Fear, Lennie, Trouble in Tahiti, and after

June 1, 2015


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.


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,

Hands Across the C.larinet

October 20, 2014

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

fed up, exhausted , In rural New Zealand, and, a response

March 15, 2014

stalled out. I play old time jazz (favorite Albert Nicholas) and hassidic/klezmer wedding music (fantasize Dave Tarras, “the Jewish Benny Goodman”) on an unique antique Buffer C 2-ring Albert system, with Boehm style long keys. I’ve had it for 35+ years and love it. I am using a 15 year old Ralph Morgan C Clarinet mouthpiece, a new Van Doren ligature (replacing Eddie Daniels) and Legere 2-3/4 Signature reeds that could be past their prime. Plays best at about A=441.(response;comment. Ralph Nicholas seems to play more like Benny Goodman, and plays well, especially in the low register, where he emulates Goodmans use of triplets outlining chords(1900-1973)/ Listening to Dave Tarras is much more fascinating, since Tarras seems to be a clarinetist who needed work and drifted into Klezmer without too many chops for Clarinet, period. The clarinet played by Mr Mermin is interesting, but only in the sense of his love for it. The C clarinet muthpiece is nothing he needs and not neceesary to duplicate. It is the length and pitch of the horn, which can be played by any Bb clarinet mouthpiece, without much sacrifice. Nobody who plays C, plays a C mouthpiece. As far as a new mouthpiece for your clarinet, I cannot suggest any better maker than Richard Hawkins, of Oberlin College. Astonishingly consistent mouthpieces, very well made.

… So maybe this is time to revisit all of the pieces.(comment: how interesting that most of us come to this conclusion, which is usually overlooked because of an impending job or , “on second thought“, maybe not. But, in your case, you can certainly use a new horn, more contemporary, which would mean “better tuned”, and perhaps those long keys you talk about, have already mention Hawkins mouthpieces, and I repeats, a c clarinet mouthpiece is simply not needed. I play c clainet withmy regular Bb mouthpece, without any problem. Most do. And , do not cut the barrel short, which would mean a trip to tiger country, a dangerous place, probably, even more so in New Zealand.

The Van Doren metal ligature with it many twists and turn and plates, is too heavy for any clarinet. A virtual shtick drek, even in France, and it is too expensive, and it is too heavy, though you may like its looks. The Eddie Daniels ligature is a fabric version of the Van Doren, expensive, and gaudy with its gilt colors. I is virtually a copy of the Rovner, which, in its simplest form, is the best ligature for your instrument and your mouthpiece.

You ask if Legere reeds wear out. My problem is the opposite. They do neither. I have never found one that has been duplcated. Crazy for a synthetic reed, the best proberty of which should be its ability to play like the next. That, dear sir is what synthetic implies .hey cannot be duplicated,therefore they cannot be revived. Forestone comes much much closer.

The cost of any so-called synthetic reed is in itself punitive, therefore prohibitive the forestone reed plays for a long time, with no real change in the quality. It doesn’t matter what your age might be. 20 bucks or more for a synthetic reed is ridiculous. Of course, when you hear a fine players demonstrated on synthetic, it does sound well. But that player sound well all the time on cane or a bird or a plane.

The best new stick or clarinet for your is Ridenour, any of the variously available models./
. Very well made, inexpensive, and doesn’t break or crack, not even in NEW zealand.

beat of luck , always, sherman

Give me Libertas, or give me General Tao, if it’s on the lunch menu.”

March 4, 2014

Reading the latest news from the rubber world, we are told of the new Flagship Model of the Lyrique Clarinet, the Libertas, (with a bouncy rubber second syllable), and little else to distinguish it from the rest of the Chinese menu. Let’s see, pick one from column 1, and one from column 2, is what one is usually asked , and you get to choose either hot and sour or perhaps won-ton soup, a couple of rubbery egg rolls, and maybe some orange slices for dessert, oolong tea being an extra and served in a miniscule cup.
The whole thing will cost you but a fraction of the price of the French-fried version, if you don’t count the gaviscom. It is the best deal in the business and it has been since its inception.

