Welcome to Clarineticus Intergalacticus!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year from Clarineticus Intergalacticus!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to Clarineticus readers! Tired of trying to learn the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne? Give it up, and get yourself Raymond Scott's "New Years Eve in a Haunted House" played by Quintette 7!

Click here!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy birthday to me and everyone else who has a birthday today.

It's my birthday, and as part of the days festivities I googled clarinetists playing "Happy Birthday." Here is Argentinian-born Israeli clarinetist, Giora Feidman. He is probably best known as the clarinet soloist for the soundtrack of Schindler's List to non-klezmer-fans, but he has recorded EXTENSIVELY. There is also the film Jewish Soul Music: The Art of Giora Feidman if you would like to know more about his playing.

We also have the "Ginasterical Happy Birthday" made by the students of Yehuda Gilad on his birthday.

And a personal favorite of mine - Wynton Marsalis Septet "Happy Birthday" with Victor Goines on clarinet.

Happy birthday to me, Gotthard Wagner, Madame De Pompadour, Charles Goodyear, Andrew Johnson, Etienne-Joseph Soubre, Carl Ludwig, Pablo Casals, Jean-Fernand Vaubourgoin, Willie Humphrey, Clyde McCoy, Robert C. Baker, Vitaly Alexeyevich Godzyatsky, Mary Tyler Moore, Jon Voight, and most of all Jude Law and LaToya London.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview with composer and bass clarinetist extraordinaire, Jonathan Russell!

 Jonathan Russell is a composer, clarinetist, conductor, and educator who is active in a wide variety of music, from classical to experimental to klezmer to church music. His work stretches the boundaries of contemporary classical music, opening it up to the sounds and attitudes of the other musical traditions surrounding it. Especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions, his works for bass clarinet duo, bass clarinet quartet, bass clarinet soloists, and clarinet ensembles have been performed around the world and are radically expanding the technical and stylistic possibilities of these genres. 

KM: Jon, I met you through cyber-space a couple years ago when I was buying some of your bass clarinet compositions online… and then most recently at our common friend Bill’s house when you gave a performance as half of the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk. Mentioned in your bio are clarinet-related things you do– but give us an idea of the sorts of things you’re working on and what groups you work with:

JR:  I am a member of two bass clarinet chamber ensembles: the Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet, and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo (more about them below). I also play freelance klezmer and classical clarinet. As a composer, I am currently working on writing a sonata for bass clarinet and piano, and making a wind ensemble arrangement of my Bass Clarinet Double Concerto, as well as other non-clarinet-related projects. I also co-direct an annual new music marathon concert in San Francisco called the Switchboard Music Festival, and am currently a PhD student in Composition at Princeton University.

KM: Though I now know more about you, when I first heard your name it was because I heard Sqwonk. What was the inspiration behind forming this duo? Did you ever think you would be doing something like this when you first started studying clarinet?

JR: My Sqwonk partner, Jeff Anderle, was a Masters student at San Francisco Conservatory while I was teaching Music Theory there. I was walking down the hall one day and heard him practicing Evan Ziporyn’s solo bass clarinet piece Tsmindao Ghmerto and was quite impressed, so I introduced myself. We decided to do a bass clarinet recital together in May 2005, mostly solo pieces, but we also joined forces in a new duo composed by a friend of ours, and in a “phase” version of the Bach G Major Cello Suite Prelude (Jeff played the whole thing one 16th note behind me). We immediately clicked, both musically and personally. We enjoyed playing together so much that we started arranging other pieces, I wrote some music for us, and we started asking other people to write for us. We officially became “Sqwonk” in September 2005, and have been commissioning, performing, and recording new bass clarinet duo music together ever since.

I never expected I would be doing most of the musical stuff I’m doing now when I started playing clarinet. I was very steeped in classical music (my parents were both classical music lovers, and my mom is a professional pianist and conductor), and I didn’t know very much about music outside of that world. I never imagined I would end up spending so much of my time playing klezmer music, heavy metal bass clarinet quartets, or newly commissioned bass clarinet duets.

