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Klarinet Archive - Posting 001181.txt from 1999/01

From: "Dan Leeson: LEESON@-----.edu>
Subj: [kl] Pinky keys
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 18:16:02 -0500

Roger Garrett in describing Schifrin's clarinet mentioned that the
thumb keys have been replaced with additional touchpieces to be operated
by the pinkies.

For those of us who have played bass clarinets and basset horns with
thumb keys, such a change would be wonderful. I had three thumb
keys on my low C bass clarinet and could never get much in the way
of technique with them. Sliding from one to the other gave a built-
in sluggishness that I could never overcome. Fortunately, the
repertoire for the b.c. does not demand much speed in that range.

My basset horn had one thumb key but I invariably felt that the
axis of my hand had to be moved constantly when rapid passagework
was required, and that this action alone was an inhibition to
a smooth, rapid technique. This was most noticeable to me in three
works: both Mendelssohn concertpieces for clarinet and basset horn,
and the 2nd basset horn part of Mozart's alternate Figaro aria,
"Al desio di chi t'adora." Every time I heard a recording of this
aria I would listen to the 2nd basset horns difficult scale and if
it came out well, I always assumed that it was a Leblanc. When it
came out slugglishly (as did mine), I always presumed a Selmer
or an older Buffet.

When Mazzeo retired from the BSO and sold me his basset horn where
he had a Boston mechanic replace the thumb keys with pinky keys,
my technique in that are improved though not by an order of
magnitude due to the fact that the redesign had some problems inherent
in it, too.

All of this is by way of saying that, unlike the bassoon, the use of
the thumb in playing clarinet has always given me fits. And if
this problem is being resolved in any way, I believe it will be
helpful to future clarinet players whom may find the same problem on
their instruments.

In effect, the way a bassoon is held while playing it permits the
use of the thumb in ways that are not terrible different from the
other four fingers (at least in the right hand). But the basset
horn, bass clarinet, and very possibly the soprano basset clarinet
has a normal hand position in which the right thumb movement is
inherently problematic.

I was wondering when manufacturers would get around to looking at
the problem. It is not an easy one to solve and I hope that
Schifrin's approach proves fruitful.

=======================================
Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California
leeson@-----.edu
=======================================

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