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,


Deja entendu, again, the synthetic and the difference

June 1, 2013

Factually, a synthetic reed is a copy of a cane reed. In order for a copy to be made to sound like a cane reed, it should play the same. There are two companies manufacturing reasonably acceptable synthetics” Forestone “and “Legere.”

The Forestone process is a complete process, the reed is finished , ready for playing, it being a molded process, but Forestone is able to make the tip flexibly thin as an end process.

Legere is also a molded process, howeer the concluding step is the cutting of the tip of the reed with an excellent diamond quality tool. Two Legere reeds will each play slightly differenly. Two Forsetone reeds will be much more similarly, one to the other ,because of the complete process of the manufacture.

I was given many of each, free . Big deal. The Legeres have so many (seemngly mind boggling) cuts. That is like cane. We are attempting to limit the variables, why make multiple slightly different copies?

Forestone are much more consistent because the process is complete.

After that, it is all a matter of sales pitch, price and opinion.

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.


Things to Try, and things Tried

March 5, 2013

Had an evocative note from a young clarinetist who had recently graduated with an advanced degree, and was very happy with his new acquisitions, some addition to his clarinet which he felt enhanced his sound in some way and made him feel encouraged about his sound. I had recently written an article which was concerned with the sound of a new acquisition. In my article, I had mentioned the Hans Christian Anderson story called “The Emporers new clothes”, a story which has been widely translated and is simply the story of tailor who brags that he can make clothing that will show imposters for what they are, and would be very beautiful.The emporer wears his new clothes and a young child says. “But he has no clothing on, and is naked”.
The young man with the new degree took my article to be a criticism of this new equipment. He suggested that I had criticized the equipment because I had never tried it myself. This is something I would never do, and in a long life as a successful Clarinetist Professor and Conductor, I have tried literally everything that I ever saw , including reeds, ligatures,ligatures with dinner plates, bells and barrels of every description, thousands of mouthpieces, and virtually every clarinet ever manufactured from every known material.Incidentally, the Ridenour barrel is a big help with the throat, at least it was with my Selmer 10s, (and it is readily available) I was a student of Rosario Mazzeo. He gave me a set of full boehm Mazzzeo System Clarinets which I played for longer than any other professional player, and also used exclusively while Principal in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I accompanied Mazzeo to Great Britain and demonstrated the Mazzeo System Clarinets for the CASS, the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain. And, I have tried every supposedly new addition having to do with the clarinet.I have been playing hard rubber instruments designed by Tom Ridenour for many years. And I have tried and tested his new Lyrique made from Grenadilla. The difference between wood and hard rubber are readily apparent. Grenadilla wood is more substantial from the standpoint of carrying power, but hard rubber is better in tune, stays in tune and stays stable.It is also the most easily accessible from the standpoint of cost and tunes better than any clarinet. It is easier to machine and it is more stable.
I am not unlike many of you readers who literally has spent several fortunes on equipment, always searching for something better, different, anything at all to change the quality of sound emitted from my clarinet. In the last few years, I have come to understand that the instrument is still lovely and beautiful , though, regardless of what new equipment I try, whether it be reeds, mouthpieces, accesories of all kinds, additions, and clarinets made entirely of different materials, or combinations thereof, and I have found that I still search for the beauty of the music, the beauty of the sound, the quality of the phrase, its length and beauty to be the one goal for which I will always search. I wish the young man with his new addition, and all those who try new or sifferent materials, that it is always finally the music itself, which is the ultimate goal of any clarinetist. I further advise all to audition whenever there may be a job out there and to get that job and be happy and fulfilled.

