Monday, July 30, 2007

Where have all the Clarinets gone?

When I see and hear many of the bands I adjudicate in the springtime, I’m reminded of the popular Pete Seeger protest song of the 60’s, “Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing”. Except I find myself substituting the word “Clarinets” for “flowers”.

I really miss that rich, dark characteristic tone quality of a large clarinet section as the heart of the symphonic band woodwind section.

I recently went to the Dallas Wind Symphony web site to view and listen to their fine Mid-West Conference rendition of the Holst Suite in Eb. Beautiful! And only 6 Bb clarinets. Unlike most high school bands, the players in this fine ensemble are all professionals that understanding the necessity of perfect blend and balance. You could seat them anywhere on the stage and they would balance their part with the ensemble.

Yet many directors expect 6 or 8 immature high school clarinet players to try to obtain balance with much stronger brass sections.

Are directors just not recruiting for this important need in the Concert Band Ensemble? Or are they and composers for this idiom trying to emulate the homophonic sound of the drum corps on the concert stage and just doing away with many wonderful woodwind colors all together?

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Would this be a viable subject for VMEA Conference discussion?

I would like to get your opinion of this (I think) pressing problem for school band teachers.

Please go to the comment section at the bottom and add your thoughts..


Carl.Bly said...

Thought I would try the blogger identity too.


Carl.Bly said...

Hi Jim,

Some comments about the lack of quality clarinet playing! I too am amazed at the small almost none existence of this section in many of the concert bands I adjudicate each Spring! And your thoughts why are definitely right on!

1. In many communities with several instructors it starts in the elementary school with teachers that do not match students to instruments they are physically able to play. Nor do these teachers have any concern about instrumentation.

2. The biggest problem with that small tone quality you speak of is quite simple, lack of air. And unfortunately this is often ot the fault of the student. I watch brass players who quickly make thier students get the best mouthpiece possible. But they totally ignore this with their clarinets and sax players. The first thing teachers need to do is get rid of those small gap mouthpieces and put them on something with a big opening [Vandoren 5RVlyre]. At least a 3 1/2 reed and quickly push up to a four. Know the reed is not cranked as tight as possible and that they take enough of the mouthpiece in their mouth to cover the gap sot he air does not come out the side. It is not a very hard instrument to get a quality sound out of. As a matter of fact it is quite easy [until you start putting all the little keys down!].

3. You are totally correct in that the Concert Band part of the program is not the important part of the high school band program in a great majority of the schools today. Director's excitedly told me this summer of the 4, 6, or 11 competitions their band will be attending this fall! Ask them how many Concert Festivls they will be attending in the Spring and they look at you like you have three eyes.

I once attended a major concert band competition in 1985. A director from Michigan [could be any state] was totally shocked that my Symphonic Band got in a bus on Saturday morning, traveled 4 hours just(!) to play a concert band festival, and was returning home that night. He stated that his students would never do that. I looked at him in total surprise and said, "You do it on several Saturdays each Fall don't you?" His reply was, "But that's different." I thought no it is not, it is the philosophy of the director who puts the emphasis on what is important and what it not.

4. I often get in trouble during the marching band season when adjudicating because I get on bands with no woodwind sound. And they do little or nothing to emphasize to emphasize this in their programing. Jim Lunsford probably said it best 15 or 20 years ago when he said, "Too many bands have their woodwinds making pretty arcs in the back of the field all fall where you can't hear them!" And many of them have them play flag. Jim, you probably remember the program I had in Richmond years ago. Every year we prepared our three concert selections [yes, three for you young people in VA] and one was always a transcription. Those woodwinds could cover the violin parts quite well. We the gentleman that followed me thought there were not enough brass players in the 144 piece band. So he switched them all to brass that first fall! Yep, that sure did a lot for the development of the clarinets, etc., and of course I would wonder about the quality of the brass contribution after 4 months? Concert Band wasn't real strong in the spring either.

5. The sound of the concert band. There are several things contributing here Jim and literature has a lot to do with it.