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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000986.txt from 2000/07

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] If the sound is lovely, this must be France, part 2
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2000 09:27:25 -0400


Culled from the above submissions to KLARINET and reserved for
presentation here, were all matters that dealt with a proposed
experiment, one whose purpose was to put the theory about
identification of national character of sound to an impartial test.
One list member offered to create a tape with a number of excerpts
on it and anyone who wished the opportunity to take the test would
be sent a copy. The response was a deafening silence. At first,
of the 25-or-so people involved in the discussion, not a single
individual agreed to take the test.

The offer was made on several occasions and, with a single
exception, those who offered the strongest opinions about the
existence of a national sound chose to ignore the test without
comment, or else assert that its results could not possibly have
general validity. Perhaps they felt that no useful experiment
could be created under such circumstances, or that any results that
might be achieved could only be applicable to the party who took
the test. But, whatever their reasons, the fact that those who
argued for the existence of a national sound character chose to
refuse a test of their supposition did little to give confidence in
their views. The remainder of this summary of the discussion on
national sound character deals with the test, its content,
administration, and results.

1. "Very Interesting points are raised in the various postings
about national styles. As a freelancer who has spent far too
much time driving to and from gigs with the car radio on, I've
had opportunities galore to play 'guess the orchestra's
country of origin.' I'm usually right. But it bothers me
that my reasoning for my guesses is very precarious (or you
might say subjective). We all seem to agree on several
1. All clarinet players do not sound alike.
2. Some clarinet players may be identified by their
distinctive sound.
3. Clarinet players use different equipment.
4. Some clarinet players with similar equipment and
training sound very different.
I'm sure there's more, but this will do for a start. The
conclusions which we are drawing from these points are vastly
different, and possibly all unjustified, ranging from 'I hear
a common thread of sound which I cannot objectively describe,
from many players from or influenced by a given area,
therefore national styles exist' to 'since national styles
can't be objectively described, they can't possibly exist and
any attempt to attribute national styles is really just
recalling the sound of a well-known player and attributing
certain qualities to that player's region of training or
origin. What this boils down to is, I think, that those of us
who are making claims that perceivable regional styles do in
fact exist, need to put our money where our mouth is and take
the test. I'm rather swayed by the fact that I've been
guessing with some success for several years, but I would be
willing to have my attitude adjusted if I failed significantly
on such a test."

2. "I will make up the tape and post a note to the list when
it is ready. I also want to mention that your note made some
excellent points. There may have been some miscommunication on
this subject, too. I got a personal note from one of the
earliest posters on this subject and she and I have concluded
that when she said 'the sounds of players of various locations
are different' what she meant was 'the style of playing'."

3. "One of the very earliest comments on the subject of
'national schools' was [X's] challenge for anyone to come up
with some concrete, measurable ways to describe each style.
So far, I haven't discerned much response to that particular
detail, except some more vague terms as dark or bright. Now,
taking a scientific approach (which is what my other life is
all about), 'bright' may be defined as a capacity to emit (or
maybe also reflect) photons, but that's not a very useful
definition for clarinet playing. This absence of response may
perhaps be interpreted as support for [X's] side of the

4. "[X] is willing to take the blind test. Let's get the
rules straight. (Remember the movie 'Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid'? Butch's leadership is challenged and a knife-
fight to the death is proposed. Butch says, 'OK. Let's get
the rules straight.' His challenger, looking perplexed, puts
his hands down and responds, 'Rules?? In a knife fight?', at
which point Butch, taking advantage of his momentary
distraction, kicks him in the balls and ends the mutiny.) The
tape has 20 excerpts on it. I think that, in order for the
assertion that 'sound character is a function of nationality'
be accepted as a valid statement, the tester should get a
grade of at least 75%. That allows for 5 errors in the 20
excerpts. For that grade and above, I apologize, admit I am
wrong, shave my head, and enter a monastery after taking a vow
of silence. For a grade of 50% or below, I suggest that the
assertion about recognition is, FOR THAT ONE PERSON, a lot of
ca-ca. That does not mean that the assertion is false or
true. It merely means that it is not true for that person
only. For a grade of 50-75%, the matter is unclear. It is a
no contest result. For each of the 20 excerpts, the answer
must correctly identify the nationality of the clarinet
player, not the orchestra or string quartet or tenor sax or
anything else. If that clarinet player was raised in Russia
and studied there and later became principal clarinet in the
South Dakota symphony orchestra, then we are going to have to
work on the details of that one. Heritage does not count.
Stanley Drucker's ancestors came from central Europe but
Stanley is an American player. Lumping players together by
nationality is OK. A Belgian identified as a French player is
OK with me. An Austrian identified as a German player is OK
with me. The excerpts were chosen mostly at random. Many
different countries are represented. All the major ones are
included and some that are not specially known for their
clarinet artistry. One of them is the second clarinet with
the South Pole Opera orchestra. It happens to play on Danish
territory in the Antarctic so the answer to that is 'Danish,'
as in pastry. I tried to avoid any recording that existed in
only one player's interpretation. Most of it is standard
repertoire. The Mozart quintet is represented by three
different players, the Brahms quintet by two. There is
orchestral music with a major clarinet solo, bass clarinet
music, basset clarinet music, basset horn music, etc. Both
new and old recordings were used. Original and contemporary
instrument recordings were used. Each excerpt is given for at
least 30 seconds and most for a lot more than that."