Jon Russell and Jeff Anderle with the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra
performing Jon's Double Bass Clarinet Concerto

KM: How do you decide who will play which part in Sqwonk? Do you guys find that one person or the other is better at altissimo, or do you just split it up with no consideration?

We usually just try a new piece with each of us on each part, and it almost always feels better to both of us in one of the combinations. So there’s no system to it, and I think it ends up being fairly evenly split between who plays first and who plays second.

KM: You often play very high, very low, and circular breathe. How did you train yourself to do these things? Did you have a teacher that helped you, a book that you studied, or did you just horse around until you figured it out for yourself?

Pretty much all horsing around. I’ve learned a lot from comparing notes with my colleagues in Sqwonk and Edmund Welles, but it’s mostly a lot of experimentation and trial and error, especially with the altissimo register. It’s a great instrument for horsing around!

KM: You also perform with the Edmund Wells bass clarinet quartet. How did you become involved with that, and how would you describe the experience of playing in a bass clarinet quartet?

I heard about Edmund Welles from a friend when I was living in San Francisco and went to see them play. I was blown away and I remember thinking very clearly to myself how much I would love to get to be in that group, but how unlikely it was that it would ever happen. I introduced myself to Cornelius after the show, and maybe six months later he called me up to ask if I could sub in for a gig. I subbed a few more times, and then one of their regular players left the group and I was in! Playing in a bass clarinet quartet is incredibly awesome. Especially with the repertoire we do, there is a power, depth, and resonance to the sound which is unbelievable, and unlike anything I’ve experienced in any other ensemble. You literally feel your whole body resonating with the other instruments, it’s a very intense experience.

KM: Where do you get the music for four bass clarinets, (and two bass clarinets)?

The Edmund Welles music is pretty much all arrangements or originals by bandleader Cornelius Boots, though we occasionally do music by other composers. The Sqwonk repertoire includes a few arrangements we’ve made (most notably Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor), some of my own compositions, and lots of other pieces we’ve commissioned from numerous other composers. Everything we play is pieces that we have either arranged, composed, or commissioned.

KM: Nerd-alert – What kind of set up do you use, and where do you get those fancy pegs you use to stand while you perform with Sqwonk?

I’m not much of a gearhead at all, so I don’t even know the specs on all my stuff. My instrument is a low C Buffet Prestige (bought in 2000). My mouthpiece is a Clark Fobes, but I don’t know what the specs are (I just know I like it!). I have a BG ligature and I use Vandoren V12 strength 3 reeds. Jeff invented the pegs we use, and he sells them at his website (www.jeffanderle.com).

KM: Your website shows a long list of compositions (*a ton of great stuff for clarinetists!*). How long have you been composing, and do you find yourself torn between playing clarinet and writing music?

I started composing when I was 14, so that’s  (gulp) 18 years now. It is indeed difficult to keep both the composing and the performing at the level I would like. One solution is that I frequently find ways to combine them, writing pieces for myself and for my groups. It’s a constant balancing act. But I definitely believe that I am a better composer for being an active performer and vice versa, so in the end it doesn’t really feel like a trade-off, more like both activities are mutually enhancing.

KM: What sorts of things inspire you to compose? Are you someone that works to a deadline, or someone who is always working on something? Do you find it easier to write for clarinet than you do for other instruments?

It probably sounds unromantic, but my inspiration is usually pretty concrete: a rhythmic groove, a melody, a chord progression, some sort of sonic material that grabs my imagination. And I’m very practical and routine-based in my approach to composing; I don’t sit and wait for inspiration to hit, but instead get to work at pretty much the same time every day and just plug away. I read a book maybe five or six years ago by the choreographer Twyla Tharp called The Creative Habit, which was all about the importance of routine and ritual in creative work. Creativity, it argues, is not a bolt from the sky but the accumulative effect of steady work habits. That really clicked for me, and I have worked hard since to incorporate that approach into my life. I always have multiple pieces going, and also find deadlines to be extremely helpful. Writing for clarinet or bass clarinet is easier in many ways because I know exactly what’s possible and can imagine very precisely what it will sound like. There’s no guesswork, as there is with instruments you don’t play, no matter how many orchestration books you read or how well you think you understand them.

