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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000036.txt from 2003/10

From: "Lelia Loban" <>
Subj: [kl] Alto Clarinet (was Clarinet Overhaul Hell)
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2003 09:38:35 -0400

Rebecca Brennan wrote,
>I played the alto clarinet for 3 years. I wasn't forced
>to do it either. I insisted. I bought my own alto
>clarinet too.

Count me as another alto clarinet player and fan. I did get forced into
playing alto clarinet (a story I've told here at least twice, I think, so I
won't inflict it again), but I fell in love with it anyway. Ritual
disclaimer: I'm not a professional clarinet player. I'm an amateur
honking away in the attic. Maybe if a pro heard what I do, s/he would gag
and scuttle down the stairs fast. But, like Rebecca, I bought my own nerd
credential, and I take good care of it. My alto clarinet is a 1979 Selmer
that I play with a Selmer HS* mouthpiece. I love it.

I think a lot of the contempt for alto clarinets comes from bad experiences
with school instruments in terrible condition (unloved, abused and
neglected), or from badly-designed alto clarinets, or from bad combinations
of clarinet and mouthpiece and reed. It's a lot easier for an alto
clarinet player to find bad equipment than good equipment, because there's
just not the abundance of choices out there for alto players. It's also
hard to find good music for practice, and the instrument does *need*
practicing, because it's a little bit different from either soprano or bass
clarinet. Among other things, I think that the Selmers really need to be
played with Selmer or custom mouthpieces; and I've come to prefer Hemke
Premium alto sax reeds instead of any of the reeds sold for alto clarinets.
I prefer my Selmer over other brands of alto I've tried, because I think
the intonation is better on my Selmer and because the tone quality is
consistent across the break: especially, there's better, less stuffy tone
from clarion C# up to top-of-the-staff G.

I don't have much use for the criticism that alto clarinets are inferior
because they're not basset clarinets. Well, so what? Soprano clarinets
aren't basset clarinets, either. They're *different*. I'd hate to see
this instrument go extinct. The mellow, subtle tone of an alto is
something of beauty, and well worth exploring. Although between them, the
bass clarinet and the soprano cover the alto's whole range, the alto is
useful for bringing out the middle of the range when the sopranos and the
bass are both busy at the opposite ends. The alto has been caught in a bit
of a vicious circle, I think, where composers don't write for it because
nobody plays it, and players don't play it because nobody writes for it,
and manufacturers don't improve it and promote it because composers don't
write for it and players don't play it.

Lelia Loban
Web site (original music scores as audio or print-out):

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