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 Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: JasonR 
Date:   2021-01-12 06:45

I am a high school student who recently purchased a Backun Q series after 5 and a half years of using my Buffet e11 b flat clarinet. I am also planning on Double Majoring in Music Performance/Music Composition. Do I need to get an A clarinet once I get into college, I don't know if I can justify getting another clarinet of the same caliber 2 or 3 years down the line. So, is purchasing an A clarinet in the next few years necessary?



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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: crvsp 
Date:   2021-01-12 07:28

I'm not graduated yet, but I know that you almost definitely will have to. All of the people I know that plan to major/double major have A clarinets. You also have to consider the variety of repertoire you'll play in college; it won't just be ol' Weber and such.

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2021-01-12 09:12

Yes, since one of your Majors is in performance. You'll need it for either soloing or orchestral work (assuming the school you attend has an orchestra). If no orchestra you may not need an A, but you will anyway if you intend to play professionally in an orchestra after college (good luck with that....).

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom (PDF samples here)
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus


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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: JasonR 
Date:   2021-01-12 09:16

Thank you both for your response, I guess I'll start saving for one!

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2021-01-12 21:56

Jason: my answering is a resounding "yes"! For two reasons: you will need one for much orchestral and chamber music. My second reason: It's a great pleasure to play the A clarinet: the mellow sound it produces and blowing into it strengthens your wind column. If we can ever travel again and you can travel toFrance, I can help you find a really good second-hand one.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-01-12 22:48

I'll echo everyone else's answer that for orchestral and chamber music you should have an A clarinet. But with one caveat - does the school you're expecting to attend have an orchestral program? If its music program is exclusively band-oriented, the need for an A clarinet isn't as urgent. But, even if that's the case, you should start saving and looking, since you will almost certainly need one sooner or later if you become seriously involved as a performer.

Karl

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2021-01-17 11:51

I wondered if could add in a small question on the same subject?

If a person is trying to head towards grade 8 on the clarinet, it is easier to play the advanced pieces if there is the option of an A clarinet? I just wondered if I should start saving now? I'm only on grade 4 at the moment.

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: ebonite 
Date:   2021-01-17 14:58

SunnyDaze wrote:

> I wondered if could add in a small question on the same
> subject?
>
> If a person is trying to head towards grade 8 on the clarinet,
> it is easier to play the advanced pieces if there is the option
> of an A clarinet? I just wondered if I should start saving now?
> I'm only on grade 4 at the moment.


The short answer is that you don't need an A clarinet to do grade 8. The long answer is that it might be desirable to have one, depending on which pieces you choose.

Here's the Associated Board syllabus:

https://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/woodwind-exams/clarinet-exams/clarinet-grade-8/

You will see that you can easily choose the whole programme using only pieces originally written for Bb clarinet. There are also some pieces that were originally written for A clarinet, but you can choose to play a Bb version.

In most cases, where a piece has been originally written for the A clarinet, the Bb arrangement involves the publisher transposing the piano part up a semitone, so that the clarinet solo part is in the same written key (the whole piece would sound a semitone higher in the Bb version to somebody with absolute pitch). In terms of fingerings, the experience of playing the piece will be the same whether you choose the Bb or A version, as the written key will be the same. The only difference will be the feel (slightly longer finger stretches for the A clarinet), and different pitch (for people with absolute pitch). Some people also claim that the A clarinet sounds "darker".

However, in some rare cases, the publisher makes the Bb version by keeping the piano part the same, and transposing the *clarinet* part down a semitone (to somebody with absolute pitch, the whole piece sounds in the same key, whether played on the A or Bb clarinet, but the written key for the clarinettist is different in the two versions). The Schumann Fantasiestuecke is one of these: it was originally written for clarinet in A, but the Peters edition includes one single piano part, and two different solo parts, one for clarinet in A and the other for clarinet in Bb. This means that Bb and A clarinet versions are in different written keys. For the Associated board grade 8, you can choose to do movements 2 and 3 of the Fantasiestuecke as one of the items in List A. If you choose this, you would be better off having an A clarinet. Movements 2 and 3 are in the written key of C major for the A clarinet, but B major for the Bb clarinet. Movement 3 in particular would be quite a lot more awkward in terms of fingering. Also, my subjective impression is that the clarinet sounds a bit more resonant when played in natural keys than in keys with lots of sharps and flats, even using modern instruments.

In the Trinity syllabus, grade 8 includes the option to play one of the outer movements of the Mozart concerto, which was also originally written for an instrument in A. Again, you can choose to play it on the Bb or A clarinet, but in this case, both Bb and A clarinet versions are in the written key of C major, and it is only the piano part that differs (the Bb version is in Bb major concert pitch, and the A version is in A major concert pitch).

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2021-01-17 19:30

Wow! That's really interesting to know. Thank you for explaining. Maybe I will start saving just in case. :-)

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-01-17 19:52

SunnyDaze wrote:

> If a person is trying to head towards grade 8 on the clarinet,
> it is easier to play the advanced pieces if there is the option
> of an A clarinet? I just wondered if I should start saving now?
> I'm only on grade 4 at the moment.

For SunnyDaze or anyone else...

I've never completely understood how the grading system (is this ABRSM?) is administered. How are the grade levels demonstrated and awarded? Do you take an exam (a juried performance) when you or your teacher thinks you're ready? Is it live or recorded? Is there any kind of audience-involved performance involved?