KM: You are still really young, where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My goal in 10 years would be to have a steady stream of commissions from chamber groups, orchestras, and wind ensembles; to have my own ensemble that I play in and lead in my own compositions (I’m not sure about the make-up of it, but I imagine something woodwind- or bass-clarinet-centric); for Sqwonk to still be going strong; and to have written or be writing an opera. I might be teaching somewhere, or I might be living abroad almost anywhere – my wife’s field is International Development, and she followed me to Princeton for my PhD, so at some point it may be my turn to follow her where she wants to go!

KM: Does anyone ever call you J.R.? I once knew this guy called J.R. that was like 5 times as big as you and played the drum set. It might be a nice nickname if you transition to the wedding band business.

I worked as a Residential Advisor at the Aspen Music Festival one summer, and my roommate there insisted on calling me J.R. I hated it. But that’s the only time I’ve been called that.

KM: What motivates you to be a musician? Do you feel that you are constantly living the life of a musician, or do have hobbies/activities outside of music?

It was actually a difficult choice in some ways to become a musician because I’ve always been interested in a lot of different things. I considered majoring in History or History of Science in college, and I’m still very interested in both of those subjects, but I found that I just kept getting pulled back into music. And I was interested in so many different aspects of music – performing, composing, conducting, analysis – that I finally concluded that I would never get tired of exploring all the different areas that music has to offer. I’m happiest when I have my hands in a lot of different musical pies. I do feel like I am pretty much always living the life of a musician, but I also read a lot, like going hiking and bicycling, and really enjoy (and get surprisingly competitive) playing board games – Risk, Taboo, Scrabble, Bananagrams, etc.

KM: On a typical “work day,” how do you structure your time?

I get up 7am-ish, have breakfast with my wife, and then compose until lunch. After lunch, depending on the day, I’ll go to class (I’m in the PhD composition program at Princeton), practice my instruments, and do e-mail and business until dinner time. Evenings I try to keep free for social activities, concerts, spending time with friends or my wife, etc. I am fortunate to have a very flexible schedule, but it means I have to work hard to structure my time well.

KM: If you could wake up and be any kind of musician in any genre, what would you be?

I would be a percussionist in a Salsa band.

KM: What is your favorite note on the clarinet?

JR: I honestly don’t have one.

KM: What is most memorable musical moment?

Wow, there are so many, I can’t even narrow it down to top ten!

Monday, October 17, 2011

What I'm listening to... Edmund Welles' "Imagination Lost"

A couple weeks ago I put Edmund Welles newest CD in (yes an actual CD in a CD player). My Uncle Rob, who mistakenly listened to Imagination Lost, proclaimed it "badass." 

Hallowed Be Thy Name, with guest vocalist Gene Jun

Okay, this is an Iron Maiden tune, they're wearing costumes, and there's a singer. Edmund Welles  is playing heavy metal in a bass clarinet quartet (which they call a "heavy chamber ensemble")... and they are doing it really well. There's no denying that these guys are awesome bass clarinetists. 

I think any non-pop instrumentalist has thought at one time "wouldn't it be awesome if I could shred (insert your fav pop tune) on my (clarinet/violin/euphonium/whatever). I could make tens of dollars doing that at clubs, and stuff!" There are also a zillion videos of people performing their favorite pop tunes on the clarinet/bass clarinet. I got seriously side-tracked while writing this positing because I was checking out the endless supply of clarinet-pop on YouTube. Interestingly, "Instrument Maniac" has more hits for his Poker Face video than Stanley Drucker playing Weber's Concertino with the NYPO under Zubin Mehta. I'm not even going to begin to speculate the reasons for this, but I can tell you that three clarinet friends sent me Poker Face by Instrument Maniac and zero clarinet friends sent me Stanley Drucker playing Weber's Concertino or any other "traditional" clarinet recording on YouTube.

Anyway, Edmund Welles is not your typical YouTube clarinet-pop, and Imagination Lost is not your grandma's bass clarinet quartet record.  I think there are some great reasons as to why this particular instrumentation/style works in their bio on www.edmundwelles.com. "The bass clarinet has a 5-octave range and a huge span of tonal, melodic, and rhythmic capabilities." and "... the bass clarinet can achieve a virtually unlimited range of sounds, and when this same instrumental voice is multiplied, it can be as powerful as a boogie boogie piano, a gospel quartet or a rock band." 

