|The clarinet family:|
Contrabass (BB♭), Bass (B♭), Alto (E♭), B♭, E♭
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.