Libertas was the Roman goddess of liberty, a personification of the political libertas that distinguished the free from the enslaved.

 There seem to be little or no difference between this new example of falling trill keys than the other falling trill keys. But, for a special feature, consider no serial number, which are placed only after careful matching has been facilitated. And the numbers are put on by hand, after scrupulous selection of matching hard rubbers. (Please, get serious)

Hard rubber, ebonite, happens to be a material famous for total consistency, if one believes the classy video , which is absolutely a true copy of the same description of the Allora, or the Lyrique, or any of the several different monickers these horns have been called. And it is quite common to call a clarinet a horn, perfectly proper, especially when speaking with others who play the same clarinet , or horn.

Without having one to try, one can say with total honesty, it has to be as close to any Lyrique clarinet as is possible.

The designer himself, told me that very little is changed to any clarinet from year to year, save maybe a piece of shiny metal, sloppily affixed to a chosen place on the first joint.

The hottest hood ornament for a clarinet actually came out with the Opus and Concerto models from Leblanc, an actually well-designed metal inlay. These actually had a bit of class, as did the horns themselves.

The rest of the markings on most clarinets are etched in and filled in with gold powder, which wears away with the years. If you were to actually apply the gold again, perhaps to make the clarinet look almost new, it always fails, looks messy and usually smears and adhers to the wood itself.

This Libertas has the usual adjustable thumb rest, which becomes more uncomfortable with each playing as you attempt to change the position of your thumb in relation to the clarinet. Changing the adjustment only works for a short time, as the thumb rest is too narrow.

If you really are an obsessive clarinetist, you will need to learn more about the thumb, thumb rests in general, and the best place for the thumb to hold the instrument. (Actually, Mr Ridenour makes the best thumb rest, “the thumb saddle”, and he told me himself, that “the thing is to change the position “, to anyplace else) I have several dozen, one for each thumb. I also have several neck straps, none of which work well, as well as the best way to play comfortably, which follows.

An uncomfortable thumb rest is a slippery slope which can ruin your playing by destroying your comfort, pleasure in playing music and holding the clarinet on this weakest point on the thumb. A properly shaped thumb rest has to wide enough to cushion as much of the thumb as is possible and then allow for moving from a (so-called) normal position. This normal position cannot be decided upon by designers, or is not considered important. The best one I have is the one on my Amati C clarinet. It really should be copied by other makers, or designers

However, by looking carefully, one can find many clarinetists who have experienced discomfort and have changed to a thumb rest which changes the support of the thumb from the weakest part , (the tip of the thumb) to the strongest, a distance of an inch or so, which immediately alleviates all such difficulties.

This so-called new model also presents a choice between a regularly shaped register key and the one I call nuts or ergonomic, (which means nothing).
Back to this many splendored hard rubber clarinet, it is the best tuned, most equally timbred instrument on the market and still costs very little. It is the best buy for the money and for the sound, without question. It also blends with chamber music as well as any instrument I have ever played.William Ridenour is the clarinet saver, and savior of the business. W hy? Because he can truly hear and his fingers know where to walk with his ears on the horn.

I understand they are going like hot cakes.

Great. Perhaps some day.
The thumb rest which will give you true comfort is made by Ton Koimann, and the cheap one is about 30 bucks. Others are much more, but have many different adjustments, making a lot of sense in this crazy crazy world of neurotics. It usually freaks one out when first seen, but feels so good if you use just one screw.

Stay well, and learn all Ravel.

Remember, if you buy your prodigy a horn from France, he or she will have given up the horn by the time you get through paying for it.(or switched to making a living.)

Also, sir, there will always be wooden flutes, they will never become extinct, nor will that thing you pay 5 grand for.


