I just got started reading Keith Johnson’s “Brass Performance and Pedagogy.” I’m only on page 2 and have already read this:

   “The most successful teachers are those dedicated to the highest musical and academic standards in their own professional lives as well as in their expectations for their students. They settle for nothing less than the students’ best efforts. They are uncompromising in what they expect from their students, and they are willing to do battle with inferior teachers, parents, and administrators rather than lower standards for the purpose of ease, personal advancement, or the convenience of serving a mindless bureaucratic system. A well-known newspaper columnist once remarked that he was deeply suspicious of any teacher who had not been fired at least once. In an age of indifference, physical comfort, and instant gratification, a demanding teacher is virtually a subversive. So be it. Teaching is about change, and the dedicated teacher’s values are predicated on the importance of the subject matter and its value to the life of the student and society. It seems as good a place as any to take a stand.”

I think I’m really going to like this book!

​So I’ve mentioned on my page about my gear  that I was having some tuning issues with my C clarinet. In a nutshell, this thing has been really flat ever since I got it. I’ve tried a lot of different mouthpieces, hoping something would help, but nothing has brought the pitch up. It wasn’t localized to one specific part of the horn – it was really the entire axe that was sharp. 

So today I finally had some time to start working on this problem. Thanks to spending time with Curt Altarac at the Sax Pro Shop   , I had an idea that using some liners in the throat of the mouthpiece, or maybe the barrel, would bring the pitch up. Today’s experiments showed that basically I was on the right track with that line of thought.

I’ve been using a D’Addario Reserve X5 mouthpiece  on this up til now (designed for Bb) so today I tried a bunch of liners at different points within the mouthpiece, and this helped nicely in raising the pitch, except there were a few little pockets of flatness on the horn I still could not resolve. Moving the liner up and down in the throat kept changing the areas that remained flat and which areas were getting relief from the flatness. And lining the entire throat of the mouthpiece still left some pockets of flatness (and also introduced some roughness in the tone).

Then I had the idea of putting my Eb mouthpiece (Fobes “San Francisco”) on it. It was way too small to fit in the barrel, so to make it fit I put a big pad around the tenon (Valentino quick fix fake neck cork) and this brought the pitch up over the entire horn. In fact, it brought the pitch up too much! The entire horn was playing way too sharp, especially the throat tones. So I started pulling the barrel and found that right at 3.5 mm of barrel pull finally gave me a clarinet that played nicely in tune, and importantly, in tune with itself.

I’m not exactly sure what to think about this. My conclusions so far are that both my mouthpieces are wrong for this horn – the Bb is too big, and the Eb is too small.  

I’m not sure this is confirmation, but my observations about tone would seem to agree with this conclusion. With the Bb mouthpiece, the tone seems kind of spread and dull, while the Eb mouthpiece is really too much on the cheeky side. So not only would a compromise size mouthpiece be somewhere in the middle on pitch, but hopefully it would also be somewhere in the middle for tone production. 

So now I begin looking to see if I can find a mouthpiece that is somewhere between the size of my Bb and my Eb. I’m not sure that such a mouthpiece is even made. I’m aware of a Grabner piece that is designed to help C clarinets fix flatness in the throat tones, and maybe that’s where I’ll go next. If you know of something or have any other ideas, I’d LOVE to hear about them. 

Please note that I continued to work on this project, and the update post is located here.

In the current edition of The Clarinet, there is a wonderful interview with Ted Johnson, who was a member of the Cleveland Symphony for 36 years, many of which were under the great conductor George Szell. This is probably my favorite orchestra and my favorite conductor, and these remarks of Ted’s really hit home with me …

“… he was very demanding. You may have heard the statement that ‘the Cleveland Orchestra plays seven concerts a week, but only two of them for the general public.’ This was so true; when it came to the Monday morning rehearsal, you had to be totally prepared.”

My favorite conductors to play for have always been the ones who demanded the most from me. These conductors have always gotten the most out of their band members, and have always had the best sounding groups – and this is part of the joy of playing for me – knowing that I sound good and the entire ensemble sounds good. 

For my students: if you are annoyed with me for demanding hard work and concentration from you, I hope you will always understand that I do these things not to make myself look good, but because I want you to have the same experiences that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy over the years.