After 32 summers of playing principal clarinet in the Glimmerglass Opera Festival near Cooperstown NY I recently decided to step down--a hard decision but the right one at the right time. One of the many good things to have come from that choice was the opportunity to attend the annual International Clarinet Association's annual conference--since they're scheduled to take place during the summer months I had never been able to go. Although I have been a member of ICA for many years I really had no idea what to expect at the convention and thought that, at best, I would tire of it rather quickly and wind up making forays into the downtown district to get away from the intensity of All-Clarinet-All-The-Time. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. I absolutely loved it. The International Clarinet Association Convention, aka ClarinetFest, was held this year at the Universitiy of Kansas, August 3-7. What struck memost was how everyone--amateurs, beginner students, advanced students, professionals--was welcomed as equals, and how the structure of the overall event supported and encouraged this sense of equality. There were clarinet choirs in which everyone could participate as well as lectures and recitals to meet everyone's particular musical/technical interest.
Most memorable for me, however, were the evening concerts. I consider myself something of a hardened professional but I was completely and utterly blown away by the playing of Ricardo Morales, Benjamin Lulich (whose rendition of Weber's Eb Concerto was absolutely astonishing) and Jonathan Gunn. At the master class given by Oberlin's Richard Hawkins I was reminded of how great teachers can really connect with students and alter their playing for the better with just one perfectly phrased suggestion.
Last but not least were the exhibition rooms. Display upon display contained every conceivable piece of equipment from the top of the line clarinet to the tiniest accessory. Buffet, Bakun, D'Addario, and Vandoren representatives were all there as well as smaller independent dealers. The cacophony of orchestral excerpts, Mozart concerto phrases, and "noodling" created a (surprisingly) not unpleasant sheet of white noise that only ceased when those rooms closed down for the night.
I saw old friends and made new friends. And at next year's convention I will know just what to expect. Maybe I'll see you there?
Have you ever wanted to learn multiphonics on the clarinet? Is there a contemporary piece you'd like to play but it requires multiple tones at once? I was afraid of all but the simplest multiphonics for the longest time but once I got the hang of them they were a blast. This video shows you the fingerings for the four easiest multiphonics on the clarinet. In addition to the fingerings you may need a soft reed at first, a somewhat loose embouchure, and steady--but not forced--air. The notion of playing chords on a single melody-line instrument may seem counter-intuitive but is totally mainstream these days. Check out "Song for Timisoara" (below) by Carlos Delgado to see how musically expressive multiphonics (and other contemporary techniques on the clarinet) can be when written into in a composition. In the next few months I will be posting more complete tutorials on extended clarinet techniques which will include fingering charts and step-by-step suggestions on how to achieve these techniques. For now, though, I hope this introduction will be useful to you (or at least pique your interest!).
Yes they can! Clarinetists are often required to play quarter-tones in contemporary music and I've developed a fingering system to make this possible. My Dad was a composer who was very active in the New York Microtonal Society--among other things--and I've adapted and codified his fingering and notational system for a 24-tone scale on the clarinet. It does not require additional keys on the instrument--your regular clarinet can do it all! Watch the video and see and hear the possibilities. If you're interested in learning the fingerings or purchasing my quarter-tone fingering chart contact me through my website and I'll be happy to help.
In addition to contemporary music, quarter-tones are often used in different types of ethnic music, notably Arabic and other Middle Eastern styles. However, I've found that those usually sound more stylistically appropriate if they're achieved by adjustments from the embouchure and throat rather than fingerings on the clarinet. Having said that, though, I've written and recorded a Klezmer Freylekh -- a typical klezmer dance tune -- that uses quarter tones. You can listen to it here, recorded by my klezmer band, Big Galut(e). So, yes, quarter-tones ARE fun.
As an instrumentalist we often face many physical challenges that, over time, can lead to chronic physical discomfort, pain, or worse. I have found that dealing with discomfort--even slight discomfort--as soon as the sensations arise is better than waiting to see if they go away on their own. I am a big proponent of holistic healing methods and, while my suggestions here may cost you some money, the amount pales in comparison to the cost of mainstream medical doctor's visits and the loss of income from not being able to play. So, here goes:
MASSAGE - for neck/arm tension and tightness. Good also as a way to reduce emotional stress before an upcoming concert. i like to have a massage two days before a concert, if possible. The day before is also okay but never on the day of. It can make you tired or lightheaded.