Schumann “Fairy Tales” in concert

August 26, 2013

Etude2thumbrest(With T. Kooimann Etude 2 thumb rest)

Several months ago, I had posted news about this thumb rest. My reason was simple: severe pain in my right thumb after playing for even one hour. I had forgotten how painful this could be. It simply makes you cringe as you hold and play the clarinet, which ,of course, disturbs virtually everything.
I had simply put off the thumb rest, mostly because I found that lack of practice resulted in no pain. No practice, no pain, right?
Wrong. Initially, practicing went fine, but as the hours passed, the pain increased reminding me of my original article, and ensuing discomfort.
Practicing a bit may have helped, but since “between engagements” ,( retired.) I did not.
So, when my friends,extraordinary musicans,Sara an Donald Pistolesi came for our rehearsals and concert, the pain returned, and was even more severe. (Sara, Violin and Viola, Donald, Cello and Piano, retaining their virtuosity and youthful enthusiasm)

Here is the very good news. I attached the thumb rest myself, with no assistance, and with only one screw, and it held perfectly . It was a very easy change to make. It must be removed when putting the clainet in the case, but it simply slides on and off, easily.
I had read several reviews of this thumb rest, and was taken by one which said the thing just snapped off after ten minutes. This is not the case, and only one of the supplied screws was used.
The pupose of this thumb rest is to shift the weight of the clarinet from the first joint of the thumb to the joint closest to the palm, which completely eliminates the pain because this part of thumb can sustain so much more weight. The thumb rest itself swivels to adjust to many positions. The big news is that it is a very simple installation, and I used only one of the three screws provided.

I paid about 25 dollars several years ago, and the thing just laid in the drawer. So, with such a simple procedure, taking less than a few minutes, I was playng without any pain in my thumb. Yes, I should have installed the thing several weeks in advance, bu ,frankly, I was reluctant. I needn’t have been, nor should any reader.

Here is what I did and used: I removed the thumb rest, which needed a jewelers  loup and a thin ,strong screwdriver. (eyes get weaker at 80 years) Indispensible was a small tool called the “Leatherman Squirt”, a tiny many- bladed thing which can be caried anywhere and has an actual miniature pliers, which fold out of the tool. This was used to unscreew the original thumb rest, and the short screwdriver, also in the tool, has enough strength to loosen and tighten screws. Amazingly useful, and small enough to keep on your key chain. I received mine as a gift from my nephew, Randy.

Here is my report: It is an easy installation, and I used it immediately after installing it. No practice, not a note. It worked, providing painless stability. Of course, I was fortunate.

The concert, which included works by Bruch , as well as the Schumann was successful. The FAiry Tales are his last published work, which was allowed to be published by his wife, Clara, and Johannes Brahms. A wonderfully strange work with a gorgeous lullaby, complete with contemporary sounding dissonances. All of Schumanns works for clarinet are either beautiful, playable , unusual, and effective for the audience. Because Schumann had not played the piano for 30 years or so, the piano writing, especially in the last movement is very awkward , and takes an extra rehearasal. Please ,do not rush. Slower is faster, and you know what I mean.

If you have discomfort in your right hand, here is a way to fix it, without any operation, save for your own installation of this thumb rest. Initially, I had this rather exquisite pain in my left thumb, but it was easily fixed with a simple day surgery at the Montreal General. I prefer the new thumb rest. Incidentally, they make a metal one, with many adjustments possible,(200$) but the less expensive one works just fine. If it breaks, I will get another.

Good luck, stay well, and keep practicing, and or playing.

Chamber music is always the most enjoyable thing one can do.


Thumb rest ,additional solution for thumb or wrist fatigue

May 23, 2013

Being of a considerable age, and with what can only be called an abundance of professional experience, in every possible genre, I venture forth with the information that I have had both difficulties with my teeth and pain in both hands while playing. Teeth are a very special problem indeed because they vary as much as fingerprints and some of the problems of teeth and the clarinet have been discussed, at least on a partial basis. However, the problem of pain in both or in either hand, while discussed as far as possible illness within the hand, (deQuervains Synfrome), just plain inordinatnt fatigue have lead me to speak in more detail. These problems of discomfort in either or in both hands can occur at any time in ones development, but are usually easily fixed by an instructor with real clarinet saavy, or even better, by a medical doctor, but a special MD, one who is a woodwind player, clarinet, oboe or bassoon, or flute.. If not a hoddyist or an actual professional musician who is also an MD, you are barking up the wrong tree, or, to put it succinctly, you will be given vague unresponsive replies. Why? Because , unless you play, and I mean play in a serious manner, you cannot recommend technics, exercises or other varia for a young or an older player with pain in these appendages.
As stated earlier, I had had such difficulties, namely tendintitus in the right elbow, deQuairvains Syndrome, in the left hand, and nameless pain in my right hand. The neckstrap is a great addition to your repertoire of easement of discomfort or fatigue, but for many, the strap does not suffice, or is of minimal assistance.

