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Johnson, Mike (ed.) / Leblanc Bell : A newsletter for music retailers, educators, employees and friends of G. Leblanc Corporation
(May 6, 1996)

Clarinet comments,   pp. 22-24

Page 23

risers. The clarinet section is the key.
to visit band after band, and on his
visits he always made it a point to look
closely at the clarinet sections. In do-
ing so, he noticed a particular condi-
tion with disturbing frequency.
He found that in too many bands,
while other sections were full of the
best professional instruments, often 90
percent or more of the players in the
clarinet section were still playing on
their very first student instruments,
models they had long outgrown.
Seeing this situation repeatedly, and
knowing what he knew about how the
quality of the clarinet section affects
the success of a band, it was a great
frustration to find the band with the
best of acoustically designed band
rooms, top-quality risers and new mu-
sic stands and chairs-but with a clari-
net section full of well-worn beginners'
instruments. It didn't make sense to
him, and it doesn't to me, either.
I confirmed to him that in my trav-
els I'd had much the same experience
and had found it a mystery. Actually,
there were two mysteries.
First, while other wind sections
boasted many top-line professional
instruments, why were the clarinet sec-
tions allowed to continue to play in-
struments they had learned on as be-
ginners? And second, why were the stu-
dents themselves seemingly disinclined
to upgrade that original instrument for
a fine wood-bodied clarinet, which
would allow them to use the student
clarinets they'd outgrown for the
marching field?
While I have yet to find a satisfac-
tory answer to these questions, I can
only speculate that some educators are
not as fully aware as they ought to be
of the relationship between the qual-
ity of clarinet equipment and one's
ability to successfully play the clarinet.
The relationship is profound. In fact,
the clarinet is perhaps the most equip-
ment-sensitive instrument in the band.
This is especially important to note,
since the parameters of acceptable, char-
acteristic sound are more narrowly cir-
cumscribed in the clarinet than in
almost any other wind instrument.
There is also another variable in the
equation of a successful clarinet sec-
tion that is often not well understood
or considered-that of the wide varia-
tion of acoustical designs among dif-
ferent makes and models of clarinets
within a section and the effects of those
different designs on tuning ratios, es-
pecially (but not only) in the upper
clarion and altissimo of the range.
For some time, instrument makers
have arrived at ideal acoustical dimen-
sions for the construction and bore
design of most of the woodwind fam-
ily. Surely, there are variations from
maker to maker, but these are not dras-
tic. Where the design differential might
happen to be a bit wide, most instru-
ments in the woodwind family have
enough inherent flexibility to compen-
sate for the design variations with rela-
tive ease, making good intonation a
practically realizable goal.
Not so with the clarinet. Clarinets
are made with a bore-dimension varia-
tion from 14.50 mm to 15.00 mm, a
variation wider than any other
woodwind's. What's more, the clari-
net has the least amount of inherent
flexibility in regard to pitch variation
than any other member of the wood-
wind family.
This combination-the acoustical-
design variations between clarinet
brands, plus the clarinet's cantanker-
ous lack of docility and flexibility re-
garding intonation-creates in the
mind of the astute educator a singular
and anguished exclamation, specifi-
cally, "Arrrgh!"
After the initial shock of such an
epiphany passes, the educator is led to
an unavoidable conclusion: With uni-
formity of equipment- clarinets not
only of matching acoustical models, but
also of great acoustical consistency
within the individual examples of the
model in question-relief and the
hoped-for success is indeed possible.
While it is helpful, it is not enough
simply to have clarinets all of the same
make and model. Why? Because some
makers produce clarinets that are so
acoustically inconsistent from one in-
strument to the next that an entire sec-
tion playing the same model would not
produce the anticipated results.
The bottom line is that clarinets must
not only be matched by being the same
model type, but they should also be
highly uniform one to another, espe-
cially in the areas of tone quality and
Our Southern band director not only
knew this, but did something about it.
He knew that few bands lose a top
rating because they lacked professional-
quality tympani, an artist-quality eu-
phonium, or for that matter, new risers
and the latest music stands. He also
knew that using a model of clarinet
known for its acoustical consistency
would eliminate a great deal of the in-
tonation problems that can and do
cause so much difficulty for players and
discomfort for listeners.
As was mentioned earlier, this band
director said that initially he had con-
sidered other brands, but in blindfold
tests he made with the band's private
clarinet instructor (whose own personal
instrument was of another brand), the
Leblanc clarinets were picked as best
in every instance.
That is gratifying for us at Leblanc
to hear, and it's good news for the edu-
cator who is in need of a solution to a
long-standing clarinet problem. Correct
pedagogy and ideal equipment go hand
in hand to create a predictable formula
for success. Both are critical for the
kind of success needed to help put a
band over the top.
It is hoped that when educators re-
view their needs, they will consider
some of the ideas and concepts pre-
sented in this article. I would like to
encourage them to make the upgrad-
ing of clarinets a top priority, either by
devoting a portion of their band bud-
gets to the purchase of better instru-
ments or by encouraging their students
to upgrade on their own. They will do
themselves and their bands the best of
favors. D

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