Welcome to Clarineticus Intergalacticus!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interview with clarinetist, Timothy Phillips

Happy New Year, Clarineticus Readers! 

It has been awhile since my last posting, and I am coming back with an interview of one of my favorite people to follow on Facebook. I have never met Timothy Phillips in person, but we are friends on Facebook and we share a love of good articulation. Dr. Phillips is a professor, performer, clinician, radio show host, Facebook aficionado, and father. With so many hats to wear, I was curious about his thoughts on a few topics that I haven't covered in clarinetist interviews before. 

Interspersed throughout the posting are flyers for clarinet days the Dr. Phillips will be a part of. I hope some Clarineticus readers live nearby and can catch one of these great events!

Thanks Dr. Phillips!!

Timothy Phillips is Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama. Since joining the Troy University faculty in 2006, he founded Troy University Clarinet Day, which brings high school, college, and professional clarinetists together at the John M. Long School of Music for performances and master classes each spring. Timothy is also creator and host of a weekly program on Troy University Public Radio WTSU called “Clarinet Corner,” Social Media Editor of the International Clarinet Association, and a Buffet Group USA Performing Artist.
Timothy has served as President of the Higher Education Division of the Alabama Music Educators Association and he has performed at previous AMEA Conferences. He performed at ClarinetFest® 2011 in Los Angeles, California, ClarinetFest® 2010 in Austin, Texas, and ClarinetFest® 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri. He presented his paper, “The Longing Voice: Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” at ClarinetFest® 2004 in College Park, Maryland. He also performed at the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors National Conference in Gainesville, Florida in 2011 and the College Music Society National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in 2008. As soloist, he has performed with Concerto Avenna in Warsaw, Poland and with the Troy University Symphony Band, Troy University Concert Chorale, Troy University Percussion Ensemble, University of Illinois Symphonic Band, and University of Illinois Summer Band. In 2011, he premiered works as soloist with the International Clarinet Choir, organized by the Träumerei Clarinet Ensemble in New York City and with the Troy University Symphony Band on their first-ever international tour in Vancouver and Whistler, Canada. Timothy is former principal clarinetist of the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and he has performed with Sinfonia da Camera in Illinois. An active proponent of music by living composers, he has commissioned works from Jorge Montilla, Jeff Brooks, James David, Scott McAllister, and Bill Douglas, and he has premiered works by Alain Mayrand, Traci Mendel, Don Bowyer, and Carl Vollrath.
In 2011 and 2009, he performed and taught at Clarimania, a bi-annual event held at the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wrocław, Poland. In 2013, he will return to this event to teach a master class and to present a lecture-recital entitled “American Works for Clarinet and Percussion” with his colleague T. Adam Blackstock. In 2010, Timothy served on the jury for the International Woodwind Instruments Clarinet Competition in Warsaw, Poland with clarinetists Florent Héau, Ludmila Peterkova, and Nicolas Fargeix. Timothy has also served as a judge for the University of Oklahoma Clarinet Symposium Young Artists Competition in 2010 and the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra Guild Concerto Competition in 2008 and 2006.

Timothy completed the Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees in clarinet performance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds the Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His principal teachers included: J. David Harris, Daniel Silver, Bil Jackson, and Philip Aaholm. Timothy received the Phi Kappa Phi Artist Award from the Troy University chapter of Phi Kappa Phi and the Albert Austin Harding Award from the University of Illinois Bands.

Timothy lives in Troy, Alabama with his wife Katrina, daughter Violet, white fluffy dog Kaspar, and fat cat Benny.

KM: How do you balance your life when you have varied responsibilities and goals?

TP: Good question. It has never been easy. And I’d say I’ve done it differently in different stages of my life. When I was an undergraduate, a very wise clarinet professor told me that if I don’t make clarinet practicing a top priority, academic paperwork could easily take over my life. He suggested setting time aside for practicing everyday, no matter what. This was brilliant advice… because it’s true: academic paperwork can really consume your life if you let it.

When I was a graduate student, and at the very start of my career, I think my life was somewhat unbalanced in that I let work be my top priority, always. Luckily for me, I have a wife who is also a clarinetist, so she was very understanding during those times. And she was always there for me when it was time for the work to stop. It helped that she was inside her own tornado of work too.

Now that we have a child, family time has become totally nonnegotiable. I take care of my school/teaching work during the day as much as possible, and I’m not nearly as available in the early evenings. And I have cut back on some playing gigs. For example, my wife and I left our positions as co-principal clarinetists of the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra during her pregnancy. (You must understand, to play in that orchestra required a two-hour drive, one-way just to get to rehearsal. That was an eight-hour commitment after school ended on weekdays. After a day of teaching, it could be very taxing. And now with a child at home, there’s no way we can do it.) So, now all my performing focus is on my recitals and other periodic concerts. I wouldn’t trade the time with my daughter for anything, so this was definitely the right decision for us.