Are there formal rules about using transposed piano parts to play A clarinet pieces on Bb clarinet? Certainly, if there's a juried performance submission (perhaps recorded?) with accompaniment, one or more of the judges, having "perfect pitch," might be able to tell by ear, and anyone listening could quickly check the pitch against some other pitch source. So is the organization concerned with this?

If the level designation is awarded by a teacher certified to make such recommendations, based on the student's having learned the piece in practice and lesson studios, the use of the "right" clarinet would be irrelevant.

Karl

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-01-17 19:55

What major pieces other than the Schumann Fantasy Pieces are published with separate A and Bb parts rather than separate piano versions? Not counting orchestral parts, of course, which often have transposed versions included with the full set of parts (or added by reprint houses).

Karl

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: ebonite 
Date:   2021-01-17 20:59

kdk wrote:

>
> Are there formal rules about using transposed piano parts to
> play A clarinet pieces on Bb clarinet? Certainly, if there's a
> juried performance submission (perhaps recorded?) with
> accompaniment, one or more of the judges, having "perfect
> pitch," might be able to tell by ear, and anyone listening
> could quickly check the pitch against some other pitch source.
> So is the organization concerned with this?

The exam board usually publishes a syllabus with specified editions, which are chosen so that you can play a piece originally written for A clarinet on either instrument. For example, you can choose between two different Bärenreiter editions of the Mozart concerto (one for Bb clarinet, the other for A clarinet); or you can choose either the Bb or the A part for the Schumann fantasy pieces.

The exam is graded by one single examiner, and it would typically involve two accompanied pieces, one unaccompanied piece or study, sight reading, scales and aural tests. I think you also have to give the examiner copies of all the editions that you are using. They have recently introduced the option of recorded performances instead of a live exam (because of covid).



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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: JTJC 
Date:   2021-01-17 23:53

Historically, there was a solution to the ‘do I need an A clarinet’ dilemma. Manuel Gomez, the founding first clarinet in the London Symphony Orchestra, only ever played a Bb instrument. A full boehm I believe. All parts for Bb, A and C clarinet were played on his Bb. His technique was, apparently, phenomenal. He learnt to play like that in is home country, Spain, where it was standard practice (as in Southern Europe at the time, apparently).

Modern players take a different view. Andrew Marriner, the recently retired principal of the same orchestra, said (about 100 years after Gomez) how modern film composers generally write for Bb clarinet, so you have to be ready to transpose to the A. He also said to have a C clarinet to hand as well. Of course, the technical demands of the generally classical/diatonic repertoire Gomez was called upon to play can’t really be compared to the demands of the more recent stuff. However, players of that level seem to be able to do anything. With all respect to Gomez, Marriner is faced with far more demanding and relentless stream of compositions to play with very limited rehearsal time. Such are the demands on players in the UK.

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: Shanesax/Clar 
Date:   2021-01-18 02:07

In the meantime, (while saving for the A) you SHOULD learn to transpose! Nothing is harder or better for your reading/analysis skills. and having that ability will strengthen all your paying.

S. Nestruck
Saxology Canada
204-474-2588
shanedn@shaw.ca
Winnipeg Canada

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2021-02-14 12:17

Shanesax/Clar - Yes I understand what you mean. I sometimes accompany my son, playing my Bb clarinet but reading from his French horn music. It keeps me very much on my toes.

ebonite is spot on about the ABRSM system. We have a choice of about 15 specific published arrangements and either play three of them live in front of an examiner or four on video recording.

I really like the business of having different clarinets for different keys so that we don't have to learn to play in a zillion flats or sharps. The idea of keeping a Bb, an A and a C clarinet, so as to be able to play more complex music easily seems rock solid to me - if the money is available to do it. Even more so, now that it's so easy to copy the music into a computer programme and transpose it up or down a bit.

That might be different for professionals, but I'm just a hobbyist.

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: Max S-D 
Date:   2021-02-15 00:52

As a contrasting opinion, you might want to contact the school you'll be attending and see if they have an A clarinet you could borrow when you need it. I lucked into a good deal on a lightly used A clarinet that ended up being a great instrument when I went to college, but some of the people I went to school with and friends that went to other schools just checked an A clarinet out from the school for orchestra rehearsals and concerts.

Obviously if you want to play in an orchestra after college, you'll need an A eventually, but I can say that, as someone who did not end up playing in orchestras much at all after college, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have played an A clarinet in public in the last 11 years. I play mostly chamber music, jazz and I guess you'd call it experimental music, but have also worked in pit orchestras and other "functional" kinds of music like that. The A clarinet basically never comes up. I actually make sure that I pull it out and practice scales on it to ensure that it doesn't need to go through a "break in" process next time I do need it.

If playing in orchestras isn't really part of your post-college plan, you might want to look into ways of putting off buying the A clarinet until you're sure that you need to, at least if buying the instrument will be a hardship.

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 Re: Do I need an A clarinet?
Author: TomS 
Date:   2021-02-15 09:36

Yes. But find one that well matches your B-flat. My Yamaha YCL62/65 were very dissimilar. I think the Yamaha CSVRs are a well matched set, and I understand that the Ridenour RCP575/576 might be as well ...

Or, maybe, more fun and useful, a clarinet pitched in C ... if you like to cover oboe parts in the community band, play flute duets with your wife, or play along in church reading the hymnal ...

Tom

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