Try to get the actual CD instead of the digital download, the artwork is interesting. Happy listening!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Brazilian Food and Brazilian Music, some for clarinet - some not... on Brazil's Independence Day

Brazilian Military Band in São Paulo. Just happened to walk by this. 
In the 9th grade, I had a very hip band director that gave me a recording of the Brazilian singer Gal Costa. If you haven't heard her sing, definitely check her out. She has a huge library of recordings, and has recorded a bit in English. Anyway, my love of Brazilian music started at an early age... and those of you that know me in "real life" know that I will be marrying a Brazilian in one month. After our trip to Brazil in July (my first time there), I have been experimenting with cooking Brazilian food. 
Me in São Paulo. Notice Giant Brazilian Flag

I have attempted to create a day of events that will give you a tiny piece of Brazilian culture. Both of the recipes in this posting have been approved by my resident Brazilian. If you have any questions about the food or the music, feel free to ask! If you are interested in the pronunciation of the Portuguese words in this posting, try Google Translate. You will be able to see the literal translation there, and also hear a pretty good pronunciation. 

Watch Gal Sing!

If you love Choro or Samba, you saw "Rio" recently and you're feeling like samba-ing yourself down to Brazil, or you are just looking for something to do on your day off... this is the blog post to guide you. I personally have made both recipes here, and have added notes for the Americano to help you along the way.

Wake up and turn on that video of Gal while you make yourself some coffee. If you were in Brazil, you would drink one third of the amount you'd pour for yourself in the U.S. and it would have sugar in it. (I'm not a fan, but hey... whatever.) It's not like you don't have a choice though... you can sweeten up your coffee on your own, but everyone I saw drinking coffee added sugar. Here is a little article about Cafezinho (Coffee Brazilian Style). Put the cereal down and get out some bread, fruit, juice and cheese. The following is a recipe for my favorite bread Pão de Queijo. It's best eaten fresh out of the oven, so I recommend making it the night before and popping it into the oven while the coffee is brewing. Oh... and they're gluten free for all of you tender-tummies out there. If you aren't feeling up to baking your own bread, grab a nice bread from the bakery to eat with your fruit and cheese... but you will not regret taking the time to make the Pão de Queijo!

A photo of Café da Manha (breakfast), so you get the idea. Yes, that's cake. 

Pão de Queijo (or Cheese Rolls)
 1/2 cup butter or margarine (I use Smart Balance, and it works fine)
1/3 cup water
 1/3 cup milk or soy milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tapioca flour
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 beaten eggs
* Tapioca flour can be found in almost any grocery store. I found it in the crappy Shop Rite next to my house in the fake-organic section. The brand is "Bob's Red Mill."


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).               
  2. Turn on this tune by Roberta Sá. Kitchen-Dance if you feel like it.  
  3. Pour butter, water, milk, and salt into a large saucepan, and place over high heat. When the mixture comes to a gentle boil, remove saucepan from heat, and stir in tapioca flour until smooth.* Set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Stir the cheese and egg into the tapioca mixture until well combined, the mixture will be sort of lumpy from the cheese. Once you get it pretty well mixed, knead it by hand for a minute or so. It's very sticky.
  5. Now the fun part.... roll up balls of the dough and stick it on a lightly greased baking sheet. The size should be small, like the size of a ping-pong ball.                
  6. Bake in preheated oven until the tops are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. **               
* Okay, so it's not going to get super smooth. It's totally sticky and a pain in the bunda (there's your Portuguese vocab for the day) to mix, but don't freak. Mix it as well as you can, trying to incorporate all of the flour with the liquid, after it rests you will achieve better mixing results.
** Now here's the deal, it's going to be weird on the inside compared to bread we eat in the U.S. If the outside is sort of hard (not rock hard) and golden-brown, it is done. The inside should be chewy.

Alright! Good Job! Now feast on your Pão de Queijo while listening to this!

