Monday, October 1, 2007

Meet the Clarinet Section

The clarinet family:
Contrabass (BB♭), Bass (B♭), Alto (E♭), B♭, E♭
The Instruments
The origins of the modern clarinet, according to the Instrument Encyclopedia, can be traced back to the 14th century. By the late 17th century, this single-reed instrument was an established component of ensembles of many kinds. The clarinet reed, like that of the saxophone, is referred to as a "beating" reed that vibrates against the instrument's mouthpiece, as is distinguished from the double or "free" reed employed on the oboe and bassoon.

The clarinet continued to evolve until the late 1840s, when it was revolutionized through the application of a fingering system that had originally been developed by Theobald Boehm for the modern flute. The Boehm system made the clarinet easier to play, improved its tone quality and expanded the range of each member of the clarinet family (see graphic). Today's set of clarinets, as used in symphonic wind ensembles such as the Concord Band, consists of the five instruments shown, and a few others (e.g., instruments in A and C), more commonly called for in orchestral music, the ranges of which extend above and below that of the most common B♭ clarinet. Before the introduction of the Boehm system, frequent changing of instruments was often a necessity during the course of performing a single piece.

Of the five instruments shown in the graphic at the right, the upper (smaller) four are used in virtually every piece the Concord Band plays. The Band owns a contrabass instrument for those situations in which it is required. The B♭ instrument is without doubt the workhorse of the family. The Band's instrumentation usually consists of one E♭, one alto, two or three basses and as many as 15 B♭ clarinets. Clearly the clarinet section is the most populous in the Concord Band, representing nearly one third of our players.

The success of the clarinet as an instrument is attributable to several factors: the ability of its sound to blend well with that of every other instrument and its flexibility and comfortable fit with every kind of music from folk and jazz to concert music that ranges in time from the pre-Baroque to the most arcane of contemporary works.

The Concord Band clarinet section, gathered at a rehearsal for one of the Band's concerts during the summer of 2007. Left to right, front row: David Purinton, Yvonne Dailey, Claire Napoleon, Karen Whitehead, Adena Schutzberg, Len Schatz and Bob Tyler. Second row: Paul DeWolfe, Paul Silver, Judy Piermarini, Charlie Learoyd, Jeff Leiserson and Elliot Finkelstein. Not present for photo: Lorraine Chase, Gina DePaoli, Anne Kandra, Alvin Lipsky, Linda Menkis, Louis Sinoff and Ann Wirtanen.

The Instrumentalists
To prepare for writing these few paragraphs, your editor conducted a brief survey of the Concord Band's 20 clarinetists. It turns out that this group of very experienced musicians, with substantial musical training, would make an excellent subject for an extended magazine article, if not a book. The same could be said of several of them, individually. Unfortunately, there is barely room here for a few statistics and a handful of interesting quotations.

Our clarinetists have been in the Band an average of 14 years. 75% of them have been in the Band five years or more. 35% have been with us for 15 years or more. 30% are or have been music educators. 40% were members of All-State or District Bands when in high school. 30% have played solos with the Band. 20% have served on the Band's Board of Trustees. One ran for state-wide elective office a few years ago.

In their own words, but in no particular order:

"One of the highlights of my musical career was being complimented by soloist Yo Yo Ma while sight-reading my part."

"I really enjoy the challenge of being in a top notch band. Expectations are high and I take that very seriously and therefore practice far more than I have for other groups."

"It's a way for me to keep playing and practicing and to continue to play 'grown up' music when I teach elementary music all day long!"

"I enjoy having an opportunity to perform quality music with conscientious musicians, to be part of an ensemble with a strong work ethic that enables it to prepare first rate concerts."

"The opportunity to play behind quality soloists and vocalists is not to be missed."

"It has been special to work with guest conductors and soloists, as well as composers who have written for the Band."

"It's a pleasure to perform such challenging repertoire under such an exceptional conductor as Bill McManus."

"The Concord Band has been a cornerstone of my life for 32 years."

"I'll never forget our trip to Sandwich to play at a Channel 2 fundraiser. The Canadian Brass played at our intermission!"

In recalling the Band's trip to Pittsfield for a festival nearly a decade ago, "We had a group dinner one evening. People in the Band were invited to approach the microphone and share something about themselves. Hearing stories from so many people about how important the Band was to them changed my entire view of the Band. I think one of the speakers was Jerry Welts. He described, now that he was older, how he got up every Monday because Mondays had purpose—it was rehearsal night. It gave meaning to his life. I think a few others echoed the same sentiment. I was moved by this. Band just wasn't about playing for a few hours, it was truly life sustaining and meaningful for members of the Band." She went on to say, "After 11 years of being in the Band, I view the Band members as extended family. I wish I could write this more eloquently, but can't at the moment. I'm supposed to be working."

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