I’m back from the Clarinet Academy of the South, a weeklong series of masterclasses by Robert DiLutis and D. Ray McClellan. The “Academy,” in its inaugural year, was held at the lovely campus of my recent alma mater, the University of Georgia. Dr. McClellan is the clarinet professor at UGA, and a former member of the President’s Own Marine Band. Mr. DiLutis is the clarinet professor at Lousiana State University, and formerly of the Rochester Philharmonic and the Eastman School of Music.
Around two dozen clarinetists attended. Most were college or graduate-school clarinet students, but there were also some professionals and educators. Many were current or former UGA or LSU students, and some were newly-admitted students looking to get a leg up for the fall.
Although the attendees found time to socialize, explore the campus, and try some favorite local eateries, the overall tone of the camp was studious. Each day’s itinerary began with practice time at 8:00 A.M., and finished after three intensive masterclass sessions at 9:00 P.M. Most of the attendees stayed in inexpensive and convenient on-campus housing.
Some highlights of the week included an opening recital by Mr. DiLutis and Dr. McClellan, sessions on reed adjusting and reedmaking by Mr. DiLutis, a class on phrasing by Dr. McClellan, a mock orchestral audition, and sessions dedicated to the Mozart concerto and the Nielsen concerto. Continue reading “Report: Clarinet Academy of the South 2011”→
I try to be both a classical musician and a jazz musician. This dual pursuit is sometimes detrimental to both sides, but often beneficial, and I enjoy it. I’ve put in serious study, listening, and practice hours with both kinds of music.
Jazz has influenced classical composers enough that classical musicians can’t ignore it—if you’re an orchestral clarinetist, it’s only a matter of time before you have to face Rhapsody in Blue. So it’s not unusual to hear classical musicians, especially in academic situations, address aspects of jazz playing.
It’s disappointing to me to hear classical musicians use pejorative language when describing jazz style, but frequently terms like “sloppy,” “lazy,” “harsh,” or “piercing” are used to characterize its techniques and sounds. In the last few months, some egregious and ill-informed examples of this have appeared in the blogosphere, and I can think of several examples during that same period when I have heard that kind of talk in masterclasses and workshops.
I don’t think that the examples I’ve seen lately were intentionally belittling or snobbish. And, in fact, in some cases the intent seemed to be to express appreciation for jazz music and jazz musicians, but the choice of words betrays some underlying attitudes about the relationship between classical and jazz.
Well, because it’s tradition, I suppose. But, realistically, in a professional group the pitch standard is likely determined in advance, and the oboist will use an electronic tuner to be sure they are giving precisely the correct pitch, so it could just as well be anyone.
But the principal oboist is almost always the keeper of the A. It seems like there are a lot of theories floating around as to why, none of which make the slightest bit of sense. I found all of these professed as gospel truth in less than five minutes of Googling:
Because the oboe can’t be tuned. Firstly: hogwash. (True, the oboe doesn’t have a built-in tuning slide. But an oboist can “tune” by switching reeds, and can humor individual notes sharper or flatter on the fly, just like any wind player.) Secondly: if we tune to the principal oboe because it can’t be tuned, then what is the second oboist expected to do? Or the harpist? Or the pianist?
Because the oboe’s pitch is the most reliable. More reliable than, say, the glockenspiel? Given a high-quality instrument, an excellent reed, a fine oboist, and a 72.0°F room, then yes, the oboe’s pitch ought to be pretty solid. But on a stage full of trained musicians, I can’t see any reason to expect it to be more reliable than anyone else’s.
Because the oboe can be heard better through the group, because of its volume or tone or something. If that’s the criteria for selecting a tuning instrument, then I suggest that we consider the trumpet, or perhaps the piccolo. The Wikipedia article on the oboe, incidentally, mentions both stability and “penetrating” tone as reasons for oboe tuning, but cites an online article that no longer exists.
Because the oboe warms up to pitch faster than the other winds. This could be true, but how much longer does it really take to warm a flute or clarinet or trombone up to pitch? Hopefully the other musicians aren’t tuning before their instruments are thoroughly warmed.