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 About "standardization"
Author: McDonalds Eater 
Date:   2021-03-13 05:53

Quite a heavy topic that's been weighing on my mind for forever. I want to know your input.

Everything written here is a compilation of my experiences over the years.

I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I feel like there's been an unwritten standardization in everything clarinet related: the sound, equipment, interpretation, etc.

Let's start with equipment. I'm sure this has happened to most of us: you are about to upgrade/get a new clarinet and the first brand that comes up in the conversation is Buffet. And then you spend the majority of the talk thinking about Buffet. Maybe occasionally other brands get mentioned there. Maybe some of you got told that Buffet was the only way to go. Maybe some of you got told that the other brands are bad simply because "they aren't Buffets." Pretty much same thing with Vandoren. At least this was my experience. I'm not saying Buffet and Vandoren are bad, or that I wouldn't play them ever, but other brands that make equally great or better products (that could potentially suit the player better) don't get mentioned as often because of standardization.

One of my friends at a summer festival told me a story about his teacher (who shall not be named but is pretty famous). He was telling me that his teacher would criticize Ricardo Morales for being a "disgrace" to the clarinet world, that his playing mechanics are "different and wrong," and that the way he plays will turn the clarinet world into a bad direction. Yet, Ricardo is THE most successful player in terms of winning auditions and his students have also been widely successful. I told my friend that he sounded like he's just straight up jealous, but he mentioned that his teacher would talk frequently about playing clarinet "the correct and only way." It's one thing to not like someone's playing--that's normal. But calling someone "bad" simply because their concept is different is just childish.

Then comes interpretation. I'm sure all of us in a masterclass have been told or heard to "play it this way" or "this is the only "correct" way to play this composer." Or maybe you get stopped every two bars because you're not playing the teacher's interpretation. That leaves me with this question: If there is a "correct" way of playing things, then how in the hell am I supposed to find my "inner voice" or my own interpretation?

Now, of course I think there are boundaries. I will never ever play the Mozart Concerto in the style of say, Stravinsky. Even if I was famous. That's just common sense and I'm sure everyone will agree on that. I also think it's great to serve the music and composer. But is there really only one way to do that?

I also wonder about competitions and auditions. Obviously a winner would be the one who plays the best. But what exactly makes someone the "best"? Is it the player who played the composers in the most "correct" way or is it the player who found their inner voice and interpretation in the pieces? For me, the latter.

I personally hate the fact that a lot teachers frame a "playing box" and that you can only play inside it. That was at least my case. More and more I would hate the fact that I couldn't play the way I wanted to, and instead was turning into a robot.

I like that more people are branching in all aspects. We're starting to see more clarinets played other than Buffet. Young talent from around the world are pushing the boundaries in musical interpretation. But in my opinion, there's still standardization.

My inspiration from writing this post was learning about the Philadelphia Orchestra oboe audition in 2019 and the uproar it caused in the oboe world. If you don't know about this, just ask any of your oboe friends and they will instantly know and tell you about it.

What do you think?

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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: Fuzzy 
Date:   2021-03-13 06:55

It depends on what your goal is, and who/how your instructor is.

When I was going through high school and college, nearly every instructor I had gave me rules to play...habits to break, habits to create. I was never given concepts and encouraged in correct directions to achieve those concepts. It felt like the clarinet was some extravagant encrypted device, and if I simply followed all the rules, then I would one day reach the ultimate achievement of unlocking the prized result.

Please note, this is in stark contrast to some of the insight shared on this bboard by folks like Tony Pay and others. Concepts. Mutliple ways to achieve the concepts (some better than others). Reading such posts finally led me to the point I had already struggled to reach myself - the understanding that in most cases (for me anyway) the concept and goal were much more important than the minutiae of how to get to that destination. The goal is generally: understanding. The way to reach that understanding is: concepts....or being told every minute detail someone else used to achieve the goal, and trying to copy them (the latter seems to be the default in public schooling in the US - or at least it was when I went through school).