Madeira de Vento (translates to Wood Wind) is a clarinet quintet based in São Paulo. They've got a lot of videos on YouTube, but the website they have listed isn't up anymore. Website or not, they have some really cool arrangements of Brazilian music for clarinet quintet. This particular piece, Camundongas, is arranged by one of the members of the quintet. Another good Choro recording by the same group is of the piece Assanhado. Here they are performing Assanhado at the China International Clarinet and Saxophone Festival in 2010.

Okay, so if you are anything like me you watched these videos and Googled all over the place for awhile about choro, and clarinet, and these dudes... then look up at the clock and notice it's time to start making lunch!

One thing I really like about Brazilian culture is lunch. The big meal happens in the middle of the day instead of the end like we do here. It makes a lot of sense, gastronomically speaking. 

So here's lunch...

Bobó de Camarão is a delicious stew of shrimp and yuca roots from Bahia. Bahia is known for having many of the African-derived cultures that have become popular in the U.S., like the mixed martial art capoeira and samba. There's a long list of musicians from this state as well, including Gal Costa.
photo of Bobó de Camarão
Bobó de Camarão


2 to 2 1/2 lbs of cooked, peeled, deveined shrimp (the small shrimp are best)
1 bag of Goya frozen Yuca. (found in the frozen veggies or the frozen Goya section)
1 cup of shallots or onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 large can of medium tomatoes (drained)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 can of coconut milk
1/4 cup of palm oil (I used vegetable oil, it was okay)
3 tbs ginger, grated
2 big red peppers, sliced finely
salt and pepper

1: Put yuca in a big pot of water with salt, make sure all the yuca is covered with water. Once the water starts boiling, time it for about 20 minutes and then take it off the heat. Pull the Yuca out, but save the water. Use a fork to mash the yuca like a potato, and pull the stringy parts out while you're mashing. Use the reserved water to help make it creamy... don't go nuts on it though, a little texture is good.

2: Take the tails off of the shrimp and put them in a small sauce pan with about 3-4 cups of water and salt. Cook it to a gentle boil for about a half hour. You may not use this, I didn't... but better safe than sorry!

3. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft in a big pot that you would make soup in. Add the red pepper and 1/2 of the chopped cilantro... cook until medium soft. Add the can of drained tomatoes.

4. While it's softening up, listen to this. 

5. Add the shrimp and mashed up Yuca. Add the can of coconut milk, the remaining cilantro and the palm (or vegetable) oil. After you size up the liquid situation, decide if you need any of the broth you made with the shrimp tails. (Don't add the shrimp tails, just the liquid... duh.) The mixture should be about the same as a potato soup, maybe a little bit thicker. You're going to be serving this on a plate with rice, so don't make it too soupy. 

6. Let it simmer for awhile while you make some rice to serve with it.

Okay, so it looks like it takes forever, but I'd say it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes start to finish... not too bad. Eat it now, it's good.

After lunch, maybe consider taking in a movie... if you have Netflix, check out Only When I Dance. It's not a clarinet movie, but a documentary chronicling the progression of two young ballet dancers in Rio. The auditioning process the young dancers go through in this movie is something most auditioning clarinetists will be able to identify with. 

Once the movie is over and you feel like practicing... warm up with a choro. You can find the piece Segura Ele in an earlier blog posting from this year.

Here's a really fun performance of Segura Ele

I hope you enjoy the recipes and the music! Please feel free to contact me or comment with any questions or suggestions!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview with U.S. Navy Band Clarinetist, Cindy Wolverton

Musician First Class Cindy Wolverton earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Carolina, a Master of Music from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of North Texas.  Her teachers include R. Douglas Graham, Bruce Dinkins, Wilbur Moreland, and James Gillespie.  Petty Officer Wolverton spent three summers at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, winning the Concerto Competition in 1993.  She also won the 1993 Atlanta Music Club Young Artists’ Concerto Competition and was a semi-finalist in the 1996 International Clarinet Association Young Artist Competition in Paris.  In 2000 Wolverton joined the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C., where she now serves as bass clarinetist.  Since 2003 she has been a member of the McLean (VA) Orchestra.  She is also the author of “Clarinetists in Uniform,” a regular column in The Clarinet magazine which spotlights the activities and achievements of clarinetists serving in our nation’s military bands.