But, now as it has always been, I have to make time to maintain and improve my own playing. Usually I can work that into my schedule in the morning or during the day. And occasionally I can practice after the little one has gone to sleep in the evening. I know it will only get more challenging to maintain this balance.

KM: How do you prioritize "marketing yourself" with practice time, performing, and your full time job as a professor of clarinet?

TP: Well, luckily the university I work for does a very nice job of marketing for me. We have honor band festivals where I can teach and perform and I am frequently given the opportunity to travel to do these things as well. And my part-time responsibility of hosting “Clarinet Corner” on Troy University Public Radio helps me to stay connected with the clarinet world. I have also found that Facebook can be a very useful tool for connecting with colleagues and students. The best part about Facebook is letting others see that you’re a normal person, that you have flaws, and that your entire life isn’t about the clarinet. Of course, they get to hear about my clarinet adventures too. But, I think it’s nice to be able to show people that at the end of the day, we’re all faced with a similar set of human circumstances.

KM: Do you think that more should be done in music schools to prepare students for what their life as a musician might be like? 

TP: That would be a good idea, but I know in actuality, students are already so busy preparing themselves musically; it could be difficult to add more to the curriculum. Probably a time when I learned most about what life as a musician would be like was when I was in graduate school. I had some excellent assistantships and other jobs that helped me to learn about how to survive.

Honestly, I think the biggest problem perhaps is the fact that universities and conservatories are graduating far more people each year than the job market can handle. So, there are many, many qualified musicians who never get the jobs they were wanting. Many people hoping to go into academia can’t even get interviews. Therefore, it’s important for people to be flexible with their goals, willing to teach, and creative when it comes to making performance opportunities for themselves.

KM: Do you have any advice for clarinetists searching for faculty positions?

TP: For tenure track faculty positions, most schools are looking for someone who has completed their doctorate. And they want candidates who have received good grades in school. Beyond that, they’re looking for excellent players who have made the most of their surroundings. As a music faculty member who plays the clarinet, there are so many things one might be asked to do: teaching a theory class maybe, going into schools to recruit, serving on committees, organizing events, maybe even reorganizing curriculums. Universities are looking for smart, optimistic people who have lots to offer outside the clarinet studio.

KM: How did you become a Buffet Artist?

TP: I think for me, becoming a Buffet Artist had a lot to do with Troy University Clarinet Day. I began this event six years ago and it has grown steadily every year. It has been common for me to invite Buffet Artists as my guest artists. Because of this artist connection, the fact that I play Buffet clarinets, and the fact that I’ve often asked Buffet to bring clarinets to my event for people to try, many Buffet Artists suggested to both me and Buffet that I should be a Buffet Artist. Luckily, the Buffet Group USA agreed.

KM: Do you have any projects coming up?

TP: Always! This spring, I will be rehearsing for my recital (American Works for Clarinet and Percussion) at Clarimania 2013 in Wrocław, Poland. This is an excellent bi-annual clarinet festival that features many of the world’s finest clarinetists and clarinet teachers. This year, I will be there with Florent Héau, his great French clarinet quartet Les Bons Becs, Isralei clarinetist Shirley Brill, festival coordinator, conductor, and clarinetist Jan Jakub Bokun, and many others. I’m also hoping to do a few other concerts in Europe while I’m there, but I’m still working on those plans. Also, this spring I will be a guest artist for Tennessee Tech’s Clarinet Day and I will host Troy University Clarinet Day. And I’m in the initial planning stages for my recital at ClarinetFest 2013 in Assisi, Italy this summer. Additionally, I have many guests and shows planned for upcoming episodes of “Clarinet Corner” including Wenzel Fuchs, Joe Eller, Julian Bliss, and Rachel Yoder, just to name a few.

KM: What kind of reeds do you like to play?

TP: I find that different reeds tend to work best with different mouthpiece/ligature combinations. In the past, I have played Vandoren V12 reeds. For a while I played Gonzalez reeds. At the moment, I play Rico Reserve Classic reeds. They seem to work best with my current set-up.

KM: What is your favorite color of plastic clarinet?

TP: Definitely red, because variations of red and black are the colors for both Troy University and my high school. But I’ve always liked a clear clarinet. It’s a special kind of exotic mixed with disgusting.

KM: What are you listening to now?