5. "Just to get it said up front -- the only thing this
experiment can indicate is the ability of the taker to manage
the test that [X] has set up. It won't even provide a hint of
a suggestion of the extent to which [X's] abilities might be
typical for the community of those who feel that their ears
and brains can correctly identify performances according to
national characteristics. I'm not claiming one jot of prior
knowledge about what the results of a properly structured
experiment might be, but I am asserting my unwillingness to
accept the results of the pending experiment as being
conclusive in any way, whatsoever."

6. "[X] is quite correct in his assertion that anyone's
ability (or lack of it) to recognize the nationalities of 20
players on the basis of 20 recordings does not go one inch
beyond that person. But the assertion has been made that the
national distinction is so strong that it is obvious and
immediately identifiable. I vigorously challenge this
assertion and state that it is neither obvious nor immediately
(or even slowly) identifiable. In effect, my hypothesis is
that the sound character of a clarinetist is independent of
their nationality except in the most unusual cases (and I cite
Czech players as such an exception). While a one person test
cannot have its conclusions extended to the world, it is a
beginning. The alternative is simply to stand back and argue
that 'I hear it' or 'I don't hear it.' And that is
unproductive. If [X] gets 20 right, I must rethink the
hypothesis. If [X] gets 20 wrong, then everyone on this list
will have to make their own decision as to what such a
phenomenon means. [X] suggests that no result will sway him
from his current thinking on the matter because the test is
insufficiently conclusive. That is a rational position and
one with which I could not possibly disagree."

7. "We may not have reached any consensus here (that's an
understatement!), but people are thinking about the matter and
the notion of national characteristics of sound is getting
poked at and prodded. No matter what happens, that is a good
thing; i.e., to visit and revisit the same issue to make sure
that it remains nailed down."

8. "Well, here's my response to the test. Before I list my
answers, I would like to point out my surprise that no one
else took what turned out to be a fiendishly difficult test.
Also, whether or not I guess correctly on the following test
I do feel that my assumption that national schools are
obviously apparent much of the time has been challenged rather
vigorously. However, my success or failure at this test
proves absolutely nothing except my individual reaction to
this particular selection of excerpts. If i do well, all that
has been demonstrated is that in spite of tape noise and a
cheesy stereo, I was able to apprehend certain cues which may
or may not have anything to do with the clarinet tone in the
excerpt. If I do poorly, it is impossible to say with any
finality which link along the chain (ending with my ear) is
partially responsible for the outcome. In general, I wasn't
expecting original instruments or basset/bass to be part of
the test. If future tests are constructed maybe sticking to Bb
and A sopranos would get better results. I listened to the
tape once and wrote down my first impressions.

1. Mozart, Parto, Parto: French, perhaps. Definitely a
Boehm system
2. Hindemith concerto: Dutch or american
3. ?: American (a guess)
4. Brahms quintet: German
5. Mozart quintet: English. Not Kell. Old-school string
6. Mozart quintet: American. Sounds like a basset
7. Mozart quintet: English. Funky sound and intonation.
Lots of cross fingerings. Original instruments?
8. Schubert Octet: Austrian. Beautiful playing.
9. Mozart trios: American. Hard for me to tell with
bassets and bass.
10. Beethoven septet: Absolutely gorgeous playing. If
it's not Harold Wright, then it's someone from
France or, perhaps, Belgium.
11. Brahms quintet: Either it's Kell (English in name
only) or Johnny Hodges is a doubler and a stunning
Brahms interpreter.
12. Copeland sextet: English. Hard to hear clearly
because of all the unisons.
13. Beethoven octet: German. Is it just me or does this
movement sound like the Mickey Mouse club theme?
14. Mozart Concerto: toss-up between English or
My guess is American
15. ?: Great bass playing. it's hard for me to tell with
bass. French?
16. Meyerbeer?: German.
17. ?: English on a basset.
18. Charming piece: Krommer? Fabulous blend between
oboes and clarinets. Dutch or German. Not a Boehm
19. Mozart concerto: Original instrument? English?
20. Ha ha ha. Either an African-American native New
Yorker or a South American born former member of
the IPO."

9. "OK, here are the results of the test. It was not easy to
mark it . I'll give an item-by-item breakdown and state if I
think the answer is right, wrong, or unclear. But my rough
cut is that it looks as if [X] got about 1/2 right and 1/2
wrong, giving him the benefit of the doubt on all for which
the matter is unclear and two half-correct scores.