KM: When did you join the military and where have you been stationed?
CW: I joined in August 2000 and have been with the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, DC ever since.

KM: Where were you before you came to the military?
CW: I had just finished the coursework for my DMA at the University of North Texas and decided to start taking some auditions.  I am living proof that the old adage “no one wins their first audition” is not true!  Granted I was 30 years old and had spent 12 years in college.

KM: What is your favorite basic training memory?
CW: My favorite day was the day we went to the pool.  For Navy recruit training everyone has to pass a swim survival test which includes jumping off a high platform, treading water for 15 minutes, then swimming to the opposite end of the pool.  Then we learned how to make a life preserver out of a pair of pants!

KM: What did your family and friends think when you joined the military?
CW: Well my sister Cheryl had joined about a year before me (she is a clarinetist in the U.S. Army Band) so I think my parents knew what to expect.  My husband was excited, but worried about me going to boot camp.  I think some people were surprised that after pursuing the DMA I was going this route.

KM: What has been your most memorable clarinet moment in the military?

CW: Playing at the White House with the clarinet quartet.  It was around Christmastime and they were having a dinner for the press corps.  The quartet was tasked with playing background music in a hallway while members of the media waited in a receiving line to meet the President.  We played Christmas carols nonstop for almost two hours!  After everyone had gone through the line, we were told to quickly pack up our horns and were led into a room where we also got to meet the President and First Lady.  They had us pose for a picture, and George W. Bush put his arm around me!!  Several of us in the quartet went to school in Texas so we of course started chatting about that.  Mr. and Mrs. Bush were very friendly, but the presidential aides were anxious to escort them up to the dinner.

KM: On an average week, what do you do at work?
CW: My primary duty is playing bass clarinet in the concert band.  Our typical schedule is to have 3-5 rehearsals during the week and a concert on the weekend.  In addition, I may also be asked to play with the ceremonial band, which does funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, retirements, parades, arrivals for foreign dignitaries, etc.  For ceremonies I play Bb clarinet.

KM: Would you encourage interested clarinetists to join the military?
CW: Well, it’s not for everyone, but I would encourage others to at least explore the possibility before deciding against it.  There are many musical and financial benefits, even if you only do one enlistment.

KM: What is the weirdest thing you do at your job?
CW: For the last inauguration (January 2009) they decided to shut down all the roads into D.C. for security purposes.  Since we had to be on the bus very early that morning to go play the parade, everyone in the band who didn’t live in the district was required to sleep in the band building the night before.  They provided cots for us and a pancake breakfast in the morning.  

KM: What are your after military plans? 
CW: I hope the clarinet will always be a part of my life, but I would like to do something completely different from music when I retire.  I just have to figure out what that will be!

KM: Do you have any regrets about joining the military?
CW: No.  I would have never imagined that I would become a bass clarinetist, but the opportunity arose and I decided to give it a try.  I’ve been playing bass for 6 years and I’m still amazed at how much I actually enjoy it!  If not for being in a military band, I would not have had access to an instrument and playing in a large ensemble is a great way to learn.  I also love the people I work with.

KM: It seems like everyone was in a military band at some point, and there's always that gossip about which great symphony players were in the military. Who is someone you know that was a military musician at some point?
CW: Larry Combs, Howard Klug, Larry Bocaner

KM: What is the number one question you get asked by the general public after a concert? 
CW: What do you DO in the Navy?  Do you ever go on a ship? What is the difference between red and gold? (Red service stripes are for people with less than 12 years of service, gold for more than 12.) And my favorite comment (from the elderly gentlemen) is Wow, they didn’t have sailors like you back when I was in the Navy!

KM: Do you feel any more or less patriotic than you were before being in a military band?
CW: More.  I will never forget seeing the smoke coming from the Pentagon on 9/11 or the way our audiences rose to their feet and started singing along during America the Beautiful on our Spring 2002 national tour.

KM: What is a question you would ask other military clarinetists?
CW: How do you stay motivated to practice?  What kinds of playing opportunities do you have outside of the band?

