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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000030.txt from 1997/09

From: Neil Leupold <>
Subj: Re: A student's multiple questions
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 1997 15:52:55 -0400

On Mon, 1 Sep 1997, Mike Nichols wrote:

> It is definately unfair. It is unreasonable to expect a high school
> student (or any amateur clarinetist, for that matter) to own an A
> clarinet, and it is equally unreasonable to expect him to be able to
> transpose music in his head, since most professional players do not do
> this.

Concerning the ownership of an A clarinet, it's actually the other
way around, i.e.; it's unreasonable of a prospective orchestral
clarinetist to hope for acceptance into a serious performing ensemble
without owning an A clarinet. This applies as much at the youth
orchestra level as it does at the professional level, but with greater
flexibility in the former case. The burden is still upon the player,
not the orchestra, and although there is naturally some sympathy for those
who can not afford to buy an A, this doesn't mitigate the necessity for
having one. I've even heard of a professional (in Seattle, I think) who was
fired upon arriving at a rehearsal without bringing his Eb clarinet when it
was needed for a given piece. And even in youth orchestras, the star player
-- who hypothetically happens to be good at sight transposition from A to Bb
-- might be denied a spot on a piece because the conductor has the integrity
to insist that the proper instrument be used. It differs with each ensemble,
needless to say, for there also needs to be a balance between strict adherence
to convention vs. providing a dynamic and inspiring experience for the develop-
ing young player, who might not even know whether or not (s)he will pursue
music as a profession later in life.

Regarding transposition in general, most professional players *can*
transpose on sight, and it is often a matter of pure necessity. Most
bass clarinetists do not own instruments pitched in A, but you better
believe that any professional bass clarinetist worth his salt can
sight-read simultaneously in A and bass clef, lest Mahler's music never
be performed. The days are past where clarinetists could commonly read
from the moveable clefs (most people don't realize that, once upon a time,
G was also a moveable clef), but sight transposition in A, C, and even D
& Eb are still very much contemoporary and relevant skills.

> was written for non-Bb clarinets--as an example, many works of Beethoven
> were written for C clarinet, an obsolete instrument. When that happened,
> we just took the music home and wrote it out in Bb. It was no problem.

"No problem"? Big problem, from a musical standpoint. Luckily, it was
a youth orchestra, and you were being given the sterling opporunity to
perform some of the finest music in the orchestral repertoire without
being penalized for not owning the proper equipment. It is unlikely
that any player can "get by" for very long without being able to trans-
pose C parts on sight. There just isn't always the luxury of time to
take the music home and rewrite it. And while C clarinet parts may not
be as common as Bb & A, the instrument itself is most certainly not obsolete.
It is more readily acceptable in orchestras to transpose C clarinet parts
on a Bb instrument, so it behooves players to possess that level of
transposition skill if they are unable to afford the purchase of a
C-pitch instrument. This logic doesn't typically apply to the A
clarinet, however. The more advanced the player and the group, the
greater the expectation of owning the right equipment.


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