If you're planning a career playing "classical" music, then I would think the box is always going to be something you must deal with to one degree or another.

However, if you open up your options to include pop, rock, jazz, folk, etc. - the box changes / grows quite a bit.

While performance on stage can be a component of music - the music itself is strictly audio. So, if a person can achieve the audio result they are after - I'm not of the opinion that it matters exactly how that result was achieved. It is when a person wants/needs to add/change something to their playing/sound; where they might realize a hindrance with their current process/understanding, and need to re-evaluate. This can be painful and take a long time. I believe this is where the "box" is the default for most educators and students...it attempts to minimize the weak points, but at the cost of individuality and freedom.

Just my opinion,
Fuzzy ;^)>>>

P.S. - I had to laugh at your statement,
Quote:

I will never ever play the Mozart Concerto in the style of say, Stravinsky. Even if I was famous. That's just common sense and I'm sure everyone will agree on that.
Why not? Life is too short to be stuck with such rules. Many of the rock tunes are remakes of earlier pop tunes, or traditional folk tunes/melodies going back to medieval days.

Just to break things up, here's the Adagio movement from Mozart's clarinet concerto (rewritten to fit a 32bar New Orleans street beat/march (Jason Marsalis on vibraphone)...I get a kick out of the stuff starting around 2:20):
Adagio

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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2021-03-13 12:42

I've always liked it that my clarinet teachers were more open minded than my saxophone teachers. IDK what things are like now - it seems you have more options now all around.

There is a lot of group think in music. It's not necessarily all "wrong", but it can be restrictive.

IMO most of it comes from students and amateurs, rather than professionals. Individual teachers do sometimes teach or think very much "one way". I think part of this is that they have a way of playing and equipment that they know, and they can most effectively teach their students that way. However, not all the teachers teach the same way.

If you ask various professionals about various things you will get a greater variety of opinions than with students or amateurs. This is because the professionals know what they are doing. Students have less experience and tend repeat what they have heard, because they haven't figured it out yet for themselves. They depend more on guidance and recommendations, so they gravitate to certain things.

There are some radical differences of opinion and practice regarding interpretation, especially if you listen to older recordings.

That said, professionals can be mighty opinionated.

The "rules" were actually a major stumbling block for me when I was young. I couldn't get along with the standard classical saxophone set up and approach AT ALL. I eventually quit playing because I couldn't stand it. It was just one big painful struggle. On the other hand, I got along great with the standard clarinet set up, and it was my own dumb fault for not switching to clarinet full-time. When I went back to playing I decided that I was going to try different things and play whatever I wanted, however I wanted - but I don't have to "fit in" anymore.

- Matthew Simington


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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-03-13 19:19

"Let's start with equipment. I'm sure this has happened to most of us: you are about to upgrade/get a new clarinet and the first brand that comes up in the conversation is Buffet. And then you spend the majority of the talk thinking about Buffet."

IMHO this school of thought is less so today than it was in years past. There are other very competent competing brands (Selmer, Backun, Yamaha, to name a few) and the materials out of which a professional clarinet are being made are being forced into non-wood alternatives by dwindling supply. I hear great things about the consistency of Yamaha's wares and the lack of same in Buffet's. Of course these are wide generalizations that even if true, are mostly relevant only in the difficulty in finding your instrument: it's not as if we are constantly assigned new instruments like pianists. Having played Buffet, were I in the market for a new instrument I think, for me, Yamaha would be the brand to beat.

I also feel this way about reeds. Years ago is was Vandoren, period. Today, while I still use Vandoren reeds I also use Brad Behn's two reed products, Pilgerstoffer, Leuthner, and some others.


"One of my friends at a summer festival told me a story about his teacher (who shall not be named but is pretty famous). He was telling me that his teacher would criticize Ricardo Morales for being a "disgrace" to the clarinet world, that his playing mechanics are 'different and wrong....' "

There are tried and true methods for teaching the instrument (e.g. fingers curved and close) that are what they are not because they are universal truths like "gravity," but because they are the approaches most likely to not thwart a player from advancing or facing repetitive motion injuries. They make sense to be taught, but the bottom line for the truly virtuosic is that which can be heard, not seen.

