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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000792.txt from 1999/01

From: Roger Garrett <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Subjective and Objective
Date: Sun, 17 Jan 1999 14:08:06 -0500

First, I very much appreciate the time and effort Tom has made to post
this very well written opinion regarding selection of a clarinet as well
as his ability to articulate exactly what he is trying to say. I believe
I have more information now to be able to see where we might agree
as well as disagree on some issues. Primarily, our disagreement could be
seen to be based on a couple of basic issues.....which I will try to
describe below - Tom does point those out later (I snip here and there!) -
so I don't want anyone to think that, because I don't address it, I'm not
reading it carefully enough!

On Sun, 17 Jan 1999, TOM RIDENOUR wrote:
> What, then is left? What is objective and in some degree
> quantifiable in an instrument? What can most skilled clarinetists agree
> upon, whatever their tastes?
> 1. Whether the instrument responds evenly without the need to
> adjust embouchure or air pressure over the middle and high break.

When I was in the Ph.D. Program at University of Michigan, I had many
wonderful conversations with fine clarinetists....amoung them Bob Spring
(who was a student at the time), Kelly Burke (U. North Carolina
Greensboro), Kennan White (I think at Central Michigan University now),
and a host of other players ranging from professional players to other
students. What was surprising to me, but probably should not have been,
was the degree to which all disagreed on number one of Tom's post.

When I worked with John Yeh on the Neilsen Concerto (which I wanted to
learn at the time), I watched him moving upper lip, face, a
huge degree. I asked him why there was so much movement (yet his
embouchure remained constant - pedagocically speaking that is) - his
answer? There is adjustment on every note. When I worked with David
Shifrin - same thing.

My belief - regardless of the instrument chosen - the tool picked - is
that adjustment happens always. Air pressure, speed, quality, etc. are
always changing - and so is tongue position (the degree is dependent upon
register, volume, and tonal quality desired). That John Yeh agreed with
that without knowing he did was helpful to me - but beyond that, this
seems to cloud the very essence of what Tom is
saying. That he bases his position on number one (and 2-6 below) is
excellent. What if number one is, to even a small degree, not entirely
correct? Or, is it semantics and the ability to describe in more detail
what number one is and I just don't get it? What is meant when someone
says "without the need to adjust embouchure or air pressure over the
middle or high break"? Does this mean that if someone plays on an
perfectly accoustical instrument as defined by the laws of physics that
they will not need to adjust either? Or does it mean that they adjust
less? In fact, is the lack of adjustment evidence that the clarinet being
played on is accoustically perfect (not meant with sarcasm)? I'm trying
to find out if that is the extreme end of the opinion with, perhaps, Tom's
viewpoint of some clarinet - perhaps the Opus - falling somewhere short of

> 2. Whether the tone color and shape are consistent from register
> to register and hand to hand without having to fudge embouchure, air or
> tongue position.

Again - "fudge" - many seasoned, internationally recognized soloists and
orchestral clarinetists adjust embouchure, air, and tongue position. In
fact, my belief is that tongue position is always changing - (depending on
register and volume). I'm not sure what "fudge" means - if it means a
drastic change on each note (perhaps only a whole step apart) or smaller is not a specific term that helps me understand what Tom is
really saying. Does he mean adjust or change? And what exactly do those
things mean? I feel like Dan Leesson trying to understand Dark and

> 3. Whether the tone color, pitch and shape remain stable in
> dynamic changes.

As determined by........? If they remain stable, but number one and two
are not followed, does that mean number three is not really being
realized? Is it possible for number three to happen and for a person to
be able to adjust?

> 4. How much "hold" there is in the clarinet to help maintain pitch
> shape tuning so the embouchure can relax.

Should an embouchure ever relax? Should it be in the lower lip, upper
lip, corners, face muscles by the nose.....? An entire school of thought
is based upon a muscularly solid embouchure with flexibility in the aural
cavity (tonuger and how it affects air speed/temperature). Stubbins
methods were based on such flexibility. Does "relaxed" take that into
account? I never use the word relaxed with my students - but should I

> 5. General tuning tendencies. (Players might get some variation
> in results here, but the general contour of tuning relationships will
> remain basically the same; ie, if the clarion "G" or third space "C" is
> sharp for one skilled player it will be the same for another; if the high
> "F" is flat, it will be flat for both, and so on, with perhaps the degree
> of sharpness or flatness varying somewhat due to particulars in voicing,
> mouthpiece/reed set up and tone production subtleties.

Agreed on all points here. But what does one conclude if five Opus
clarinets are tried and pitch is different on all of them? What if all
five have been worked on by the same repair person? Does that make the
player the problem? (I don't mean to imply that that is what Tom meant!
Just asking......).

> 6. Whether you can slur from note to note with no embouchure/air
> exchange and get instant, predictable response and a matching dynamic, tone
> color and shape.

Again - if number one and two are not consistant with number six, does it
invalidate number six? What if this can be done easily on an
accoustically imperfect clarinet such as the Buffet R-13? Does it
validate that instrument as no longer being "inferior"......?

> Notice here, I am insisting upon the clarinet being played
> correctly here (which leaves a certain room for a plurality). Playing the
> clarinet with bad tone production and voicing habits and all this
> information goes in the toilet anyway.

But....isn't the very definition of voicing the adjustment of tongue and
air speed/temperature/pressure to accomodate a given register or note? If
we follow this argument (now I'm not disagreeing, just asking the
question), shouldn't the word "voicing" be completely eliminated with the
"perfect" clarinet? Or is voicing required on the perfectly accoustical
clarinet? we disagree on what voicing actually is?