offer , a possible introduction to something else, a new way to distrbute the weight of the clarinet on the right thumb, and for some a possible real solution. I mention a real solution because instead of holding the clarinet on the first joint of the  right thumb, you hold it on the second joint of the thumb,closer to the wrist a point which ca


n easily hold more weight, transferring the weight to a stronger part of the wrist.
This is the so-called Etude, or Etude 2 thumbrest offered by Tan Koiman. There is also a more complicated version, with many more possible adjustments, but for now, let us picture and discuss the first of the possibilitiies, the Etude 2, pictured here.( to be continued) What is of considerable interest is that the devise can be self-installed in exactly the same two drilled holes of your current thumb rest, and with the packaging of the Etude comes a plate with four or 5 slightly different positions at which you may wish to install the thumb rest. This is an immediate interest from the standpoint of flexibility

Upcoming. I will be installing this device on a clarinet, as per the instructions, and subsequently be testing it and reporting on all procedures. With the proliferation of both the awareness of fatigue in the hands, and the various neckstraps, thunb rests of all shapes and sizes, this may be a possible solution. If you will put your index finger on the first joint of the thumb, and then the inner joint, there is much more apparent strength in the latter. If the clarinet can be held and played flexibly with this device it may be worth ones while to consider. Stay tuned. (pun, sorry)

stay well.



Clarinet, with the reed on top?

May 5, 2013

Labanchi-Metodo(scroll through the “labanchi-metodo’, and you will come to the actual method . Continue to scroll and you will see the drawing of the performer with the clarinet mouthpiece turned upside down.(Labanchi lived from 1829-1908)

Many years past, emerging  from the US Army I came back to my home in Boston. As many servicemen, All that filled my head were the opportunities awaiting returning servicemen.. It was in retrospect, foolish, because allthough apparent, benefits were not the issue, certainly not the quest. The importance lay solely in the future, and in my case, the clarinet. There were veterans benefits at the time which included money per month for a period of several years in order to attend University; there were bonuses for serving in the Korean Conflict, from the state of Massachusetts, and there was my brother, who was teaching at Boston University. This too was a benefit as I could attend for half tuition because of our relationship, and so, the choice to this myopic young man , was to attend BU as it was and is called. I enrolled there, and was assigned Gino Cioffi, principal clarinet of the Boston Symphony , as my teacher. I had heard many things about him, his quality of sound and the heritage he had brought with him from Europe. Elsewhere in thise pages, I speak about him in very glowing terms, and certainly he was the most naturally gifted clarinetist I had heard. It could have been Symphony Hall in Boston, where his sound just kind of hung above the orchestra permeating every fibre of my ear and sensibility. One dear friend who played in the Boston Orchestra during those years , thought that it was the mouthpiece he played, which was crystal, and has proven itself again and again that it is a wonderful mouthpiece material not withstanding its ability to crack, chip and even pulverize as it hits the floor. I studied with Gino (all the students called their teachers by their first names, except for when attending a lesson, when it was always quite formal and correct.) for a year, more or less, and, while I loved the sound he made on the clarinet and the ease with which he produced that sound, I found the man much less impressive.

I heard and experienced much more about Cioffi as there were stories abounding throughout Boston. He had only recently been awarded the Principal position after Victor Polatcheck, the former principal clarinetist had retired. Polatschek was an excellent and correct player, however his sound was distinctly less sumptuous than that of Cioffi. He had also written several books of wonderful exercises for the clarinet, which are still is some usuage. Very musical studies, based upon orchestral repertoire passages, but then enlarged into etudes.( I played both books. They are beautiful.) Cioffi had come from Europe, and was a product of the Italian school of clarinet playing. The story went that he came over to the US wearing a huge winter overcoat, its front pockets each carrying a clarinet. Before comingto Bioston, he had played for the best conductors, including Toscanini, and Reiner, and always Principal. He was also supposedly the clarinetist on most of the cartoons which were made at the time. Probably all clarinetists have heard all of thise Tom and Jerry cartoons and all of the others. I was told that they were recordein New York and that Cioffi was the clarinetist. Some say it was Mitchell Lurie, but more   say Cioffi. As we all recall, the clarinet playng was more than impressive.

I continued to delve into his background and came upon the most curiously interesting fact of all, and that was ,that Gino had been taught and played for years with the reed on top of the mouthpiece. At the time, it was shocking and difficult to believe, simply because his playing was the most effortless I had heard and he certainly played with the reed under the mouthpiece as was the norm.
Evidence of a “golden age” of reed-above playing can be found in 19th century Neapolitan players, including Ferdinando Sebastiani and Gaetano Labanchi. playing at the San Carlo Theater and the Conservatory of San Pietro. I know of the work of Labanchi as Cioffi had me work from one of his etude books. now, out of print except for the imprint found in this article, which clearly shows Labanchi playing with the reed on the top of the mouthpiece, rather than the presently accepted way. They both claimed that by employing the reed-above embouchure, one increased the types of colorings of articulation, whic gave the clarinet its beauty, and Labanchi stated tht this method allowed for a more precise staccato. In his own clarinet method, Ferdinando Busoni, father of the pianist and composer Ferrrucio Busoni(do you know his “Elegy”? I played it), Ferdinando remained convinced that the reed-abve embouchure assisted in obtaining a mellow timbre, pure intonation, flexibility and delicacy of nuance. Just as the position of the reed was not standardized, there are different opinions regarding the use of the throat, chest and tongued articulation as a means of reed-above articulation. Just a few years later, Klose regarded the reed-below embouchure as advantageous for three reasons. The tone was softer and more agreeable, the position of the tongue under the reed allowed the played to better articulate, and the overall appearance of the player was more graceful, allowing for greater powers of execution with much less effort.

Going back to the sound and abilities of Cioffi to articulate with great delicacy and accuracy and with great speed, was his earlier training with the reed on the top of the mouthpiece as addition to his abilities
as a performer, known for ease and beauty of sound and precise and most beautiful pinpoint accuracy? Certainly, much of the above is opinion, historical opinion, and my own , as well. Consider being presented with a clarinet and told to play with the reed against the upper lip. Consider progressive lessons an development in this manner.Consider Giuno Cioffi , a mature clarinetist having learned with this method, and then switching the mouthpiece around.Certainly , many aspects of both methods of playing remain with the player. I remember that Cioffi took the smallest amount of reed into his mourh as I had ever seen, and certainly , he played only double lip embouchure. Certainly all of those were factors in his formation.

In conclusion, do, or do  not, even try putting the reed on top, and turning the mouthpiece around.On second thought, in consideration of the past and the excellen t players who play or payed differently, give it a try. Give everything a try. But, if you have ever considered double lip embouchure, consider it again, and give it a try.

Stay well, and keep practicicng.


The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

April 26, 2013

Let me begin by making an apology to all healthcare providers, for they do a magnificent service to us all, especially to diabetic folks like myself. They are all quite wonderful, and I have a superb dentist, who happens to love music, and a nurse practitioner, and various professionals who tend to my extremities, for which I am quite thankful(both my extremities and the healthcare providers) We have also had the arrogance that exists only in the healthcare areas, oh, yes, and in Music Departments everywhere, to say nothing of all organized or disorganized religious groups,and orchestras ;which reminds me of a story attributed to Brahms:

He was supposedly quite an astringent fellow, despite the ethereal quality of his perfect music. He would frequently make damaging statements at gatherings. At the conclusion of one gathering, he is said to have made this comment: “If there is anyone present whom I have not insulted, I apologize.”

I have had several questions concerning teeth and playing the clarinet, naturally double lip, which as mentioned, is the most perfect way of cushioning your teeth while playing. It is perfect in my view as it is very natural to cover both the lower and upper teeth with the lips. Here is both the benefit and the deterrent. When you cover both upper and lower teeth with the lips, you may experience pressure either in the upper or lower lip. If this prssure is applied with too much intensity, you may experience pain , caused by your teeth cutting your lips, either upper or lower. When the discomfort becomes more intense, we have the little culprit called pain which ensues, possibly causing all kinds or avoidance reactions, leading to changing the position of the embouchure, which is bad, because it just transfers pain . Pain is what it is. Yes, like this writer, you can get some preparation H, which is actually for another place, or any of the oral antiseptics containing the material that dulls pain. This is a blind alley because you really need as much sensitivity in your embouchure as possible. So, you may choose to live with the discomfort or actually try several other solutions. Not liquid solutions, which alleviate other kinds and types of pain. I have known several clarinetists who will fold a piece of cigarette paper over the lower teeth, which will help slightly, until you bite through it or it just falls apart in your mouth. Then, there is a further solution which is have your dentist make a fitting(at considerable cost,of course) that will fit over the lower teeth. This works for some folk, however it is not preferable. A third way is to have your lower teeth shaved down.The dentist will see or feel a jagged edge down there and will simply grind it down to smoothness, which can help to an extent, Of course, the best way to avoid pain in your lips is to play without biting on the reed. However , we know that biting causes pain, to say nothing of perfectly ghastly noises and a general irritation which can spread to other areas. Tuning is difficult ,if not impossible. We know that tuning of an individula note is difficult, there usually being a couple of ways to achieve making a given pitch either higher or lower, which requires either opening or closing the throat, shading the actualy fingering of a note, or using the lip. Don’t even try the latter method, which result in a net loss of the note itself.Here is where the absolute beauty of the double lip embouchure comes into play. If you continue with this embouchure, you will find the pain excruciating, and then what happens? You stop biting, using the corners of the embouchure to hold the clarinet in your mouth. After a time of not being able to play high C or the thumb F without something kind of help with other fingers, your embouchure will begin to straighten, and strenghenand the whole thing becomes self-corrective,  resulting in a better sound, and a smoother legato. Why? Because if you bang your fingers on the clarinet. it will hurt your teeth, right? Right. And your legato will go from smooth to bumpy, which can turn into a chain reaction of unwanted sounds.Those are several reasons that this embouchure is superior, and is the most natural for the clarinet and for the avoidance of discomfort.

Some, if not all of the finest clarinetists have used double lip embouchure. Names like Harold Wright, Gaston Hamlin, Ralph Maclane, Gino Cioffi readily come to mind .Tom Ridenour uses it too, and he makes the best tuned clarinet.

But, if you have a hole or a callous on your lip, you can try your dentist. If he knows nothing, he is not telling the truth, and he has an ulterior motive, which will usually cost lots more than your clarinet(s). Simply put, you do not bite your lips or put a hole in your head from the clarinet. If your healthcare provider doesn’t know how to fix it, he has a hole in his head, or a card up his sleeve. One hears ittle from Mdical Doctors about your condition, simply telling you to take a medication, and you hear even less from a toothcare provider. That is, until the discovery of the internet, and of course, GOOGLE and other avenues of information. I had a terrible battle with a healthcare provider about a drug called Januvia, which helps in conrtolling blood sugar. I asked him about it, and he didn’t kow it existed, and he dragged in that huge book of all medications. SInce it was new , it didn’t appear in his book so, I went home and downloaded the information, and left it with his secretary. The next time I saw him, he was absolutely white with fury. He said he had never ever prescribed this medication for anyone, implying that it couldn’t be anything but ridiculous. It was a terrible appointment, Not only did mhe make me wait, but slammed the door on the way out. A couple of months later, he came in an told me it was an excellent drug. That is the truth. It has become very popular in this high-sugar town. It is not a bad drug, but the best one for sufar is putting less of everything into your pie-hole.

Stay well, and keep practicing, and don’t bite. If you wish another “solution”, try Cabernet Sauvignon.


From The Tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth, by Robert Benchley

‘The nurse appears, and looks inquiringly at each one in the room. Each one in the room evades the nurse’s glance in one last, futile attempt to fool someone and get away without seeing the dentist. But she spots you and nods pleasantly. God, how pleasantly she nods! There ought to be a law against people being as pleasant as that.