"Then comes interpretation. I'm sure all of us in a masterclass have been told or heard to 'play it this way' or 'this is the only 'correct' way to play this composer."

Participation in a Master Class involves you, with an open mind, taking away from the session the tips that you feel can most benefit you, not obeying the instructor's thoughts with religious fervor.

"I also wonder about competitions and auditions. Obviously a winner would be the one who plays the best. But what exactly makes someone the "best"? Is it the player who played the composers in the most "correct" way or is it the player who found their inner voice and interpretation in the pieces? For me, the latter."

Where possible, know your audience. Play the pieces in a way that least differs from the way the clarinetists on the panel do. [Famous] musicians can have big egos. In part, such things develop as defense mechanisms IMHO to the very reality you touch upon about how in art, "everyone's a critique."

"I personally hate the fact that a lot teachers frame a "playing box" and that you can only play inside it."

While some teachers are more flexible than others, their lack of flexibility doesn't prevent you from exercising yours and studying with numerous teachers.

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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-03-13 19:57

McDonalds Eater wrote:

> I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I feel like there's been
> an unwritten standardization in everything clarinet related:
> the sound, equipment, interpretation, etc.
>
Are you limiting this to everything clarinet-related because you're posting on a clarinet board? To the extent the issues you raise are valid, they surely apply across the "classical music" domain and, realistically, beyond even music.

> Let's start with equipment. I'm sure this has happened to most
> of us: you are about to upgrade/get a new clarinet and the
> first brand that comes up in the conversation is Buffet. And
> then you spend the majority of the talk thinking about Buffet.

Actually, when I was doing graduate study, my teacher was developing and trying to help market the Selmer 10G, so I heard almost nothing from him about Buffet. Yes, Buffet was an accepted "standard" here in Philadelphia 50 years ago. Some here still play Buffets, but there are so many different ones that it's hard to call any one model a "standard." I've heard a lot here on the BBoard and in local groups about Yamaha clarinets, Selmers, Backuns, Ridenours and now Eubels. It depends on the company you keep. Maybe yours is strongly Buffet-oriented. If you ask a sales clerk at a music store, who may or may not be a clarinetist, you may be hearing the manufacturer's name that offers the biggest dealer discounts.

> Maybe occasionally other brands get mentioned there. Maybe some
> of you got told that Buffet was the only way to go. Maybe some
> of you got told that the other brands are bad simply because
> "they aren't Buffets." Pretty much same thing with Vandoren. At
> least this was my experience.

As far as Vandoren is concerned, there was a time within my memory, though probably not within yours, when there were less than a handful of nationally distributed reed brands to choose from. There were Vandoren, LaVoz, Olivieri, a couple of Selmer models and student-oriented models like Rico and Symmetricut. Whatever Vandoren cult grew up is rooted in that period. But then Rico started making reeds aimed at more demanding playing levels, I think starting with Luries, then the Grand Concert models, and gradually so many brands with multiple models came onto the market that all I've really ever heard over the last 15 years or so is how awful Vandorens are and how much more consistent, long-lived, responsive and better sounding any number of alternatives are. So, I don't know how far back your experience goes, but it sounds like you came up in a heavily Buffet/Vandoren-oriented clarinet community that IMO has become less typical of the clarinet universe over the past two or three decades.

> One of my friends at a summer festival told me a story about
> his teacher (who shall not be named but is pretty famous). He
> was telling me that his teacher would criticize Ricardo Morales
> for being a "disgrace" to the clarinet world, that his playing
> mechanics are "different and wrong," and that the way he plays
> will turn the clarinet world into a bad direction. Yet, Ricardo
> is THE most successful player in terms of winning auditions and
> his students have also been widely successful.