> This article doesn't not presuppose individual taste or even a
> school of playing. It only lays out how to go about getting hard
> information about the instrument; information which will tells you just how
> hard or easy that instrument will be to "get along with" when the
> infatuation and "newness" wear off and you begin to see its' faults.

Now, if that had only been at the beginning of the article.....LOL!

A it possible that an instrument can be designed with
a school of playing in mind? That is....that a person not ever make
adjustments in air pressure or embouchure? Is that, then, how we would
define clarinet playing as a "perfect" (again...the extreme end of the
spectrum we all aim at) goal? If so, would it mean all those who do not
play that way are playing incorrectly because of traditional
approches that need to be changed and they are not aware of their
incorrect approach? What if those people are at the top of the field
(Shifrin, Meyer, Stoltzman, Yeh, etc.....).

> Again, I am not trying to "sell" anyone anything, but to share what
> I know in the hope that it will help clarinetist decide for themselves on a
> more secure and objective basis; to actually weight the individual elements
> and consider clearly the separate virtures of a given instrument and
> decide, rather than just look at a lable.

But wouldn't we need to buy into the argument including numbers 1-6 before
we could realize the objectivity as put forth here? Or, is it a different
objectivity for each school of there a right or wrong
school of playing? These really are rhetorical - I'm not trying to pin
Tom or anyone else down on these issues.....just trying to point out that
the answer can't simply lie in an accoustically perfect instrument - which
can't exist (and Tom does say that)! The music, the technique, the
voicing, the embouchure, the expression - these are not objective.....they
are subjective. Yes....the object - the clarinet - is objective - but
unless we redifine clarinet playing based ont he perfect tool (which
doesn't exist)), we are approaching the objective tool
subjectively based upon our beliefs and approaches. Is the recommendation
then to change all of that?

> No clarinet will be perfect. But do all you can, objectively and
> scientifically, to see its' faults first, before you invest!...... and
> then make an intelligent decision as to whether you think they are
> manageable and if you are willing to do what is necessary to put with them.

Absolutely - but hopefully, we can view our purchases without the
measuring tools, the words on the pamphlet.......rather - our own play
test. If we don't like the clarinet (whether it be Opus, Concerto,
Infinity, R-13, 10G) - does that mean our school of thought and
pedagogical approach must alter to recognize the qualities of the
instrument at hand? I know what I am saying here is not what Tom was
suggesting (at least I'm reasonably certain) - I am not arguing with Tom
.....rather, I am asking questions for people to ponder. In other words,
if I try 10 Opus clarinets and determine that they do not play as well as
the Buffet R-13 I have, does that mean there is something wrong with my
approach to the horn or that I need to change my playing/teaching to
help keep others from making the same mistake as I made?

> In other words, a common and objectively defined pedagogy of tone
> production cannot be defined in relation to the subjective tastes of each
> player, but it can be defined in relationship to the nature of the clarinet
> itself when looked upon as a sound making machine, subject to the objective
> laws of physics and acoustics.
> There is a reciprocity here: the better and more perfect our
> pedagogy of tone production is, the more clearly we will see how clarinets
> really play; the more acoustically efficient clarinets are the more easily
> and perfectly we will be able to apply the correct principles of tone
> product. is clear what you are saying here (sorry I snipped just before,
but I trust everyone remembers - I'm not trying to edit out some and use
the rest......just saving space)., if I believe adjustment and
air pressure/speed/temp change for every note - my understanding of what
you are saying is that - we do that because we play on instruments that do
not allow us to do otherwise. That the more perfect the instrument is
accoustically, the more easily we will not have to adjust (those were
your points above - I hope I am correctly assuming that they are what you
mean by "correct Principles of tone product[ion]". The problem is that,
even with a perfect instrument, the variation of air speed, tongue
position, etc. is still there - in my opinion. Physics and accoustics do
not show that those things are not present - just the the instrument will
respond in a specific way to a reed that vibrates the air column a certain

> There is a lot of good information mixed with bad information out
> there, but a synthesis regarding either the acoustical development of the
> clarinet or an objective pedagogy based on objective principles is yet to
> appear.......and both, in my opinion, are sorely needed.

Of course you are correct here - but I wonder if we need to adopt a
unified school of thought on embouchure and air speed/temp.etc......?
Then do we all need to purchase the one instrument for which we don't
change those things? Will that then realize better music and music
listening for the masses? Better performance ability amongst students?
Will teaching then become easy because we have eliminated the problems of
the instrument?

> With the acoustical perfection of clarinets and the mechanical
> perfection of tone production based on objective principles in physics (
> for embouchure, tongue, air, reed, mouthpiece, and the clarinet itself are
> in reality simple machines which must work interdependently to create sound
> in all its' aspects according to the laws of physics) the clarinet can then
> enter into a stage of authentic developmental maturity.
> I submit these ideas for your consideration and serious reflection.
> tom

Please forgive my long response to Tom's excellent discussion. I'm in a
pondering mood today - hopefully some of you who did not want to read it
all used your delete key! LOL. I very much enjoy reading such
information on the list - from someone who designed a damn fine

Roger Garrett
Professor of Clarinet
Director - Concert Band, Symphonic Winds & Titan Band
Advisor - Recording Studio
Illinois Wesleyan University

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