. He lost a lot of blood very quickly and needed what can be described as “an oil change”. There was no stroke, no paralysis and he was only in the ICU for 36 hours. It was unbelievable.
Yesterday, we watched the entire Toronto Blue Jays baseball game together. We cheered for Bautista and Encarnacion, the Jays lost, but it didn’t matter. Thanks to the Ottawa Heart Institute, Dr. Labinaz and the amazing nurses that took such great care of him, my dad is back! (yes, dear folks, that’s me. sf)

Nathan Friedland RN


“if we don’t have support for Music Education, what do we have”?

June 25, 2014

 

Glen Dicterow,  concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic is retiring.
The open, empty violin case backstage at Avery Fisher Hall stood as a stark reminder that Glenn Dicterow, the longest-serving concertmaster in the history of the New York Philharmonic, would retire after Saturday night’s concert. It awaited the return of the 1727 Guarneri del Gesù violin that the Philharmonic had lent him as its first among equals.

It has been 34 years since Mr. Dicterow became the Philharmonic’s concertmaster, or principal first violinist. When he leaves to devote himself to teaching, he will have held the position for 6,033 performances; played as a soloist in 219 concerts; helped transmit the wishes of four music directors and more than 200 other conductors; and toured in 174 cities in 51 countries, lugging his belongings in an old trunk that once belonged to Leonard Bernstein.

“It’s going to be a tough Saturday night,” Mr. Dicterow, 65, said in an interview this week in his studio, as he prepared for a series of final performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, running through Saturday, with the pianist Yefim Bronfman and the orchestra’s principal cellist, Carter Brey. “The last one. Saying goodbye.”

Audiences know the concertmaster as the violinist who sits to the conductor’s left, leading the orchestra as it tunes up and playing solos. But behind the scenes, concertmasters can wield power to shape an orchestra’s sound — which is why they are the best-paid players in orchestras. (Mr. Dicterow was paid $523,647 in 2011, according to the Philharmonic’s most recent tax filing.)

“Music, and the music business, have both changed quite a bit since Mr. Dicterow made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1967, at 18, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in a concert led by Andre Kostelanetz. (A review in The New York Times said that he had “blended talent and immaturity in his performance.”)

Mr. Dicterow said that playing had changed, to some extent. “It’s a given that you’re supposed to play perfectly, virtuosically,” he said. “But maybe there’s a bit of the generic quality in music making — people don’t have as much individual style. I think that’s just a product of the age we live in.”

He seemed genuinely taken aback when talking about the 2011 bankruptcy of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the current labor woes at the Metropolitan Opera, which is seeking to cut costs. And he lamented the disappearance of music education and the lack of government support for music. If we don’t have that, what do we have?


 

But he said that he was looking forward to moving back to California — his father played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 52 years — to hold the Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. And he said that while he would miss the Philharmonic, he would not miss the stress of sitting in the first chair.

Mr. Dicterow recalled a pep talk he received from a friend who had retired from the orchestra, who told him that he would enjoy listening to music without the responsibility. “He said that on the stage, you hear more or less what’s around you,” he said. “He said that it’s great to sit back and not worry about things — bringing people in or playing solos.THE NY TIMES


The Varia of clarinet materials

June 22, 2014

DSCF1071 DSCF1063Having noticed a veritable cornucopia of clarinet materials being marketed, it would seem proper to list all of the various instruments which I have owned or played and their comparative qualities.

The oldest instrument was a Selmer full boehm metal clarinet , # 406, from the late 20s. It was sent to me in a decrepit case, actually falling apart. The sender wanted an appraisal and I replied that I couldn’t make such an appraisal without playing the instrument. So, we worked out an arrangement wherein I would completely restore the instrument to playing condition, which I did, with the following results: the clarinet played absolutely beautifully, with an exceptionally facile altissimo. I brought it into Twigg Music in Montreal to purchase a new case and played it for them, and frankly they were very impressed with both the look of the instrument, it size. the bore being very much narrower than a wooden instrument. It was rather shocking to me. This is the very same model which Gaston Hamelin played first clarinet in the Boston Symphony. It was the instrument that the conductor ,Serge Koussevitsky, disapproved of strongly.The contract was not renewed.
Hamelin went back to France, taking several soon-be-prominent players with him, notably Ralph Maclain, who became principal in the Philadelphia and founded the so-called American school of the clarinet. One of his students was Harold Wright, Principal in the Boston orchestra and probably the most individual sound of the instrument ever to be heard. By those comments I mean to say , that late in his career and even as early as his time as principal with the National Symphony in Wash. D.C., his sound and presentation were much more like those of a great soprano, perhaps someone like Jessye Norman, or Renee Fleming, an individual presentation which entered and continued to the delight of his audiences. (Please hear his Mozart Concerto withe BSO on this site, it is without any of the cliched holding of certain notes at the beginning of a run,or a childish attempt at phrasing Mozart, adding ornaments. This work and Wrights works is literally perfect.