KM: What is your favorite note on the clarinet?
CW: Low D on the bass clarinet.

KM: What is your most memorable musical moment?
CW: About a year ago, we had Dr. Mallory Thompson as a guest conductor.  The program included David Maslanka’s Symphony No. 4, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor, and John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine.  Dr. Thompson was amazing to work with and that concert was the best the band has ever sounded.

KM: If you could magically wake up and play any kind of music, what would you do?
CW: I have always wanted to play the cello.

Thanks Cindy, I really enjoyed reading your responses! Look for Clarinetists in Uniform in The Clarinet to find a compilation of the military band clarinetists I've interviewed with some new bonus material!!! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Thoughts on Articulation

I love your last post, Kristen! I especially like the "Mental To-Do" at the top. In addition to the physical aspects of articulation that you explained so expertly, it also helps me to have a model of articulated sound. This probably falls under "1. Be Creative" in your post above. While there are many fine recordings of clarinetists who articulate beautifully, I often like to have a model that is not a clarinetist, but rather a vocalist or violinist. The physical nature of the clarinet lends itself well to heavy articulation, whereas so much of our repertoire demands lighter articulation. In addition, so much Classic and Romantic music is written in an operatic (vocal) style. To try to overcome the tendencies of the clarinet and achieve a variety of articulation styles, I listen to vocalists and string players and try to put passages in that context (vowel? consonant? on the string? off the string? pizzicato?) to achieve lightness and style appropriate to the passage.

The two recordings of "La Ronde des Lutins" (the original for violin and a transcription for clarinet) illustrate this idea in action.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Starting and Stopping Sound, Articulation on the Clarinet

Teaching and learning articulation on the clarinet is difficult and often leads to tears and frustrations. I was very fortunate to have a teacher that was OBSESSED with articulation and sound, and my time with him set me up for an honorary doctorate in Nerd-ology. The ideas I have on articulation are by no means revolutionary, and I don't think they will work for everyone. I would love to hear your interpretations and arguments... because down deep I am a mega-clarinet nerd, a perpetual student, and I love talking about the clarinet. 

Mental To-Do While Practicing:

1. Be creative. Being creative doesn't necessarily mean you have to tell yourself your legato articulation should sound like the voices of a thousand angels singing in unison (although if that helps... go for it). Use your imagination to think of how the body is working and how you can control yourself efficiently and comfortably. Create ways to practice things YOU need to work on. 

2. Be open-minded. Often we have issues that we "forget about"over time because we use our brains and ears to figure out ways to hide them. Don't be afraid to tackle these issues. No one is perfect!

3. Calm down. Just because you have that secret problem hiding in your "clarinet closet" doesn't mean you are terrible. Simply embrace the problem and fix it! With the problem out in the open and fixed, you are prepared for some great stress-free music making. The more glitches you get out of your playing, the more confident you can feel during performance. 

Articulation, as described by Daniel Bonade:

Staccato is an interruption of the tone by touching the tip of the tongue to the reed, and not by a hitting motion. When making a succession of staccato notes one should remember that the tongue should always be on the reed between staccato notes while the finger or fingers should move quickly, preparing the next note ahead. This anticipated preparation will be very beneficial and useful as it forces the eye of the player to read always one note "ahead" and will develop faster reading of music, even in legato playing. Staccato should be practiced very slowly, playing with a fast motion of the fingers after each played note. Do not forget that the tempo at which you play, determines of short staccato and articulations should be made. (Clarinetist's Compendium)

This is probably how everyone is taught to articulate. Through some "creative thinking" I've decided for me, it's best not to think of hitting or touching the tongue to the reed. I choose to think of releasing the tongue from the reed instead. I find it makes it easier for me to keep the air moving quickly, which give the tongue a solid foundation to work on. It also keeps me from hitting the reed too hard. 

On the issue of playing staccato notes at the correct length (staccato notes should be one half of the written value); I find that in faster tempos it's easier not to think of playing short at all. A prime example of this would be the Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream. With all of the staccato markings and accent markings indicated, one's brain might begin thinking all of this should be played very short... but in performance, it would probably be best to think of the sixteenth notes without the staccato. This helps keep air behind the articulation, and no one would be able to hear the difference at this tempo.