“The doctor will see you now,” she says.”

Thumb rest update

April 20, 2013

I have written more than several articles concerning thumb rests, their placement, and their purported adjustment possibilities.

I had a hiatus of these complaints when I used a thumb rest called the Thumb Saddle, designed by Tom Ridenour, and used to keep at least two of them in my case always. Their cost is not prohibitive. To pay tendollars for almost anything for your clarinet is almost surprising and makes one feel one is in the time of the Great Depression. Really, what can you buy for ten bucks? Nothing. I am one of these nuts who remembers prices from my early childhood. I will give you several examples: I used to go down the hill each Sunday morning to get six bagels and a quarter pound of Lox. My father or mother gave me .27 cents. The six bagels cost 12 cents, the lox cost .15. Cents, mind you!Smoked Salmon these days, can cost 20 bucks a pound, and bagels can be six dollars for a dozen, especially the best , Montreal bagels. But, I digress. Moving forward on this journey into reverse DScience fiction, let us think of Van Doren Reeds. On a Friday afternoon before my Saturday Morning lesson in Rosarios Resonant Rumpus Room, which is what I called the room where all of us would play for one another, I would go to Rayburns and get 5 boxes of Vandoren Clarinet reeds. They would cost me 3.75 a box. Mrs. Sterberg, Rays mother, would give them to me for nothing. She was always very nice to me. There were 25 reeds in each box. Can you believe that!? Actually in retrospect, it didn’t matter, because none of the reeds played without sanding ,fixing, scraping, and saying an incantation over, the praying to Vanadee, the Reed Goddess. I may have mentioned that when I used to visit Lindas Parents in Long Island, we would always pass the Van Doren Nursing Home. This is true. The colors were purple and yellow, the same as the colors on a Van Doren Box of 25 reeds (which didn’t play). This is a case where the price was totally non consequential, The reeds played the same, regardless.
Back to Thumb rests. Yes, I thought and still think that Ridenours Thumb Saddles were terrific, price and all. I once wrote him a letter about them and he answered back saying, it didn’t seem to matter what shape they were, what mattered was moving your thumb to a different position. It remains one of the great clarinet buys. If it were made by a big company, it would cost at least 99 dollars, on special, and you and I would still buy them. What Ridenour said to me, “MOVE THE THUMB’ was most correct. Moving the thumb almost anywhere will ease the discomfort of the clarinet on your thumb>
Which again brings me back to the subject matter of this piece. Thumb Rests. As I aged, the difficulty pf the thumb rest became more pronounced. Why I didn’t have a clue is almost beyond me. I was getting pain from the weight of the clarinet, not the thumb rest. Almost no mature player plays without some kind of thumb rest help. There are neck straps , large and small thumb cushions, pieces of rubber, all kinds of things available. You can spend a fair amount on some kind of cushion, but one of the better of the free thumb rests are those things on milk machines in schools, the little rubber tube out of which, the milk comes. They are mostly made of clear silicone and , after you cut the piece off, it will stretch to accommodate your thumb. You just leave it on the horn always. I used them for many years. But then, my discomfort worsened and I started to blame the manufacturers of the thumb rests, I found fault with them all, without exception. Actually, the only one I really found perfect was the thumb rest of my C Clarinet. It was perfect. Why? It wasn’t the thumb rest at all. It was the weight of the clarinet, it being much less on the right thumb, it gave me less discomfort. Where was my brain? I have no idea, but feel somehow that there are folks out there who may share my affliction with the shape, placement, and positioning of the clarinet thumb rest. It is not the fault of the thumb rest. It is you and me, and all others who get discomfort after hours and hours of playing the clarinet. Many of our thumbs are not strong enough to withstand the constant weight of the clarinet. So, at present, I play everything on the C clarinet, If it is a Bb part, I get a C part, or simply transpose the part. Much of the standard clarinet chamber music is much less difficult with a C clarinet, and frankly, I hear better on the C, and it seems to have a more pistine purity than does my Bb. But,in actuality, we are talking about less weight being the critical factor, though the C clarinet is really a pleasant experience.

Stay well, and rest your thumb, or?