ACCUPUNCTURE - for any type of localized pain. This ancient Chinese healing method will relieve pain, speed up the healing process and make you feel both calm and revitalized simultaneously. Better yet, there are virtually no side effects other than perhaps a slight discomfort for some people when the sterilized needles are inserted.
CHIROPRACTIC ADJUSTMENT - in the hands of a skilled practitioner, this method of adjusting your neck and spine can relieve both sharp pain, dull aches, and tingling that are either localized or that radiate down your arms. The thought of it can be a bit scary the first time but, really, it's not painful and it can work wonders.
Other modalities that you may want to try are the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkreis Method. They focus on posture and freedom of movement and can make one realize just how much the habitual ways of using our bodies can interfere with breathing and movement.
I find that heat makes my fingers and arms more flexible but if I feel sore in a particular spot I will try and ice it to reduce the inflammation. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofin, can be of help if you find it is really necessary but I try to avoid them as much as possible. A good natural alternative is a topical ointment called arnica gel--it can be found in health food stores and has none of the chemical drawbacks (or odors) that are found in products such as BenGay. And, of course, your grandmother's method of soaking in epsom salts is not only soothing but is a tried and true way to naturally reduce inflammation.
In short, don't be afraid to try any or all of the above. As players we need to keep our bodies happy and healthy. It may feel like you're pampering yourself too much but addressing--immediately--even the slightest discomfort in these ways is insurance against long-term disabilities (and costs). So, yes, do go ahead and "pamper" yourself. You and your music making are worth it!
Many years ago, while playing Assistant Principal and Eb clarinet in a major orchestra, I developed a very serious repetitive stress injury that threatened my career as a clarinet player. I took some time off from the job but ultimately decided to resign--I wanted to make sure that I'd be able to play in some capacity for the rest of my life and not sacrifice my long term ability just to keep my current orchestra position. This was a hard decision because, really, all I'd ever wanted from the time I was in high school (and through my conservatory years) was a professional orchestra gig. However, as is so often the case, not only was it the right decision but I truly came to see my injury as a great gift.
I was diagnosed with dystonia of the right hand when the field of music medicine was just beginning. A focal dystonia is what used to be called Writer's Cramp where, in my case, the fourth and fifth fingers of my right hand neither worked independently of each other nor worked together. Unlike tendonitis there is often nothing physically "wrong"-- no inflammation that ibuprofen would knock out, no weakness that physical therapy would strengthen, etc. Without getting too technical, it's a neurological disorder where the message to move a particular muscle gets short-circuited from the brain to the finger. I was devastated.
I went to one of the very first clinics for performing artists called The Miller Institute. It was in NYC and was affiliated with St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital. In addition to learning how to avoid future injuries--stretching, frequent breaks while practicing, varying practice routines, proper posture and alignment, etc (all strategies that are now commonly known and widely disseminated)--they encouraged the practice of modifying the instrument to fit the hand. This is the exact opposite of how we're taught from the very beginning which is to force our hands and body over time to fit the permanently fixed instrument. Try this:
---Put your right arm at your side. Now raise it up from the elbow without moving your wrist or fingers. You'll notice that your wrist is pretty straight and your fingers are slightly curved. This is the most natural position for your clarinet playing hand.
You can look at the photo of my clarinet to see how I made the adaptations: extensions were put on all the pinky keys so that the pinky, which is shorter and weaker than the other fingers, doesn't have to reach out so far; a cup with a pad was put over the G/D tone hole so that the ring finger doesn't have to reach out as far as the middle finger. I also had a left hand Ab/Eb key added so that my left pinky could share that burden. Many clarinets now routinely come with that key.
The upshot? My fingers adapted almost immediately to the modifications and, because of the resulting new position of my hand, the dystonic response was almost completely mitigated. I played principal clarinet for the next 25 years in orchestras and opera festivals, played chamber music, taught, began my solo klezmer career--all without anyone knowing there had ever been a problem. And what was the gift? If I had been locked into a full-time orchestra job I never would've begun playing klezmer and, hence, never would have experienced the unfathomable creative outlet it became for me. This is a lesson I live every day--what seems like a curse can actually be a wonderful blessing.
Here are some links that may be helpful as you navigate your way through an injury:
National Dystonia Foundation:http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia
Musicians Health.com: http://www.musicianshealth.com/whyrsi.htm
Stephen Fox--custom clarinet repairs: http://www.sfoxclarinets.com/Woodwind_Repair.html