stay well,


Synthetic reeds must duplicate traditional response

October 21, 2012

By now, you’ve seen it all and experienced most. You have received he email or the telephone calls from the friendly introductory remarks and received the samples. You have been excited by the obvious qualities, the fact that it may be played without preparation and that it is longer lasting than any cane reed you have ever played. If your guide was careful, he may have told you that you may wish to change your mouthpiece in order that more reeds may be tried and perhaps used, with even better results. Then, of course, the reeds are graded to be comparable to your V12s or whichever cane reed you have played. You may have made a false useless move by changing your mouthpiece. The change of course, produces changed results,: a bit brighter, or darker, real improvement in the response, or so you think. The problem with changing any part of your equipment in order to get a better result from a synthetic is of course detrimental to your whole concept of what the traditional sound of the clarinet is,especially to you.It is very similar to changing your car when you were filling up the tank. Of course, that new car is a bit different, it is new, and you perceive it differently, and you have deviated from the traditional response that you have experienced for years. This is your tradition, that which you have been taught to bring to the clarinet, that which you will pass on to your students, that which keeps the sound of the Mozart clarinet in your head and heart. If you give up this legacy you carry from all of the clarinetists of the past , think twice, because if you can really hear, you will return to this tradition, you have to. Some of that tradition which you receive is passed on to you from Cahuzac, Klose, Muhlefeld, Stadler and many others. It is what your teacher has brought to you from his past.

While certain teachers had forecast all kinds of changing electronic methodology and technology for future instruments, this has not happened and we still carry forth the sounds that we have heard and been taught to reproduce. It is in your being and while it may change a bit, you still hear it well and will reproduce it.Ours is a sacred trust and we cannot forsake it for a piece of plastic, which can be a cameleon-like as any piece of cane.

Let us say that we have not changed our mouthpiece(s) for the sake of the reed, which is as I say, analagous to changing your car when you fill the tank with gasoline, or when you change the oil. All of that is salesmanship, pure and simple. No matter what you read or what you are told. The many changing cuts of reeds, the Illinois, cut, the Oregon cut, the Oklahoma cut, and the quebec and Ontario, traditional ond what have you, cuts are all done purely for salesmanship and the all-important volume. The synthetic takes the place of your cane in order to preserve all of the many sub-disciplines you have acquired, and to make them more dependable and responsive, and to duplicate totally your tradition concept of your clarinet sound, nothing more. Variety can be , indeed the spice of life, however it cannot serve any purpose at all, if you change your concept of sound
If one accepts the possibility that synthetic reeds are at least, possible, and practical, one has to go further. It is the conventional accepted wisdom. They do work, They do work well, although some are inconsistent. The inconsistency is the result of the manufacturer adding finishing steps which are anachronistic to the idea of synthetic.

For instance, a good synthetic is made mostly by machine. It does not need to be wet in order to play. It does so immediately. So, a good question,in fact my question is why add a superlative cutting mechanism for the tip of the reed? Superlative obviously means just that: it cuts superlatively, but, by the very nature, it cannot exactly suplicate the cut and therefore some reeds do not play as others do. I had a CEO of a company send me a couple of their finest synthetics. One played well, the other did not; not anywhere near the response of the first.
It was amusing, in that there is a claim of perfection, yet they played differently which of course, contradicts the whole idea of a synthetic.
Each reed must play very close to the next, if not an exact duplication. I do have some basic logic. If a reed is made completely by machine; if even the tip is synthetic and conforms to the specifications of the product, it is simply the end of the story. I feel this is true with the synthetic I play.
I now leave the reed on the mouthpiece at all times. I never even loosen the screws unless I accidentally scrape or hurt the tip in some way. It simply always plays the same.
So, keep practicing, and buy and try the reed which is made completely by machine. That’s why it is called synthetic. Think of synthetic oil. It is the best oil you can buy for your car, and there are now no exceptions.

Keep practicing. Most is in the mind, some is in the manufacture. Your sound, your tradition remains that which you have developed over the years of learning and performing

Stay well,

Stranger things than lint in the bore of the clarinet

October 20, 2012

Ordinarily, lint is

1. Clinging bits of fiber and fluff; fuzz.
2. Downy material obtained by scraping linen cloth and used for dressing wounds.
3. The mass of soft fibers surrounding the seeds of unginned cotton.

In youth I was a very ambitious student, who seemed to be studying and practicing quite well, and progressing through the repertoire and the various steps in learnng to play However,I came quite close to giving up the instrument. Had I given it up, I most probably, would have become a successful dentist as my parents seemed to wish, and I wouldn’t be writing this. I would be driving a Lamborghini, worrying about nothing and thinking about retirement, which as a dentist, I could have , after a very few brief years.(This is all dreams of my parents) But, I didn’t quit the clarinet and all in all, I am very pleased. I love music, and of the clarinet, all of its repertoire; and they told me I was talented. Could have been true, maybe not. Music has been kind to me.

