Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beginning Again: Bach to the Clarinet

After a week of not practicing at all due to a bad virus, I'm back in the saddle again. Although I've got to perform a solo movement next Friday with the wind ensemble, I've decided to ease into my practicing as my ears, throat, and chest heal. Tonight I started into my usual routine with some scale studies for about twenty minutes. It actually felt healthy and joyous to play this stuff again, which surprised me. I sounded so bad doing duets with my students today and yesterday, I wasn't sure I would be able to play tonight. Actually, I have no idea how I sounded, since my ears are still pretty blocked.

Then, I went to the music that interests me the most: that of J.S. Bach. Don't ask me why someone who loves Bach's music ended up playing an instrument that he ignored. I suspect Bach made a smart choice not composing for the infant clarinet: it probably wasn't very pleasant to listen to, and it certainly wasn't versatile.

I love to read through the solo violin pieces and the cello suites. I usually reserve the cello suites for bass clarinet. In both cases, I read from the urtext parts and don't bother transposing. Of course, with the bass clarinet stuff, you must read bass clef, but that's part of the fun. I avoid the movements with many double stops, but I'm left with plenty of challenging and beautiful music to explore. Playing these pieces helps me to balance myself. The music keeps me challenged as I play through the phrases, and it begs to be played with the utmost delicacy and beauty. I always leave a practice session of Bach's music with a smile on my face, no matter where I am in the learning process.

When I come back to the clarinet after a break, I try to structure my practice routine so that it helps build up confidence and also helps to spark the passion that brought me to music in the first place. Not only does this mean staying away from heavy reeds and the altissimo music, but it also means giving myself a fresh new start.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This Time of the Year - Part 3

Seriously, I can't believe this is my third year in a row of having to deal with a crack problem in my clarinet. This time, there were TWO cracks to deal with!

Here's a photo of what I found at 10pm the night before I was to travel to Greensboro and Winston-Salem to play our British music recitals. What got me looking at my clarinet was that two "normal" reeds that I tried on my clarinet were registering 15-20 cents flat on the tuner. That seemed odd, so I checked to see if the crack we had superglued last month had opened up again. The superglued area was fine, but the crack had lengthened into the second tone hole, and a new crack had developed at the bottom of that same tone hole.

I'm lucky that Eldred Spell is a night owl and that my husband just happened to have a fairly new bottle of ultra thin superglue at home. This kind of superglue often dries up in the bottle before you need it a second time. Eldred did a lovely job of sealing the cracks and polishing the bore so that the superglue mostly disappeared from view, and I was able to start playing through my recital program by midnight.

Since it was raining like crazy that week, and the humidity in my house was decent, I am sure that this occurred because of the lack of humidity where I work: WCU's Coulter Building. I may have to start using my second best clarinet during students' lessons, if I want to save my clarinet from completely breaking apart!

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Tribe

This August, I had an amazing experience at ClarinetFest 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Because the focus of the conference was on Daniel Bonade and his student Robert Marcellus, this was the largest collection of people I had ever been with who were Marcellus students. There was also at least one student of Bonade, and many followers like me of the teachings of these two clarinet superstars. I met so many wonderful people who shared my love for the sound concepts of these artists the "Philadelphia School" or "American School" aesthetics. I truly felt like I had found my tribe!

The encouragement and enthusiasm from the audience at my presentation on Bonade and his students' sounds was a really special moment for me. It made me realize that clarinetists are really hungry to know more about our predecessors and what they can teach us, and that my research is something that is important to pursue more and share with others. Prompted by someone who urged me to put my presentation up on the internet, I promised the audience that I would try to do that. Afterwards, I realized that I should bring the presentation to other universities to share with the clarinet studios first, before I made it completely available on the internet. However, when I have the time (probably not until summer break), I plan to put portions of it up on the internet. Besides my own studio, I've presented it to the clarinetists at the University of Texas in Austin in October; and next week, I'll be presenting to the clarinet studio at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I'm hoping to show it at more colleges this year when I can work this into my schedule. 

The Bonade reeds pictured above are from the stash of my first clarinet teacher, Stan George. He pulled them out for me to try out and photograph this summer. They look kind of duck-billed to me in shape. Can't say they are my favorites to play (pretty soft), but they worked pretty well on Stan's mouthpiece. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Daughters

Just a break from music and the clarinet to write about what really matters: our loved ones. Here's a photo of my our children, Billie and Ella. We adopted them from the Jackson County Animal Shelter in 2007, and they have been part of many of our happiest moments since then.

Like many places in this country, our county operates a shelter that has to euthanize hundreds of animals per year, many of whom are adoptable. It isn't the fault of the people who work at shelters, and I encourage anybody who's thinking of adopting a dog or cat to visit their local shelter or pet rescue organization.

As part of our annual charitable donations, my husband and I always send money to our local county animal shelter and our feline sanctuary, Catman 2. If you love animals, please don't turn a blind eye to pet overpopulation problems. Click here for more info from the Humane Society.


I've always wanted to be able to add reverb to my teaching studio, but I didn't want to buy and mess with hardware to do it. I discovered a way to do it on my iPad yesterday when I was checking out programs that would work with my new iRig Pre (a preamp device to attach your microphone to the iPad). After settling on the TwistedWave program as a good overall recording/editing app, I checked out some of the live effects apps. I was nervous about getting feedback in my headphones or speakers, so I was careful to bring up the volume gradually when trying these out. I found that I could get a simple and quick reverb effect in my office at home by using an app called AudioEffects and plugging the iPad into my home computer speakers. Just using the built in mic on the iPad, I was able to create reverb in the room while practicing my clarinet.

Jacob performing in Clarinet Principals Class, WCU
My husband asked me why I didn't just find an app on my MacBook that would do the same thing. That actually turned out to be a harder and more elaborate task to conquer. There are plenty of VST plugins for DAW (digital audio workstation) programs, but I couldn't figure out how to use these in Audacity, and the whole process seemed like overkill. Finally, I found a post on the NAfME list that explained how to do this in Garageband. Just add a track and select "Real Instrument". Over on the right you make sure your input source is an external mic of some sort (I used a microphone connected to an iMic), switch the monitor to on (make sure volume levels aren't on high or you may experience feedback), and then under the Edit menu (next to Browse), you can set the reverb level to whatever percentage you want. I placed the microphone fairly close to where I was practicing, and I got the feeling of being in an instant concert hall!