Morales represents a fairly drastic change of musical style and tone concept from the players who preceded him. If this teacher was a Philadelphia based player, his criticism is understandable in its context, though calling Morales's playing a "disgrace" is clearly over the top and objectively an over-reaction. In any case, it was an individual situation.

> I told my friend
> that he sounded like he's just straight up jealous, but he
> mentioned that his teacher would talk frequently about playing
> clarinet "the correct and only way." It's one thing to not like
> someone's playing--that's normal. But calling someone "bad"
> simply because their concept is different is just childish.
>

I can probably guess from this and your last paragraphs who the teacher was, and if I've guessed right, there was more background and history involving the teacher and Morales that made the animosity personal and that your friend would not have understood. The remark as stated was not a widely held opinion, though many players who came up in the Philadelphia/Curtis area did - still do - criticize aspects of Morales's playing, just as people criticize most other well-known, heavily recorded players on any instrument. If anything, that's a strong counter example to your premise - there are as many different opinions as there are serious players.

> Then comes interpretation. I'm sure all of us in a masterclass
> have been told or heard to "play it this way" or "this is the
> only "correct" way to play this composer." Or maybe you get
> stopped every two bars because you're not playing the teacher's
> interpretation. That leaves me with this question: If there is
> a "correct" way of playing things, then how in the hell am I
> supposed to find my "inner voice" or my own interpretation?

A given teacher's attitude toward reading specific music examples may well be that teacher's idea of "correct interpretation." All you can do is accept it as such, that it represents an approach that has worked successfully for that teacher. It doesn't need to be *your* ideal. Many successful performers are highly opinionated about "right" and "wrong." But, again, the diversity of opinions you can easily hear manifested in any selection of recordings you listen to argues that the problem isn't "standardization" in your terms, it's that we all start somewhere and, once we've grown enough to take on some independence, we need to realize it and begin to question what we already "know."

> I also wonder about competitions and auditions. Obviously a
> winner would be the one who plays the best. But what exactly
> makes someone the "best"? Is it the player who played the
> composers in the most "correct" way or is it the player who
> found their inner voice and interpretation in the pieces? For
> me, the latter.
>

The "winner" depends on the audition rules, the judges and the purpose of the audition. No audition, with its limits on time and musical content, can really pick the "best" player. Whether you should play the printed music as literally as possible or give it the most personal spin you can conjure in your imagination depends on what the audition rules are, what the judges are listening for and what is going to be expected of the player who is chosen. If you're talking about high school local and state ensemble auditions, they're a whole class of auditions that deserve their own place in Hell. :-)

> I personally hate the fact that a lot teachers frame a "playing
> box" and that you can only play inside it. That was at least my
> case. More and more I would hate the fact that I couldn't play
> the way I wanted to, and instead was turning into a robot.
>

You play inside the "box" when playing for that teacher in order to avoid conflict, or you play inside it because you actually respect the constraints. But then, as you grow, you always have the ability to try out different "boxes" and find the things inside that you're comfortable with and ignore the rest. Some teachers are more flexible in their approach, some are more rigid. To an extent, you choose which type of instruction you want. You can make a different choice if the first one is not compatible with your expectations. But in any case, this again argues against the idea that there is a universal "standard" to which you must conform to be a successful player. There are too many different teachers with different approaches and mindsets to allow for any standardization beyond basics like playing in tune and playing the right notes with correct rhythm. And even these are only "standards" in the realm of notated, deliberately composed music.

> I like that more people are branching in all aspects. We're
> starting to see more clarinets played other than Buffet. Young
> talent from around the world are pushing the boundaries in
> musical interpretation. But in my opinion, there's still
> standardization.
>
You're entitled to your opinion. But I would counter that this isn't an especially recent development. In terms of equipment - the Buffet/Vandoren imperative - you've only just begun to notice its dissolution, either because you're too young to have seen it 20 or 30 years ago and haven't been out of *your "box"* long enough to have seen it before, or because something has only recently motivated you to look beyond the boundaries in which you developed. Either way, it's an exciting awakening, isn't it?