I was into writing down difficulties, and solutions to these difficulties. High register stacatto, th natural uneven quality of the clarinet and getting everything to sound smooth, developing the best legato I could make and doing not too badly. But then, I encountered a problem, which never before had crossed my way, The sound I was making started becoming somewhat diffuse and fuzzy in quality, mostly in the clarion register of the clarinet and it literally drove me first crazy to the point of considering giving up the horn. Who needed this aggravation? I tried writing down the problem and many possible solutions: Reeds, mouthpieces, ligatures, Reeds, sensitifty or lack of it, and there was simply no solution.Maybe ,I should have changed teachers. But, I did that as a matter of course.

So, here is the advice I give any of you who may be experiencing the same problem, and I read about you almost every day.Before you give up, or change teachers, or even clarinets, mouthpieces or other equipment. check your horn very carefully. Do you swab your instrument after each playing? What kind of swab do you use? Does it have a weight on the end ? Is it a heavy weight? If you reverse swab as most are taught, you drop the weight down the clarinet from the bell. There is less resistance that way, and therefore, much less to worry about. Let me tell you a true story which happened when I was a Fromm Fellow at Tanglewood in 1965 . I was to play the Easley Blackwood Clarinet Concerto, with Gunther Schuller conducting. I think the concert and the concerto went well, but prior to playing the piece, I put the swab down the clarinet from the barrel down, pulled it hard and it just stuck right there , caught by the register key and my stupidity. I went ballistic of course, but there was a solution. At the time, I was playing Centered Tone Clarinets. These had a hexagonal screw surrounding the register key. Someone had a wrench which fit around that hex screw, loosened it, the register key vent was withdrawn and the swab moved easily. What a relief and an incredible lesson. Never use a heavy weight at the end of your swab and never use anything but the lightest swab. The fashion these days is to use a silk swab which has a slender weight on the end, just enough to carry the swab down the horn.
Don’t make your own swab. Don’t use one of those brushes, which some leave in the clarinet, which of course, soaks up all the moisture and can wreck the closure of the pads.

Always drop the swab down the clarinet after you have turned it over, and by the way, make sure that the swab passes through pointing away from the register key vent because it can get stuck that way as well.

But the above was not the answer to my problem. I finally took the register key off and looked at it through a light . There was only darkness, Carefully, I pushed a toothpick through the vent and it came out of other side full of….. wait for it, lint. The lint caught in the vent was the cause of the problem. When cleaned , it played like new. Of course, I have checked thousands of times since, but never found anything like that thick lint in the vent.

One more true story. For several years I went Le Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau France. Though I seldom played my A clarinet, I had to have a set, with double case. How else can a kid look professional? Of course, I was wrong, but that is a whole other article. When back home in Boston, I had a concert to play using my A clarinet. I got ready to play and again, nothing came out , absolutely not one sound. I looked up at the clarinet through a light and again, saw nothing but darkness. Of course, I put the swab through the clarinet, and out came a big spider, dead, but with all the legs and good stuff. I stomped the poor dead thing over and over again, and have always been suspicious of what might be lurking in a nice warm A clarinet. Those are some long stories that perhaps may benefit some, or even amuse. In retrospect, it all seems quite hilarious. Then again, I could have been a dentist.
Stay well, and practice, on both clarinets. It is always a good idea to practice on the A, which is a bit more resistant than the Bb. When you then play the Bb it always seems to be more fluent.


