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.

No comments:

Post a Comment