This is also a case where I would use the HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL "nee" articulation syllable. I've gotten in a few arguments over this particular idea, but "nee" has some reputable supporters out there. Basically, instead of using the traditional "tee" or "dee" syllables, I've chosen to use "nee." The reasoning is simple, "nee" is easier to say than "tee" or "dee." I also think that it most accurately mimics the motion your tongue should make when touching the reed (high and motion-less in the back, and pointed in the front). You may be asking yourself now, "Why do I care what syllable you use to verbalize articulation?" and I would say... "Very good question!"

I firmly believe that verbalizing music with prescribed syllables (whatever they may be) is the key to learning and internalizing music. It is also much easier to learn rhythms and coordination when you don't have the "black agony stick" in your mouth. Add the clarinet to the process once you have mastered the technique without the clarinet. 

I definitely use more than one syllable when verbalizing music. I use "nee" when I'm practicing a very specific type of articulation - the "short" fast articulation. When verbalizing more lyrical music, a wide variety of syllables can be used. The idea behind the verbalization is to learn rhythm, articulation patterns, and feel. You don't have to be Pavarotti to do this! The idea is to coordinate your tongue with your ear so when you add the fingers, there is less confusion.

Once you have the verbalization portion down, you can try to add the clarinet. Using the Mendelssohn Scherzo as an example, try playing the excerpt on all one note.

1. I would use an open G first...

2. ...then do the same exercise on a more challenging note like middle line B (because it has a lot of back pressure)...

3. ... and then perhaps the C two lines above the staff (because it is a more difficult note to control)

Once you have mastered the one note version of this excerpt, try the whole thing as written. At this point you may notice the hardest part is going from throat A to B on the staff. I would take this opportunity to play the rhythm of the excerpts with only those two notes. 

Another thing to practice is starting the sixteenth notes with a burst of air instead of the tongue:

Ex: hee-nee-nee-nee

This would help get the air started and ensure that you don't over-articulate. Though I sometimes use this  when there are sections that are too rapid to tongue everything, I can't think of a time I've used it in a solo situation. 

Daniel Bonade again:

Precise articulation presumes a properly developed staccato. Articulations can be classified thus:

Long - (legato staccato)
Medium - (ordinary)
Short - (fast staccato)
Very short - (staccatissimo or pizzicato)

Now, as stated above, the last note of any slur must be clipped, so as to permit the fingers to be ready for the following note, but only when the next note is a staccato note. When a slur is followed by another slur there is not shortening of the last note of the slur unless succeeding slurs are off beat (or syncopated). A syncopated articulation always requires an accent on the 1st note of the slur. (Clarinetist's Compendium)

Basically, we are always doing some version of the "staccato tongue" when articulating on the clarinet. It's the amount of space we leave between notes that creates the articulation we are looking for, not the motion of the tongue that changes. The motion should always be the same. Here is a visual example of that idea. 

Medium or ordinary (using Bonade's terms):

(___ represents the air stream, T represents the time the tongue is on the reed)


(The small t represents a shorter time the tongue touches the reed)



Very Short:


Supposing these examples all take the same amount of time to complete, you can easily see the shorter articulations have more tongue-on-reed compared to sound time, and the longer articulations have a longer sound compared to tongue-on-reed time. 

Bonade mentions the fingers in both excerpts I've included from the Clarinetist's Compendium. He is indicating that to have the cleanest articulation, you would have to move your fingers rapidly between notes. This is hard to coordinate, especially when you're playing lyrically. For the cleanest sound in articulated passages, the fingers would have to move rapidly to the next note while the tongue is on the reed. Using the example above as a visual aid, just imagine that every time you get to the "T" you would also immediately move your finger to the next note. As you can see, you would have to move your fingers more rapidly in the legato passages because your tongue is on the reed for less time.  

Thanks to Timothy Phillips for asking me a random question about articulation and prompting me to write this stuff down... whether anyone agrees with me or not! The only real conclusion I have to this posting is that there is no conclusion! I still think about articulation all of the time... it's the vehicle for sound and musical communication! 

Don't give up... he's watching!