Monday, December 26, 2011

Bonade Presentation at ClarinetFest

Shannon at Curtis, Summer 2002
I am proud to announce that I've been selected to speak at the 2012 I.C.A. Convention in Lincoln, Nebraska. Host Diane Barger and the selection committee have been amazingly efficient in setting up the schedule in advance, and I've alreay got a time for my talk, The Signature Sound of Daniel Bonade and His Students, which is Thursday, August 2nd, at 11am.

My presentation is going to identify the tonal characteristics of Bonade and his students and show how they got it through their technique and the equipment they used. Much of the background is already in my doctoral treatise, The Philadelphia School of Clarinet Playing..., but I'm also really going to spell out to people the elements of acquiring a beautiful, flexible clarinet sound. I'm excited about getting back into this topic again, since it is so near and dear to my heart, and my recent experiences with mouthpiece craftman Ramon Wodkowski and reed maker Brian Hermanson have futher helped me to refine my sound and knowledge. As Richard MacDowell says, it's all about overtones.

Speaking of overtones, I received the bad news last week that I have some hearing loss in the 4000-6000 hz range. This is typical for an orchestral musician of my age, but it has been a painful process in the last five years to lose my ability to hear people speak clearly in the classroom. I also wonder how much it affects my ability to discern clarinet tone, and I think I'm going to have my friend Eldred boost the sounds of these overtones for me on recordings so I can be clear about what I am missing. It's frightening and completely irreversible. I am getting some custom 12 db earplugs to wear in loud situations to help prevent further hearing loss, but I am concerned that I won't be able to hear enough when I have these earplugs in. I've been appalled at the lack of attention or even concern by some orchestra managers and conductors to complaints about noise from brass and percussion, and it really doesn't help when the people who are making the loud noises are going deaf too!

Anyway, my big takeaway from this is that musicians OF ALL AGES should protect their hearing with custom earplugs. At least, that's what my audiologist says, and I have to agree with her now that I better understand the reasons for my hearing loss. It's not just the amount of decibels, but it's prolonged exposure to loud sounds. My students who are on the marching band field certainly must experience dangerous levels of exposure. I was not in marching band in college, and I am experiencing what I consider significant hearing loss. ANY hearing loss is significant for a professional musician. Check this link out for more info on musician's hearing.

The photo is me when I visited the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia several years ago. Bonade taught some of his most famous pupils at Curtis, and this photo makes me feel nostalgic for researching again. That's what I'm going to do as soon as things settle down and I finish learning my music for my February 21 recital.

I am in the midst of transferring all of my web pages and blog to Google from MobileMe. iWeb is apparently dead forever, and it was always a clunky mechanism for blogging. Since I've migrated to using gmail and google calendars for everything, it seems easiest to put everything on google products. We'll see if this is a good idea!

Monday, July 25, 2011

BASS Clarinet

I LOVE the bass clarinet! I tried to avoid it like the plague in my youth, and then, forced to play it seriously in a performance of the Walton Facade, I realized that I had an aptitude for it. Of course, just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you should do it, so I continued to deny it’s existence until the Asheville Symphony bass position opened up, I auditioned (only on soprano clarinets, actually!), and started my new career as a bass clarinetist. Since Don Quixote was on the first concert of the season, I knew the bass and I would be doing some serious time together.

For the first five years, I shared the school instrument with my students at WCU. That was a trying time, because I never knew if the bass would be in working order when I picked it up after band. Fortunately, Rhonda at Stone Cottage Band Instrument Shoppe in Waynesville has been here for me all these years to take care of my many bass clarinet emergency repairs.

At some point, I don’t know when, I did fall in love with the instrument, and I decided that I had to have my own Buffet Prestige bass. This was a big financial step, but I knew that I would only buy one bass clarinet in my life, and I’d like to enjoy it while I could still play it. Of course, now, I’m doubly glad I made the purchase then, because the prices have gone up.

My biggest objection to the bass is that it’s big. Big to carry around, big to hold, a pain to put together, and I always need extra room when I’m sitting in symphony. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have a Wiseman case - the older super-heavy kind. Wisemans are the only cases that fit in the overhead on a plane, and the new Wiseman cases that came out last year are quite light. Not mine...

What I love about the bass clarinet is how easy it is to blow compared to the clarinet. The embouchure is looser and there is less air pressure. Make no mistake, the instrument takes a lot of air, but it feels much more free blowing than a regular clarinet. I’ve always thought that when I get too old and weak to enjoy playing clarinet, my instrument of choice will be the bass.

It is tricky to get used to if you are a clarinet player. It took me a long time to figure out reed strength and posture, and I’m still not convinced that the bent neck on the Buffet (that mimics a soprano clarinet angle) is a good idea. It’s easy to make yourself sore from playing the thing if you aren’t careful. Reading music from one side of the instrument to the other is also a hassle. You’ll want to read the music straight in front of you, but there’s an instrument neck in the way.

If you are still reading this, you are probably curious as to what equipment I play on the bass, so here you go:
Grabner Lawrie Bloom Model mouthpiece
Peter Spriggs ligature
Gonzalez or Vandoren V12 reeds (usually size 3.5)

I’ve been working on Mike Lowenstern’s transcription of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s song “Lenny” on the bass, and I just found a chart on Mike’s site with altissimo fingerings that’s very useful. Go to his super awesome site and click download on the fingering chart to get a chart with notes going higher than anyone would ever want to hear on bass clarinet!