Beethoven, Opus 11, C clarinet with Forestone

September 27, 2012

On Sunday September 23, we played a concert of Chamber Music, and my piece was the Beethoven, Opus 11. Now, everyone knows and has played this piece many times. It is early Beethoven, closer to Haydn, like much early Beethoven, and has a lovely little cadenza for the piano and a terrific set of Variations for the ensemble, based upon a funny forgotten tune from a un-named opera. It is ideal for just about any concert with this ensemble, always works, and is not difficult to rehearse.But,on Sunday, we played it using the C Clarinet and if anything can make the sound of the ensemble better, and more in tune, it is the C Clarinet . It gives me constant pleasure and I still insist that this clarinet is better naturally in tune than is the Bb. It is simply fun to play. Finally, I played it with the very same Forestone reed upon which I played last May 6th. There is the most salient point I would like to make. All of my life, I have been like you: very picky on reeds, preparing excessively for any concert, changing reeds at the last minute, and wondering constantly if I have chosen the best reed, mouthpiece, and even clarinet,for the concert. I have spent years looking for reeds, saving them, shaving and cutting them,even making them, being completely paranoid about them, and truly never satisfied. But also, I have discovered that any fine reed is excellent, any synthetic reed is preferable to cane, as long as it falls within the parameters of your choice of sound , tuning, mouthpiece and of course, instrument. Without advertising, I have found Forestone to be the reed I prefer, but I think in actuality, I could play on any synthetic. Friends, you do not have to wet them, to soak them to watch them unfurl and become playable. They are ready, anytime you pick them up. There! I have said it! eave the synthetic on the mouthpiece . You can do this most safely. I have myself for many months. My C is not an expensive instrument. It is a good grenadilla instrument with silver-plated keys and I rely on it, and its sound and tuning are well within my ability to play in tune. Yes,it is an Amati, and I do recommend the C clarinet. Mouthpiece is a Gregory Smith, refaced by Richard Hawkins, and I must say, the refacing made the mouthpiece truly excellent. Mouthpieces, clarinets, ligatures vary, and yes, but,limiting the variables during a concert is most important. Life is too short to sit around all day ,picking anything. Keep practicing , and stay well.

Leblanc L27 and and the Wolf

March 7, 2012

In recent postings I have mentioned my friend and accompanists passing and that first Leblanc clarinet, the L27. It had been at Arduinis in Montreal for a long time. Like many clarinetists in Canada (and the US, for that matter), I, we, had thought of the Leblanc clarinet, as simply a bad instrument, from the standpoint of tuning and manufacture, its reputation preceded any thought of even trying this instrument.
What first drew my attention was the inlay in the top joint, flush with the wood, which had the L27 on mother of pearl, or looking like that. The case was yellow looking and not attractive.
I asked if I could take the instrument to try, the permission given for “as long as I wanted”.
When putting the instrument together for the first time, I immediately noticed that the finger bed seemed fractionally smaller that What I had been used to , and not unpleasant. I don’t remember the mouthpiece I was using at the time, however it may have been either a Selmer or Van Doren, and, I had been experimenting with the LC 1 and LC 3 which were not yet in production. Larry Combs was then principal in the Montreal Orchestra. It must have been the late 70s, or somewhere around then. These LC mouthpieces had been worked on and they were very “big” in quality, and were very different. I had many of each. They also played a bit on the sharp side.
Any of the above conditions were not a consideration when trying this new clarinet, as the sound, or response, seemed to be more contained, and I thought the clarinet more resistant than my Selmers. I only had the Bb, but wasn’t doing much repertoire for A at the time. I started using this L27 for all my work in CBC radio broadcasts, the main reason being that the scale simply would not venture far from my tuning apparatus, which was a Korg 12, if I remember correctly. Each note played was eithin a couple of of cents of exactly 440 throughout the entire clarinet. These CBC bropadcasts were quite frequent and they had to be well in tune. If not, the breoadcast was terribly embarrassing and there was a big radio audience. I had been trained to play the parts perfectly and I worked into playing with no mistakes because there were no “retakes”. It was a concert always free and open to the public, but alays recorded wiht but a single testing prior to the recording and concert. I must say, it was a time of many concerts, rehearsals and I was playing all the time, which was great for consistency, as we all know.
This L27 became the clarinet Used all the time, for performing and for teaching. It was easier to play and much easier to play in tune. I could have purchased it at any time for 450$, but unfortunately for me, I didn’t It could have been the best clarinet I had ever had. But, I had had many.

