Friday, June 8, 2012

The Reed (and Barrel!) Project

Brian Hermanson teaches reed class at WCU
I've been meaning all year to put up a posting about custom reed maker Brian Hermanson, who came to our neck of the woods last summer with his wife Alice Ann. It's not everyday that you find a professional clarinet reed maker within easy driving distance, particularly when you live in a fairly remote mountain hideaway like Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Brian happens to be a fine clarinetist with a brilliant mind, who thinks deeply about sound and discovers how to manipulate it through reed design and other factors. I got him to teach our single reed making class this semester, which I also attended, and he took the class to a whole other dimension of really analyzing your sound and the reed's anatomy. Check out Brian's Facebook page to learn more about him.

In the fall, Brian designed a reed for me that I named the "Chicago" for the Chicago Kaspar 11 that I am currently playing (thanks to Ramon Wodkowski's amazing mouthpiece refacing). Since then, I've had the joy of getting together with Brian every couple of weeks to try his new reed designs and new barrels that he is beginning to make. I'm using one of his barrels now, which is made out of bubinga wood, and having a good time trying out the others he's made since. His barrel making activity has inspired me to get Eldred Spell (piccolo headjoint maker and WCU flute colleague) to find my box of mountain mahogany barrel blanks and start experimenting with clarinet barrel making again. The first time we did this, I took the first barrel Eldred made for me (that wasn't seasoned or treated or anything) to Utah, where it shrunk in the low humidity and heat to about 3/4 its size!

One of Brian's barrels on the lathe

Back to reeds: I've been playing Brian's reeds exclusively since October, and some of my colleagues in the Asheville Symphony and our students are also playing his reeds. See for his website store. He's working on several designs with people, and he also has a couple of production designs that he sells: the Chicago and the BCR. Brian made up boxes of what we call "No Bite" reeds for my students that are a special system he invented that builds up your embouchure so that you learn to avoid biting on various registers and intervals. I use them myself whenever I feel that I'm getting away from the embouchure control that I need.

Another embouchure building tool that I've been using lately is the Facial Flex. I got the idea from an article Larry Guy wrote on embouchure, and the device really does seem to help you build up the muscles of your lip from the side. The Facial Flex is a popular wrinkle remover device of dubious reputation that I doubt has any positive effect on one's facial appearance. Fortunately, using it to build up certain embouchure muscles on the clarinet really does work, but I wouldn't recommend using it in public!

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