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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000353.txt from 2005/05

From: David Niethamer <>
Subj: Re: [kl] legendary teachers and their Methods
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 22:07:07 -0400

more catching up...

> Tony Pay wrote:

> However, those teachers become legendary in a rather less productive=20
> way. Their
> teaching gets stripped of its context, and isolated statements of=20
> theirs are
> presented as gospel... I actually have the Russianoff books, and I=20
> have to say that in several regards I find them very lacking, even
> though there is a lot of useful stuff..I suppose what I want to say=20
> here about =B4legendary teachers=B4 is: you can=B4t *do anything* with the=
> -- unless you can, of course, in which case the thing to do is go and=20
> visit them.
> But otherwise, if you weren=B4t there, you missed it>.
Interesting. I find the Russianoff books useful precisely because for=20
three years I *was* there, so the books remind me of certain aspects of=20
his teaching which I find useful in my own playing.

On Apr 11, 2005, at 3:20 PM, Margaret Thornhill wrote:

> I'm quite sorry Russianoff's book is out of print, not just on a=20
> personal level, though I'd rather have those bits of useful stuff=20
> (much of which I don't agree with either!) than have no souvenir save=20
> my memory of his famous salty teaching, where some of the dogma was=20
> anti-dogma...
Every week, seemingly, Leon was putting another clarinet dogma out to=20
pasture. It drove us all nuts, and most of us thought he was crazy.=20
What it taught me was "try anything, and do what works to get the=20
result you want".

> I mean, here was a man who taught repertoire with one hand on the=20
> white-out bottle, ready to eliminate the composer's nuances and write=20
> in his own! On your copy, too.

I think this came more form the fact that musical scholarship was not=20
at the level we enjoy today. No Barenreiter Mozart Concerto, etc.=20
Leon's point was "don't be a slave to the page - play music". Also,=20
Leon was not a sophisticated musician in terms of his formal training.=20
He had a degree in Political Science from Queens College (NYC, USA) and=20
lessons with Bellison. He was a gifted *clarinet* teacher, and early on=20
taught a few students who established his reputation. He was a gifted=20
enough teacher that as other good students came to him, he was able to=20
be very helpful, which upheld that early reputation. You could at one=20
time get Steve Clark's dissertation about Russianoff, including=20
interviews with lots of his students, from University Microfilms, or=20
whatever they're called now. It's an interesting read. A lot of those=20
interviews were with students who studied pre- Penelope, his second=20
wife. A prominent NYC psychaitrist, Penny was a big influence on Leon's=20
life and his teaching.

> Russianoff's method wasn't for someone who is just starting, though=20
> it *looks* like it should be a home-study method. I've had at least=20
> one advanced student who found it pretty interesting recreational=20
> reading. I don't think russianoff used it in a sequential way with=20
> his students, either,(though I'd love to hear from any of his=20
> long-term students on that issue.)
Russianoff never did *anything* in a sequential way with any student as=20
far as I could tell. You might prepare a solo and etude and some=20
technical studies, and have him decide to focus on some completely=20
different aspect of your playing that lesson.

The method books were written in complete chaos. Several chapters were=20
lost, and had to be rewritten, because he gave them to someone to read=20
for comment, and that person kept them - at least, so he thought. But=20
he couldn't remember who had gotten them! I pity his editor!

One thing that he repeatedly did was teach you to practice. When I went=20
to him, I *sorely* needed this, and I got it (against my will!!) After=20
i got my orchestra job, and the music was flying across my stand on a=20
weekly basis, I realized what I had gotten of great value from his=20
teaching. I still thank him on a weekly basis for giving me the tools=20
to do my job as successfully as I did.

Another oft repeated aphorism was "Hearing the problem is the=20
solution." I think Tony has talked about this here - paraphrasing -=20
most students can't tell what they need to fix, so they can't fix it.=20
Am I close?

> My guess is that both he and Mazzeo (and others of their generation)=20
> wrote analytical text out of frustration with the mostly sparse and=20
> useless text in the pedagogical materials that preceded them, Klose=20
> being only one example.
I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to study with Mazzeo. One of the=20
things I like about his writings is that they rarely tell you how to=20
play. The study of scales, for example (from Excellence and Artistry) -=20
not how to practice them, but a whole range of scale studies that a=20
performer might find useful - Albert, Baermann, Eugene Gay, and the=20
Slonimsky "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns". It's more than a=20
lifetime of stuff to explore in one short article. His article=20
introduced me to Hamelin Scales, which I still find most useful for me=20
when I need to practice this sort of thing.

His article about the Stravinsky Pieces (in "The Clarinet") based on=20
his playing them for Stravinsky is more useful than any other treatise=20
I've ever seen on the subject, because he had the musical intelligence=20
to ask the right questions.

Just two brief examples.


David B. Niethamer

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