Mike shows the standard way of playing high notes on bass where you stay in clarion for notes up to E, and then all the fingerings he lists beyond that are way different than anything on the soprano clarinet. Of course, it’s a good idea to make up your own fingerings too, especially for high notes. When you are up high on the instrument, the possibilities for overtones are almost endless. Be creative!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Time of Year

Living in the mountains and working in a badly climate controlled building has forced me to face the difficulties that humidity and temperature changes can bring to wooden instruments and reeds. The photo above shows my clarinet case this evening. It may seem a overboard to have two Oasis humidifiers, orange peels, and a slightly damp swab in one case; but trust me, this is the kind of environment that keeps my clarinet playing normally. The two penguin humidifiers that sit close to my practice chairs in my offices at school and home also help.
Tenon rings are falling off of my students instruments all the time, and a long rod on one of the school bass clarinets was bound up until we put a couple of dampits in the case and let it sit for a few days. I tell my students to humidify their clarinets as Guy Chadash suggested to me: put a damp rung out and wadded up paper towel inside your clarinet case. Place it in the case so it’s not touching the instrument, and make sure it stays damp (usually means rewetting every day). Peels from an orange are my inexpensive humidifiers because they are from a healthy food we all should be eating and they smell good. Replace them when they dry up. If they are getting moldy, you don’t need a humidifier! If you want to buy a humidifier, I suggest the Oasis Plus Humidifier.
Take loose rings, low humidity, and low temperatures seriously! I managed to crack the last three Bb clarinets I owned before the current instrument I am playing. Two of them were new instruments that were overplayed and underswabbed during the winter months, and one was a used clarinet played heavily for ten years that I managed to crack in the first couple of months of my ownership by leaving it out in an exposed room on a chilly October day in Austin. 
In all cases, I was not swabbing as regularly as I should have been, and I believe that being careful to swab around the tenons carefully and avoiding putting the instrument together with loose rings would have saved a couple of these cracks from happening. After I experienced these cracks and had some battles with dry reeds at concerts, I vowed to never give a solo recital in January and February again. Well, my solo recital is February 1st this year, but I feel like I’ve learned enough from my experiences to be confident that I have decent control over the health of my clarinet and reeds.
I try to keep my office at home between 40 and 50% humidity, and never let it drop below 30%, but the hygrometer reads in the teens in my office at school. My university office is too big and the air system is too connected to the rest of the building to humidify effectively, so I try to keep my clarinet and reeds in my case as much as possible. 
It’s particularly depressing to watch a reed dry and shrivel up on my mouthpiece when the humidity is low. I am much more aggressive in keeping my reeds at high humidity levels, and I probably tend to overwet my reeds rather than keep them too dry. I always carry a cup of water with me, and soak reeds some before playing. The rico reed vitalizer packets with the reed case or bag are really great for reed storage, and they are pretty fool proof, as long as you replace the packets regularly. I’ve tried other methods like using small sponges to keep a bit of moisture in a reed case or a baggie with reeds, but I usually end up with mold on my reeds, when I do this sort of thing. By the way, moldy reeds are salvageable. Clean them and play them. Use 1/2 peroxide and 1/2 water to clean them if they are really disgusting. 
At home, I store my new and unused reeds in cigar humidors. My husband just bought me a lovely glass top humidor at JR’s, and after seasoning it, I’m storing my reeds in there at about 68% humidity. I’ve been told this is high enough to grow mold on reeds, but I’ve never seen mold at this humidity level. My colleague Eldred Spell has analyzed some of the mold I grew on reeds in the past, and all he’s ever found on my reeds is harmless bread mold. Here a photo of my new humidor and Eldred’s photo of mold from one of my bass reeds:

I find that reeds kept at this humidity level tend to change less rapidly and remain more stable and predictable. I think it’s important to let your reeds dry, so that they don’t get waterlogged, but if you do this at higher humidity levels, the reed will dry slowly and be less prone to warp.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cat Rescue!

Tanzi the cat

I know this blog is supposed to be about clarinets, but I can’t help talking about one of my greatest passions: the welfare of our companion animals. 
Yesterday, my friend Eldred and I drove to Traveler’s Rest, NC to pick up a cat that he is adopting. 
Tanzi is a very sweet nearly nine year-old that people left behind when they moved away from the area. They took their two other cats and left this one. It’s true that I don’t know the whole story, but it does upset me when people choose to give up their animal (especially an older one) to a shelter or other animal organization. 
As a society, we have failed miserably at dealing with animal overpopulation. There are about four million animals euthanized in shelters in this country every year. Over half of the dogs and nearly 3/4 of the cats have to be killed, most of whom are adoptable. Yet people continue to breed dogs and cats for money or just because they want to see the miracle of life.
My two youngest cats came from our local county animal shelter. They are the healthiest and most well-adjusted animals we have ever had. I made the decision to adopt them from the shelter after getting to know the wonderful people and cats there when I was looking for my young cat Trigger who went missing in 2006. All of the cats I met at the shelter were adoptable and most of them were not so lucky, but I felt good that I was able to save two. 
Please consider adopting an animal from a shelter or your local rescue organization, or donating to your favorite animal charity. Here are links and information on the animal organizations my husband and I donated to this holiday: 
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was the first humane society to be established in North America and is, today, one of the largest in the world. Our organization was founded by Henry Bergh in 1866 on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law. Headquartered in New York City, the ASPCA maintains a strong local presence, and with programs that extend our anti-cruelty mission across the country, we are recognized as a national animal welfare organization.
Conceived in 1996, Catman2 is managed by Dr. Harold Sims, a retired college biology professor and his wife, Kay, a retired school social worker. The cats live in a large shelter adjacent to the Sims’ home in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
Our local animal shelter where we found our kitties.