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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Notes from lessons with Robert Marcellus

So, I didn't study with Robert Marcellus... but my teacher Robert Fitzer did. Bob passed away a few years ago, and his students ended up with a lot of his clarinet stuff. One of the things I have is a set of notebooks he kept from his lessons with Robert Marcellus at Northwestern. I started reading through Bob's notes hoping to find some insight from my teacher and from Robert Marcellus. One of the first pages I opened up to had written in large letters:

COMFORT 
AND
STABILITY

I turned the page and found a checklist in Bob's notes listing things Marcellus must have been preaching to him:

CONSTANTLY THINK ABOUT:
1: DON'T MOVE
2: RIGHT HAND (especially 1st finger) CURVED
3: DON'T CHANGE or MOVE EMBOUCHURE WHILE BREATHING
4: TOP LIP (45 degree pressure)
5: TONGUE - HIGH IN BACK OF MOUTH, LOW IN FRONT
6: PLAY BETWEEN NOTES
7: DON'T LET FINGERS TIGHTEN UP!
8: LEFT HAND - CURVED! THUMB AT 1 O'CLOCK!
9: SOFT FINGERS
10: BREATHING - FILL UP BOTTLE!
11: THROAT OPEN!!

This was followed by an equally emphatic list on the next page, notice that he starts this list with a triple zero instead of a one. (Bob's former students will love this particular detail!)

000: FRONT OF TONGUE TO "TOUCH" REED JUST ABOVE LOWER LIP.
00: POINTY TIP
0: SLIGHT ARCH BEFORE TIP
1: Teu (French)
2: RELAXED TONGUE
3: LIGHT TONGUE
4: MINIMUM MOTION
5: BULK AS WHISTLE OF HIGH NOTE
6: BULK IN THE TOP 1/3 OF MOUTH (ESPECIALLY IN TOP REGISTER!!)
7: THROAT PASSAGE - SIZE OF BORE OF BARREL
8: TIP OF TONGUE COMES OFF REED ONLY 2-3 MILLIMETERS
9: TIP LOWER ON REED
10: NO CHANGING FOR HIGH NOTES!!!!

And in case that wasn't enough, the next page has a check list as well:

Don't Move           Play Between Notes

BREATH

1: Fill up bottle
2: Open passages

FINGERS

1: Loose - "soft fingers"
2: curved
a) 5th finger, left hand (1 O'clock)
b) 1st finger, right hand

EMBOUCHURE

1: Top Lip (45 degree pressure)
2: Don't change while breathing

TONGUE

1: Pointy tip
2: Back high in mouth; front low (against bottom lip)
3: Moves off mouthpiece only, tiny bit between tonguing. 



So it looks like through a few sets of lists, he simplified what he was trying to "constantly think about." There is nothing profound about these lists, but hearing a concept worded differently helps solidify the idea. Bob taught like that, always looking for new ways to describe a concept to help the student understand.
After reading his lists, I am writing my own checklist! So, do any of you have mental checklists that you use when practicing?? Please share!





My teacher Robert Fitzer.

3 comments:

  1. Honestly, I have nothing else to offer in terms of a practice regimen than this: Pretend Bob Fitzer is listening to you practice. You will sit up straighter, you will be better in tune, your time will be better, you will get mad at him...

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  2. Here's my notes, in RM's hand. I only got to study with him briefly, over the course of two summers, but my teacher, Vito Platamone, was one of Mr. Marcellus' first great disciples.

    HAND POSITION
    like gripping a tennis ball
    no flat joints
    quiet axes from knuckles
    fingers completely a la mode to musical situation


    EMBOUCHURE
    1. Flat lips, chin, & cheeks
    2. Tongue position: TEU (French)
    3. Firmly open jaws
    4. Top lip control:
    Slightly tucked under in center
    Press down on mpiece:
    1. to relieve centric pressure
    2. To use lower jaw as a unit (on or off the reed)
    3. Helps to arch soft palate

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi,
    Just wanted to comment on your nice clarinet blog. I was a good friend of Bob Fitzer, Jr and we played many gigs together at the Youngstown Playhouse. His father, Robert Fitzer, senior was my junior high band director in Hubbard Ohio. I also played many gigs with his father. I attended the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University.

    I was so sad at Bob's passing I cried for many days. I moved to California in 1995 and my mother had called when she saw the news in the paper. I studied with Joe Edwards there at YSU and I immediately called him. He explained how Bob had been struggling with cancer for a long while. Joe also told me Bob's playing was as fantastic as ever.

    Thank You!

    Jim Casey
    jims456@netzero.net

    ReplyDelete