1. The player was Gervaise de Payer who I consider
English. [X] said 'French, perhaps. Definitely a Boehm
system. Well, it is true that it is a Boehm system, but
de Payer is an English trained player who executes on a
Boosey Hawkes and I consider him English. Therefore, I
think this answer to be incorrect.

2. The player was Louis Cahuzac who was French. [X] said
Dutch or American. I think this to be incorrect.

3. The player was David Glazer of the NY wind quintet and
formerly of the Pittsburgh SO, as American as apple pie.
[X] said American. He is correct.

4. The player was Alfred Boskovsky who was Austrian. [X]
said German. I consider that answer to be correct.

5. The player was Simeon Bellison who was Russian trained
and played on an Albert system. [X] said English. I
consider this answer to be incorrect.

6. The player was Jann Engel who is Austrian. [X] said,
American. I consider this to be incorrect.

7. The player was Paul Drushler who is American. [X]
said English. I consider this to be incorrect.

8. The player was Vladimir Sardin who is Russian. [X]
said Austrian. I consider this to be incorrect.

9. The players were all from the Netherlands wind
ensemble playing basset horn trios of Mozart. They all
play Oehler system. [X] said American. I consider this
to be incorrect.

10. The player was Harold Wright. [X] identified him by
name. I consider this to be correct.

11. The player was Kell. [X] identified him. Correct.

12. The player was David Oppenheim, an American. [X]
said English. Incorrect.

13. The first clarinet in the Beethoven sextet for winds
was Leopold Wlach (and all the other players were from
the Vienna Philharmonic). [X] said German. Correct.

14. The player was Mark Brandenberg who is a San
Francisco freelancer. [X] said either English or
American but guessed American. This is correct.

15. The player is with the Chicago symphony and is
American. [X] said French. Incorrect.

16. Dieter Klocker (German). [X] said German. Correct.

17. Thea King. [X] said English. Correct.

18. Sabine Meyer. [X] said Dutch or German. Half-

19. Colin Lawson (English). [X] said English. Correct.

20. Giora Feidman (nationality uncertain). [X] thought
it might be him or it might be the Afro-American member
of the NE conservatory Klezmer group. Half-correct.

Final score: 10 right. 10 wrong.

The works were:
1. Mozart's Parto aria
2. Hindemith concerto
3. Hummel quartet
4. Brahms quintet
5. Mozart quintet
6. Mozart quintet (basset clarinet)
7. Mozart quintet
8. Schubert octet
9. Mozart basset horn trio
10. Beethoven septet
11. Brahms quintet
12. Copland sextet
13. Beethoven sextet for clarinets, horns, bassoons
14. Mozart concerto
15. Shostakovich 8th symphony bass clarinet solo
16. Mozart - unknown arias with soprano
17. Sussmayr concerto
18. Krommer wind octet
19. Mozart concerto (original instrument basset clarinet)
20. Klezmer music

Per my earlier suggestion, a score of less than 75% shows that
no success was achieved. A score of 50% shows nothing
conclusive. The result, nothing was confirmed in terms of
supporting the argument that it is possible to identify
nationalities on the basis of sound, and nothing was proven
that it cannot be done either. This is known in the west as a
Mexican standoff. Bottom line is that my argument has neither
been contradicted or supported by the test."

10. "I think the cases where he correctly named the
individual, should be discounted, since the player's
nationality wasn't the quality that he recognized."

OK. Where are we? A lot wiser, hopefully, better attuned to the
nuance of "sound character" as contrasted with "national style of
play," still respectful of my colleagues and their fascinating and
articulate contributions, but still at sea. Did the test establish
anything? That's hard to say, but it did demonstrate that there is
certainly question about the validity of assertions one hears with
respect to the identification of national sound characteristics.

What happened here was an experiment that could not have taken
place in pre-electronic mail days. A number of thoughtful people,
each with their own set of prejudices about sound character had an
opportunity to juggle some enormously interesting and diverse
views. I doubt if the discussion radically changed anyone's mind.
Despite our claims of intellectual freedom, we generally leave a
cerebral arena thinking the same way as when we entered. But seeds
have been scattered. In some places, the seed is already dead. In
others, the plant will grow no differently than the one that is
already in place. In fact, it will graft itself onto the one that
is already in place making the prejudice even stronger. And in
others, it will nurture itself as a new and different, though not
necessarily correct, idea.

This discussion took place over several months in 1994. Today, I
continue to see postings speaking of the English, French, or German
sound. Old ideas are difficult to dislodge. And just because an
idea is old does not mean it is automatically incorrect. In that
case it will resist being dislodged. We all learned. We all grew.
We all looked at an old problem in new ways. By any standards, the
discussion was a success, lack of conclusivity notwithstanding.

It shows that you don't need to get answers to learn something.

Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California
Copyright 1995 Leeson, Daniel N. All Rights Reserved.

Dan Leeson, Los Altos, California

** Dan Leeson **
** **

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