TP: At this moment, I’m listening to film scores on Pandora. Don’t you just love internet radio? My office is conveniently located near the practice rooms at Troy University, so I often use my Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling headphones and calm, yet inspiring film scores from Pandora to help me to focus on non-clarinet playing tasks. Outside of this moment, lately I’ve been listening to Robert Spring’s new CD “Dry Heat” (which I’ll feature on the radio just before Troy University’s Clarinet Day this spring), Evan Christopher’s most recent “Clarinet Road” CD… I think it’s Volume 3, and when I’m driving my car, I listen to everything from country music, to Kelly Clarkson, to Snoop Dogg, to oldies.

KM: If you could wake up and play any kind of music at the highest level, what would you play?

TP: I think I’d play jazz on the piano. Wouldn’t that be cool? 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Musical Mentors

Earlier this fall, I had an assignment to write a musical autobiography since childhood for a class I am taking at Columbia. The hardest part of the assignment was keeping it to five pages, but I managed. Thinking about some of my earliest musical memories brought up a few tears, and I was really blown away by how a song that I remember from age 4 still sticks with me today. When I looked it up on YouTube, it was like I had just heard it yesterday... The following is my musical autobiography since childhood, and I would love to hear from anyone who has some early musical memories!

          My family lived in Florida for one year when I was four, and it was the first time my parents lived away from their families. My father worked a lot, and my mother and I met new friends and spent a lot of time with each other. Most of my early memories are of my mother, and include music. She loved singing and dancing, and she knew that it was important. It made her happy and playful, and when we spent our first Christmas season away from our family in Ohio, it made her cry when we listened to “I’ll be home for Christmas” on repeat. Even after the years of expert teachers and mentors, I still consider my mother the biggest influence on my musical career because she showed me the impact a simple tune could have.
            I am sure that my first musical memory came from the idea that music held some deeper meaning that I could not understand. I sat in the corner with my record player listening to Disney’s “The Small One” and practicing to remember the words and pitches. After what felt like hours to my four-year-old brain, I was prepared to perform it for my mother for critique. I remember vividly that she told me that I did well, but that hadn’t quite hit all of the pitches. Without knowing it, I’m sure my mother set me up for a life of practicing and wondering if I was getting it right.
            Years of singing in the car, around the house, and learning to waltz went by until I had any formal musical instruction. I must have been seven or eight when we got a piano in our home. My mother was my instructor, and we worked out of her mother’s piano instruction books that looked like ancient artifacts to me. After a short period of time, I was enrolled in a piano class at a local music school. I loved piano, until the teacher introduced transposition. With no explanation, we were told to transpose the piece we were playing on the spot, and it was that lesson that ended my piano career. I figured I was not smart enough to play the piano because I had no idea what transposition was. I still played at home, but took a new interest in the recorder that was handed out in general music. Sitting on the porch during the summer, I would pick out tunes I knew and read out of a book that came with the instrument.
            It was the next year that I went to fifth grade and joined the school band. I wanted to play percussion, but was told that only boys played percussion. The director told me to choose from the clarinet and flute, so I chose the clarinet.
            I liked playing clarinet a lot, and excelled very quickly. At the end of my second year of playing, I performed a difficult Concertino by Carl Maria von Weber for a school assembly. I came to my scheduled band period one day to find that everyone was gathering in the gymnasium for assembly, and my band director came to me to tell me I would be performing. I don’t remember being nervous, but I remember being confused and wondering if I was in trouble.
            The next school year, my mother took me to auditions for a youth band and orchestra in the area. These were great opportunities, and I was so happy to be accepted to both. I loved being in the groups, and I stayed in the orchestra until I graduated from high school.
            The youth band that I was involved in was called the Warren Junior Military Band. During the school year we would rehearse and learn a full program of music that we later took “on the road” to competitions around the United States and Canada. I made a lot of friends, and had a lot of independence. I’m still surprised my parents let me do this.
            The Youngstown Youth Orchestra is where I really flourished and grew as a young musician. The conductor was captivating, and encouraged everyone to do better and play from the heart. Without his guidance, I don’t think that I would have even had the idea to become a musician. Many opportunities came from my time in that orchestra, and many life-long friends were made there as well.
            My senior year of high school was full of solo engagements with youth orchestras in Ohio, a position as principal clarinetist in the All-State orchestra, and decisions about where I would go to school. I decided to stay home and studied at the small Dana School of Music with the second biggest influence in my musical life, Robert Fitzer. Bob was an amazing musician and person, and his impact was huge. I had never met someone like him before, and he seemed totally crazy in many ways. What I learned from him was a dedication to truth, in my music making and in my living. Letting small issues go by with tricks to cover them up was not an option. I left many of those first lessons crying as I tried to figure out the finer points of the staccato articulation. Giving only part of my self to an in-lesson performance was not acceptable. I learned how to be a musician with him, and I learned to be a better person through his teachings.
            Going to a smaller school was an amazing experience for me. I was able to explore many different kinds of music, and because of the fine faculty that I was able to interact with, I learned so much. I also spent a couple summers playing with touring festival orchestras. One summer I was a clarinetist and soloist with the American Wind Symphony Orchestra. The job was very demanding because the music was new and difficult. There would be times we would learn a program in just a couple days. That trip made me tougher and more realistic about what a career as a performing musician was all about.
            After my years in Ohio, I moved to Chicago to study with the legendary principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony, Larry Combs. The experience was exhilarating, and the year I was there was a blur of practicing and exploring my new surroundings. Mr. Combs suggested I take auditions at the end of my first year. I applied to two positions open for audition at the time, and I ended up winning one of them.
            Now as a clarinetist with The West Point Band, I have the opportunity to share music with people in ways that I never thought I would be able to. So much of what I do now involves reaching out to people of many ages. The moments that make the job incredible are when we play songs from all of the Armed Services and see the tears welling up in the eyes of old Veterans in the audience, or also when we play a children’s concert and the students can’t wait to get close enough to you to touch the clarinet and ask questions. Being able to reach people in this way is incredibly rewarding, and I am so proud that I am able to do it.
            My desire to play music for people and reach them at an emotional level came from watching the way my mother was affected by music. Being able to work with a great teacher like Robert Fitzer gave me the tools necessary to deliver music in an effective way. Without these two great mentors, I don’t know that I would have ever thought to become a musician. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Clarinet Music for My Beloved Teacher

