I recently renewed a few memberships in some of the woodwind-related professional organizations. I like to stay current with as many of these as I can, because I enjoy receiving their publications and attending their conferences whenever possible. Most offer some other benefits like score and book lending libraries, eligibility for a group instrument insurance plan, member directories, and exclusive website content.
Membership is especially useful for woodwind folks in academia—students and professors alike—who are hoping to build their vitae. There are opportunities to publish articles, interviews, reviews, and such in the organizations’ publications, and to perform, present lectures and demonstrations, and participate in competitions and masterclasses at the conferences. Students can usually join the organizations and attend the conferences at significant discounts.
Lawrie Bloom, solo bass clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, starts this video talking about his reed break-in process, but spends some time toward the end (start at about 2:45 to cut to the chase) talking about his strategy for doubling clarinet and bass clarinet in a symphonic setting.
I’m requiring each of my applied students at Delta State to purchase a recording of their instrument this semester as a sort of textbook. A number of them have confessed to me that this will be the first such recording they will own. I plan to require a different recording for each instrument each semester, so that, over the course of several semesters of study, the students will begin to build their personal libraries of great players playing great literature.
The purpose of this, of course, is to help the students develop good aural concepts of tone, phrasing, expression, vibrato, ensemble, and so forth. To try to learn to play an instrument well without a solid aural concept is like trying to learn a foreign language from a textbook. You might pick up a few things, but you’ll be sunk unless you get to really hear—over and over—how the words and phrases sound.
Here are the recordings I’ve selected for this semester. They are recordings of some of the most admired and relatively current performers (all are actively performing except for the late, great Mr. Mack), performing core solo literature. There’s no flute recording because I’m only teaching reeds, but maybe something like this would have been a good choice.
Recently I discussed the topic of clarinet “pinky” (little finger) fingerings with my woodwind methods class. With all that school band directors have on their plates, it’s not surprising that this topic doesn’t always get taught thoroughly to beginners. It can be a bit of a puzzle to a non-clarinetist, but the important concepts can be mastered with a minimum of effort if they are taught clearly.
This is an important thing for woodwind doublers to understand, too, since they may be bringing with them some fingering habits that worked well on their other instrument(s), but which may not apply to clarinet in the same way.
The following notes on the clarinet require use of a pinky key:
These notes require left hand pinky
These notes require right hand pinky
These notes use EITHER left or right hand pinky
Pinky keys are also used in the altissimo register, in resonance fingerings, and so forth, but for today we’ll focus on the notes in the chart. If you’re unfamiliar with the fingerings, check them out at the Woodwind Fingering Guide.
The crucial decision-making deals with the notes in the last row of the chart, which each have two fingering possibilities—one using the left pinky, and one using the right pinky. If your clarinet is in proper adjustment, there shouldn’t be a difference in tone or intonation between the two fingerings, as they open or close the same toneholes. (With a poorly-adjusted clarinet, it’s possible for, say, one fingering to open a certain pad wider than another pad, perhaps affecting pitch and tone.) So our only criterion will be ease and precision of fingering.
Consider this passage, and we will walk through a systematic thought process for selecting fingerings: