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 Idolizing the past
Author: DaphnisetChloe 
Date:   2020-11-02 05:56

Why do clarinet players (and even musicians in general) idolize past players so much? Wouldn't it be more useful to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of old famous artists in order to learn from their playing? Respecting their artistry and honoring their memory is of course essential, however I hazard a guess that by viewing them through rose-tinted glasses we fail to differentiate the good from the bad and therefore do not remember them for the actual qualities of their playing that stood out as exceptional.

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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2020-11-02 07:46

Isn't that normal for all the arts? And also for all who have done well in all forms of endeavor.

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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: Fuzzy 
Date:   2020-11-02 07:58

Could you clarify your question by providing an example?

In my experiences, I'm not sure I've ever run into anyone who has acted as you describe.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding.

Louis Armstrong.
Bing Crosby.
Artie Shaw.
Benny Goodman.
Edmond Hall.
Pete Fountain.
etc. etc.

There's plenty of bad written about them all...and plenty of good. Since we want to emulate the good, it makes sense that that's what we'd focus on.

One thing humans are rarely short of - is criticism.


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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: DaphnisetChloe 
Date:   2020-11-02 15:07

That's a good point Ken, and no doubt you're right.

Fuzzy: e.g. Robert Marcellus and Harold Wright seem to be regarded as flawless gods of the U.S clarinet tradition.

Listening to recordings on YouTube of these players and other old greats (including from other nationalities) I notice that in some pieces their playing is incredible, and others it is nothing exceptional, yet the same comments of adoration apply regardless. For recordings of famous clarinet players still living and performing today the critiques seem to be far less forgiving.

Disclaimer: I am not an American, however I obviously respect the grand US heritage of clarinetistry and mean no harm by this post. Just opening up what to me is an interesting topic :)


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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2020-11-02 17:15

Not all admiration is idolization, but there is a tendency to idolize because it’s simple. Everybody praises so-and-so, so you praise them. We all want heroes, and not just heroes, but great heroes, even giants. See: Achilles et al. “And he picked up a large stone, such as twelve men as they are now could not lift, but he did so easily.” The impulse in some cases seems fully justified and in others somewhat exaggerated. It’s positive insofar as it is a desire for something good, and a sign of humility. It only goes wrong when it diminishes others, or obscures what we might otherwise appreciate. The contrary impulse, to tear down heroes, which is more common today, but happily less so among musicians, is not as edifying or useful. However, it is better to ask WHY someone is held in such high regard, than to simply assume one knows. It’s also good to see things clearly and love people in spite of their faults.

- Matthew Simington

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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: Fuzzy 
Date:   2020-11-02 18:10

Thanks for the examples, James.

Matthew - great response!

A writer once told me Pete Fountain didn't really like a specific player that he played with. I was shocked, because in Pete's autobiography, Pete voiced nothing but admiration for this other player. I asked the writer why he'd say Pete didn't like the player. The writer went on to explain that he had long interviews with Pete, and discovered this information during the interviews. He said that Pete had already made it to the top, this other player had died by the point in time of the autobiography, and that Pete didn't see any reason to drag the musician's name through the mud, so he only focused on the positives of the musician.

I think that might be part of it. It shows a certain amount of class.

I'm guessing the idolaters are yet up-and-coming. I think it is harder to hide one's shortcoming from one's own peers. ;^)>>>

However, in my experience, I was only offered specific examples of what to emulate from the various folks (one of my instructors loved Marcellus' embouchure, and we were all supposed to emulate that, another instructor I had met with Benny Goodman a couple times a year, and that instructor would bring a couple of Benny's concepts to us, another instructor enjoyed Gigliotti's sound, and modified each of our mouthpieces to match Gigliotti's, etc.)

Perhaps one reason folks are prone to idolizing others is: failures/inadequacies are so common place in the natural world, that it is uplifting to recognize the nearly perfect. (Thinking of photography, this rings true.)


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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: brycon 
Date:   2020-11-02 22:36


Why do clarinet players (and even musicians in general) idolize past players so much? Wouldn't it be more useful to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of old famous artists in order to learn from their playing? Respecting their artistry and honoring their memory is of course essential, however I hazard a guess that by viewing them through rose-tinted glasses we fail to differentiate the good from the bad and therefore do not remember them for the actual qualities of their playing that stood out as exceptional.

There's certainly a human tendency toward nostalgia, the culture and politics of one's youth. Here in the U.S., of course, large swaths of people hope for a return to the 1950s despite the era being wretched for many others. And less insidiously, my dad prefers 60s rock to whatever's current in pop music, I prefer the 96 Bulls to the 2016 Warriors, and so on.

Our desire to retreat into the past is a major theme throughout all art forms: memories of past regimes in Shakespeare's tragedies, the ruin in Wordsworth's poetry, the use of Bach and Beethoven in Brahms's fourth symphony, etc. And this idea becomes perhaps the central theme of Modernist art: Eliot's Wasteland; Pound's Cantos; Proust's In Search of Lost Time; and Joyce's Ulysses, which has a chapter specifically addressing music and nostalgia, all deal with people unable to cope with modern society's problems finding solutions in their memory.

But additionally, I find that a lot of musicians turn to old recordings not only for nostalgia but for what Arthur Lovejoy, in his book The Great Chain of Being, calls the "pathos of the esoteric." As Lovejoy writes: "How exciting and how welcome is the sense of initiation into hidden mysteries!" I find this impulse behind a lot of the older clarinetists searching out Chedeville mouthpieces or developing a double-lip embouchure: "Hey! Harold Wright was onto something!" And the fact that so many younger players don't care is indicative of moral and artistic decay rather than new playing traditions emerging, altering, or even supplanting the old.

I listen a lot to older recordings. I don't listen to them, though, out of a sense of nostalgia (because I wasn't alive during the era of Marcellus and Wright) or to feel initiated into clarinet nerdom (because gross). Rather, I find older recordings interesting documents of various playing traditions, elements of which may have gone out of style.

As with manners, we feel as though the things we do with expression are the way things should be and the way things always have been: "Beat 4 leads to beat 1 because Tabuteau said so!" or "Be sure you don't change tempo unless it's indicated by the composer!" Many musicians, for better or worse, take these norms as eternal truths. In older recordings, however, I enjoy hearing that it isn't the case, that rubato can stretch the limits of what we consider "good taste" (Grieg's piano recordings, for instance), tempos can fluctuate drastically as a method of demarcating form (Richard Strauss's famous Mozart symphony no. 40 recording), and that Tabuteau's sostenuto isn't the only approach to wind playing (any historical-performance recording). And even if I don't play with Grieg's rubato, I think it makes me a better musician for being aware of his tradition and my own.

Post Edited (2020-11-02 22:40)

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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: antaresclar 
Date:   2020-11-03 01:58 of our other problems is idolizing known sexual predators in the clarinet world as well....we all know who they are and yet......


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 Re: Idolizing the past
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2020-11-03 06:02

I knew Marcellus and Gennusa, both men were incredible. It would be wise not to ignore them! At the same time we have new players who are incredible as well, we have to take a close look at Frost, Shrifin, Julian Bliss of course, sorry, I left off many, many, other fantastic modern day players.

I think teachers are important as well. My favorite private instructor was Fred Ormand who has students in several major orchestras. Now I listen to modern day players.

So to answer your question, I enjoy all really great players! We have to grow!

Also, clarinet playing has surely gotten better. For example very few high school students, a handful only would tackle something like the Nielsen Concerto back in the 1960's, 70's, and maybe the 80's, but now it is not uncommon to see high school kids tackle this wicked piece for college auditions.

Back in the day very few players were taught double tonguing. Now it seems like everyone can! You can see youtube teaching on double tonguing by Alexey Gorokholinskiy. Yes we can take lessons now online with the very best! Who knows where the present young players will take us in the next 20 years. It's amazing! I can't wait!

This progression starts way back when recordings started to pop up, LP's, tapes. Well needless to say we are way past LP's so present students have so many tools available. I this we remember Bob Marcellus because of the assorted great recordings, the Mozart Concerto of course, plus all of the solos with the Cleveland Orchestra. But Bonade is the first player I adored. Sadly there are so few recordings available.

Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces

Yamaha Artist 2015

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