Back to clarinet materials, having said that the early Selmer metal instruments were superb, and having played one of these early instruments,let us go the early instruments made of Boxwood, those with the usual three keys. I had a set made for me by a maker in NY, and they had excellent quaiity, and I must confrss that I played them with a contemporary mouthpiece for my best results. I toured Nova Scotia with a trio called the Mannheim Trio, with Valerie Kinsslow, soprano, and Boyd MacDonald , fortepiano. We played “Parto Parto”, by Mozart, from La Clemenza Di Tito. I cannot qualify the sound or the respnse exactly, but here were instuments with which you had use various harmonic fingerings for certain chromatics. I later had some extra keys added. This in the time of the burgeoning practice of playing all on original instruments.

There was acute pun going around:” What do you do with a BAroque Cello?”FIX IT”

Moving forward, the plastic clarinet made its presence known with the appearance of the Resonite Clarinet by Selmer. There was a cute visual ad of a 1947 Studebaker, you know the one that seemed to be going in both directions at once. There was a larger clarinet joint under each of the four tires holding the car about a foot off the ground. Maybe some remember it.
This was the Selmer version of plastic. All the other makers followed suit, the Yamaha being the most prolific. That clarinet is now number 250, going along with a price, however the is no clarinet made of plastic which has any particular quality of response other than strident. I own a 250, with the prior number, which I believe was 95, though I cannot be sure. This type pf plastic or bakelite or resonite iincludes the Buffet Greenline, made of carbon fibres. Not only is it price the same as the Buffet wooden instrument, it can shatter and break quite easily.

Ultimately, we come to the grenadilla, or sometimes called the mpingo, the most proular material. If you reach back into your memory, you will recall a time of considerable wanting of a clarinet made from grenadilla.
The manufacture of this instrument is most difficult since the wood changes with the temperature, has tedency to crack, all of the joints shrinking and swelling with the change in temperature, and humidity.
At a school where I taught briefly, they had a full time tech. who did nothing but unfreeze barrels from tne top joints of clarinets. Play on a new clarinet in a band rehearsal for several hours at a time and you will even have some instructors directing their student to leave the barrel pulled out a bit, regardless of changes in pitch.
In your youth you learned to want a wooden clarinet. You loved your first one, especially if it had silver plated keys and had a case like your teachers, black with a fitted cover. I certainly did, almost anxiously waiting for the time. Do I remember any special sound or respond it had? It had none, except that which I imparted into the horn with my breath, reed and mouthpiece. And, at whatever level of proficiency I had reached.. There was always a great deal more to accomplish, and it is still constant. One is never finished learning.

Going into various other of the more rarer woods, I have been told by the designer and clarinetmaker, William Ridenour, that cocobolo is almost an impossible wood to work. His only suggestion w as that all of these should be lined with rubber, similar to some bassoons.

Late in the 50s or 60s, Selmer produced its unique model called the “Recital”. Frequently call the FAT Clarinet, it had a narrower bore and a thicker body, resuling is a fine and weighty response. But with any other mouthpiece than the C85, which seemed to be made for the Recital, the tuning was faulty, though quite a lovely response.

I donated my set my University.

All of the above have developed into clarinets having astronomical prices, out of the reach of most if not all families with a clarinet student.I counseled many students to purchase brands at lesser prices, simply because they were good as the more expensive instruments.

And where would there studies lead them? Employment for serious clarinetists is diminishing by the week, if not the day. By the time your parents finished paying for the instrument, it s on the shelf in your closet.

I leave the instrument made from hard rubber or ebonite for last. The reasons are clear. There is an abundance of rubber, a natural substance throughout the world. It is one of the most pliable materials to machine. It is far more stable in pitch and dimension than any wooden clarinet.Because of these reasons it is far easier to produce and to finish, making its acquisition much simpler.

Does any clarinet have an actual sound? NO. A clarinet is an inanimate object. Only you can turn into a beautiful instrument for making music with your acquired knowledge of repertoire, formation and mentorship of someone who knows what it is supposed to sound like.

The varia is most amazing , the results mostly the same.

stay well.

sherman