I was playing with a summer festival orchestra when my friend and teacher, Bob Fitzer, called me to tell me he was sick. I was sitting in front of a fan in my very-hot apartment as he told me about the blood tests he was having done and the possibility that he had diabetes. We agreed that diabetes was manageable and he talked with me for two hours, first about a woman that he thought he should have married, and wondering if he made a mistake by not doing so. This was after I described to him a romantic situation that I was in that could only be described as complicated... He was not one to judge, except when it came to my articulation.

A couple months later as I was walking around the Lincoln Park Zoo on a sunny Friday after a day of classes, Bob called me to talk for a couple hours about the new bass clarinet he bought as I stared at the lions. He was going to be the regular substitute with the Cleveland Orchestra. I was SO THRILLED because I knew Bob was pretty much the best-clarinetist-ever... and for him to have settled down long enough to be recognized and play among some of the other "best-clarinetists-ever" was so exciting.

And a couple months after that... Bob called again to tell me he had cancer. I was 25, and the only person close to me that died young was my own grandfather. I didn't know what to say, or do... but we talked for a couple hours on the phone. He was so optimistic, like always. He was moving to a new house so he could have parties and people could stay with him. He reconciled with some long-lost people in his life. He was working on new projects and recorded with his friend, composer Johnterryl Plumeri.

Romance for Clarinet, Strings and Harp by Johnterryl Plumeri

The following is a link to a full length recording which is being featured on Boston Classical Music channel WGBH.

Johnterryl Plumeri's Romance for Clarinet, Strings and Harp with clarinetist Robert Fitzer

Bob went into this part of his life with energy and hope, and a strange happiness that was probably brought on by the people he loved coming together.

I took a few days off from school to visit Bob. We talked for a couple hours, he advised me on my career decisions and told me how great I sounded and how great I looked. This was the last time that I saw him, and the last time that we talked for a couple hours. I miss him every day, and I think of him every time I play the clarinet.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Baroque Repertoire for Clarinet

Most of us rarely play anything earlier than Mozart, except for the occasional arrangement.  And it's a common misconception that the clarinet doesn't have any baroque repertoire.  We do have a few baroque works, though, including pieces by masters Vivaldi and Telemann.

In this article, Eric Hoeprich argues for the use of historical instruments (and not modern clarinets) in Vivaldi's concertos.  You can definitely hear the historical clarinets in the YouTube recording above, but I can't say they whether they conform to Hoeprich's specific criteria.

However, I think this performance (below) of Telemann's Concerto is great. The combination of old and new - modern clarinets alongside harpsichord - is fascinating.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What I'm Listening to Today: Works by Paul Juon (1872 - 1940)

This year, my teacher introduced me to some lesser-known composers.  I hadn't heard of Paul Juon, but his works are new favorites.  Known as the "Russian Brahms," Juon wrote numerous orchestral and chamber pieces, including a Clarinet Sonata, Op. 82, and Divertimento for Clarinet and Two Violas, Op. 34.

His gorgeous "Trio Miniatures" starts this YouTube playlist.

Juon on iTunes, Arkivmusic, Wikipedia, IMSLP.