> My inspiration from writing this post was learning about the
> Philadelphia Orchestra oboe audition in 2019 and the uproar it
> caused in the oboe world. If you don't know about this, just
> ask any of your oboe friends and they will instantly know and
> tell you about it.

Well, it caused an uproar among certain elements of the orchestra's woodwind section, which had more to do with how long it took to choose a replacement for Woodhams, the retiring Principal Oboist, than it did with any uproar in the oboe world at large. The players have a vested interest in who is hired to lead each section.

Karl

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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-03-13 20:33

Ok, was the oboe thing any worse than the three auditions the Met had before they found Morales? Or the three auditions that were won by the same US bass bone player in Vienna before they gave up rejecting a Yank?





.................Paul Aviles



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 Re: About "standardization"
Author: brycon 
Date:   2021-03-13 21:38

Quote:

I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I feel like there's been an unwritten standardization in everything clarinet related: the sound, equipment, interpretation, etc.


Individuality, in the sense that you argue for it, is a Romantic sentiment. The earliest music conservatories, by contrast, taught by way of rote memorization. The sense of "standardization" was so strong, in fact, that many Italian pedagogical materials don't have the names of their composer-authors and are instead treated as expressions of a communal knowledge.

So it's important to point out that individuality--the solitary performer or composer striving to express his or herself--isn't a timeless truth but rather a tradition.

Quote:

Let's start with equipment.


Although there are many brands and models of clarinets now available, I agree with you about the ubiquity of Vandoren mouthpieces. I was speaking with a very fine mouthpiece craftsman a few years ago. He felt as though the decline in artisan mouthpieces was the result of some combination of 1.) Zinner closing down, 2.) the easiness of Vandoren products (if you break your BD5, it costs less to buy a new, and equally good, one than it does to have it fixed), and then 3.) the artisan skills and knowledge falling out of circulation over time.

While all those points might be true, there's also a bit of herd mentality at play with equipment. Ricardo switches from Backun to Uebel; a slew of people who swore by their Backuns suddenly switch as well. Yehuda switches his students from B40 lyres to BD5s; after a ton of high school kids see the mouthpieces on Instagram, they go out and get their own BD5s as well.

When an increasingly large pool of people are competing for an increasingly small number of spots, whether at elite universities and conservatories, summer programs, performing jobs, etc., there's going to be homogenization.

Quote:

I told my friend that he sounded like he's just straight up jealous, but he mentioned that his teacher would talk frequently about playing clarinet "the correct and only way." It's one thing to not like someone's playing--that's normal. But calling someone "bad" simply because their concept is different is just childish.


While I agree there's homogeneity in terms of equipment, I actually find current educational practices to be more open and less dogmatic than what my own teachers went through. Someone else, for instance, mentioned:
Quote:

There are tried and true methods for teaching the instrument e.g. fingers curved and close...
Keeping your fingers close to the clarinet used to be pedagogical dogma. With very good students, however, I find this method makes their technique rather bad and adds extraneous tension in their hands. Good technique is much more about finger motion and rhythm than about proximity to the tone holes.

But a lot of the post-Bonade generation taught this stuff as a religion--thou shalt keep your fingers close to the keys, blow to the end of the phrase, use a Chedeville-style mouthpiece with a lighter reed, etc.--in many cases, I think, because they simply weren't as good of musicians as Bonade himself. They needed to simplify and systematize in order to do their own teaching. Now that young students don't know Bonade's name, however, the appeal to authority doesn't work. If someone says, "Keep your fingers close to the clarinet; it's what Bonade did and my teacher X, who studied with Bonade, told me." and then his or her technique isn't as good as someone on Instagram, the students aren't going to listen.

So this openness in pedagogy and interpretation (about which I could write a lengthy essay but will spare you) are pretty healthy. I haven't really experienced much standardization in these areas. In equipment, however, I think it's simply a matter of YouTube, Spotify, Instagram as well as the business of music driving people toward whatever they think will give them the best chance for success.



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