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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000307.txt from 1997/09

From: Mike Nichols <>
Subj: Re: A student's multiple questions
Date: Sun, 7 Sep 1997 15:18:02 -0400

On Sun, 7 Sep 1997 wrote:

> On Mon, 1 Sep 1997, Mike Nichols gave a well-thought-out response to the
> questions about auditioning on A clarinet parts. One statement, however,
> was:
> >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.
> As an amateur who plays in three orchestras, any of which may put A, Bb and C
> clarinets parts in front of me, I question this view. If I want to play in
> these groups (and I *really* want to), it is my problem to produce sounds
> acceptable to the conductor. I have yet to hear complaints about transposed
> C parts and I seriously doubt whether they would care (or would know) if I
> played A parts on Bb.

O.K. This is really getting confusing. Maybe I should clarify my
position, because people on both sides of this issue claim they disagree
with me. My view is shaped by the following principles:

1.) In a professional setting, the players can be expected to have the
resources and responsibility to satisfy the composer's intent when
playing a piece. When this means playing the part on an A clarinet or a
C clarinet, this is what they can be expected to do.

2.) When the composer's intent becomes impossible to satisfy because of
the physical difficulty involved in changing instruments, then it is
reasonable to assume that the professional clarinetist will transpose.

3.) A youth orchestra, by definition, is not held to the same standards
as a professional symphony orchestra, both in terms of equipment and

4.) Most youth orchestra players will not pursue professional musical

5.) A young player who cannot afford to own more than one instrument will
9 times out of 10 own a Bb clarinet. A player who can afford an A
clarinet should probably buy one if he intends to continue playing in an
orchestral setting in the future, but no player should be denied an
opportunity to play because he cannot afford extra instruments.

6.) Transposing in one's head is not a skill generally taught to young
clarinettists. (Maybe it should be)

7.) The time it takes for a youth orchestra to work up a technically
challenging (and hence, difficult to mentally transpose) piece is usually
(but not always--I will admit) sufficient time to allow someone to
transpose his part on paper.

8.) It should be assumed that C clarinet parts in a youth orchestra will
be transposed. C clarinet parts are not frequent enough in the
literature to warrant requiring an young amateur player to buy a C
clarinet--the player will not get enough use out of the instrument to
make it worth the expense.

9.) Usually the conductor won't be able to tell whether you used an A, a
C, or a Bb. The audience will never know.

10.) Often, it doesn't really matter which instrument you use, because the
composer's choice of instrument was based more on ease of playing in a
particular key or for historical instrument availability than on sound.
There are, of course, exceptions to this, especially in 20th century
music, which is why professionals should own an A clarinet. My point is,
though, that you are not always doing a terrible disservice to the
composer by playing on a different-keyed instrument. Very often, it is
merely through courtesy to the clarinettist that the composer picks a
particular key of instrument.

11.) Most importantly, Mom and Dad (who are paying for all this) will
still think you were wonderful, regardless of what kind of clarinet you
used. :)

Mike Nichols

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