KEN wolf, living in Brookline was my accompanist. He used to come and play a concerto with my orchestra and we would also have a concert of clarinet and piano. And I would go to Boston whenever I had the time. In the spring of that year we got a concert for the Medical School in Worcester, Mass, where he eas teaching . We had but a few rehearsals and played repertoire we had played for many performances. If we played a new work, it would be an early classical work, such as either of the Wanhal Sonatas. I would play clarinet and he would accompany on the Harpsichord. And we would play the second half usually consisting of two sonatas, a Brahms, and for this particular, that Sonata or Sonatine by Darius Milhaud(with Ken playng the piano). What keeps this concert in my mind was the consistent comments of Emily Wolf, his wife, who, while not a musician, was brilliant and had a fine musical critical ear. She kept on remarking on how fine the sound was, and the tuning between the two instruments. This was what really sold me on the fact that this Leblanc clarinet, that L27, was truly an excellent instrument.

Along those lines, I had a clarinetist in the Concordia Symphony Orchestra, a University community orchestra. He was studying at the University of Montreal and was not on a career path degree. He played beautifully, and naturally, I asked him what he played, and he responded, Leblanc. This furthered my impression of this instrument. “How bad can it be” went through my mind, for I had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the fact of Leblancs poor quality. While I did not buy that particular Leblanc, I have played practically nothing but Leblanc clarinets since. It was not a “worst” clarinet. It was and is most probably, the best of all the French clarinets, and much more consistent ,by far. Let’s see, I played a set of L7s, of which I have spoken before, a set of OPus, which were the best of the best, and am now playing an LL. currently in the case under my bed, with the Hawkins #1 mouthpiece witn the 3,5 Forestone reed on the mouthpiece. If I decide to practice, I will simply put it together and play it, as is.

Just a bit of a reminiscence of fun times gone by. Don’t you stop practicing.
stay well, sherman

Toward Reed perfection

January 29, 2012

With reference to the posting concerning reed perfection, the first correction to be made quite strongly is, one never selects a special concert reed on the day of the performance. It is an ill advised decision. A cane reed is especially unstable on the first day. Synthetic reeds are exponentially less so.

Years past, I studied with Fernand Gillet, then principal oboe with the Boston Symphony. He was perhaps the definitive solfege and chamber music teacher, and he knew all of the orchestral repertoire, and premiered many of the most outstanding works of the 20th century with the Boston Symphony.

One of the most startling things about Gillet was, he never made a reed, but ordered them from some friend in Europe in exchange for a couple of suits, as I recall him saying.

As to his playing, it was simply the most perfect one can ever hear, if one discounts (his) oboe sound, as characterized by the quality of Tabuteau, who was principal in Philadelphia at the same time, and truly the founder of the so-called American school of oboe sound, and embouchure ,for that matter.

But Gillet was extremely thoughtful and was always prepared, and, he was the oboe soloist in many of the works written for the Boston Symphony, works, by Ravel, Prokofiev, and of course, Bartok.

Back to what Gillet said about reeds and performance.
“Never change a reed just prior to the performance”

His explanation was that it is better to use a reed , well broken-in which will insure a modicum of success to the performer, rather than one brand new, which will always be different, than its predecessor. Advice well given, and rceived.

That concert from so many years past is rather striking in my memory, because I would never repeat such a completely frustrating process. The subjugation one suffers attempting to find a reed which pleases one in all ways is really somewhat similar to playing the lottery. Again and again, we play, we try to win, but the chances of winning are so small, the stress brought on by anxiety hope erases all ability to truly discern, and the cane reed is changing all the time, especially in its initial stages.

One must make the process less frustrating and more of a success. Remember the music always comes before anything and on the music, mustbe placed the most attention. We must free ourselves from being trapped by a changing piece of wood.

The answer considering todays technology, is to limit the variables. In accepting to limit these variables, the synthetic reed is first,available, and second, has been improved upon , especially in the last several years.

It is quite true that one can choose a synthetic that has been cut, one that may be moulded or manufactured is some hopefully careful way. And one of them may play very well indeed.

But there is one process in the manufacture which is variable, regardless of the diamond cutting device: the reed is cut by a blade of some sort in the final finishing.

That is why these reeds can differ, one to another. No matter how superb the cutting process is, it cannot assure total consistency from reed to reed. This is why we choose synthetic. We hope to limit the variables.

If a player is asked to choose a synthetic, by stating that a certain reed plays better, or a certain cut of that reed, he is actually attesting to the fact that they do in fact, vary

There is only one quality synthetic that is manufactured completely, from beginning to end, and that reed is completely moulded, with the tip made in the same manner, rather than cutting it with some kind of knife at the conclusion of the process.

My morning(long ago) apent in utter frustration, subjecting myself to endlessly trying reeds, desentitizing musical instincts, limits musical results.

If one is able to utilize the same synthetic through multiple rehearsals and performances, musical instincts become more focused. We are able to control most of the many variables in preparation, and therefore, we secure better control over the entire performance, the music first, then , the sound. (when we begin, we learn sound, but the ultimate goal is to play and perform musically.

The shortest distances between two points is a straight line. Playing a completely moulded synthetic is that straight line.Or, as close as we can come.That is why we practice.

Keep practicing that music.

stay well.

Does the perfect reed need perfection

January 25, 2012

I remember many years ago, preparing for a concert at a college in Milwaukee, a Sunday afternoon in winter, brght and sunny.
I needed to select a good reed for the afternoon concert at 3:30. It was before noon.
I was playing very standard repertoire, perhaps Sonati by Honegger, Poulenc and Brahms and a new work either written for me, or something in manuscript. It doesn’t really matter.
Things were going well. I already had several possible(s). I was “up”.You know up,don’t you? We all do. It was a concert at a nice hall, good pianist, Good player, me.

Time passes. There are more reeds, now lining a mirror, drying, after having been tried and moistened. Still. no afternoon concert reed. Still “up”, but a little concerned.

It is 1 PM. Still a couple of hours before playing. I open another box. Of course, they are Van Doren, which I have always called VD.
(There is (or was) a rest home somewhere in Queens, seen from the Long Island Exoressway. It is called the Van Doren Rest Home. When you see it in the distance, it is colored blue and yellow, looking like a big box of Van Doren)

Well, it has now become 2PM. just an hour before playing. I am completely without clothing, sitting on my chair, and totally surrounded by about 10 boxes of Van Doren reeds. (this was in the 60’s and reeds were exponentially cheaper than now) There were also 25 in a box, cost 3.75

Now, they are prohibitively priced, and they have names similar to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, different cuts, different prices, all high, screaming “more consistency”, and producing the same inimitable Van Doren lack of quality, and/or consistency. Or you might say, “He doesn’tknow how to fix them”.

And yes, there I was , with no reed, and an hour to go.

(now, the reed cognescenti are saying or thinking, “well, he didn’t break them in”. or he had the wrong clarinet, or the wrong mouthpiece, or…what have you.)

It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You know the feeling. It is not “UP” It is panic time.

So finally, I choose one, get it on the mouthpiece.(at that point in my career, I would never change a reed during a performance or even move it on the mouthpiece

With that many variables at stake, you do not have the time nor the luxury of choice. You play on what you have.You must.

Well, I thought I had never played so miserably poorly. It was truly horrble. No, I don’t have a tape. Actually, I wish I did have a tape, because you never really know until you listen afterward.

This is the lonly way to hear yourself. You listen to the recording of the concert as soon as you can after playing it. This is excellent advice, because you know both the feelings you had during the perormance and you simply hold those feeling up against the recording: a difficult , costly, but sometimes a wonderful learning experience.

Marvin came up to me after the concert. He asked to take me to dinner with his girl friend, Emily. I went, trying to show nothing, but feeling utter self-revulsion.

He was an amateur clarinetist and Marvin congratulated me on my playng, all the while with me eating a pan-fried delicious steak,paid for by Marvin, or maybe Emily. Maybe,she was keeping him. I don’t know.

keep practicing.
stay well, sherman

Time permitting, this will be followed by another piece on what I did wrong for that concert and the choice of reed and the “perfection” needed in that reed.