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Clarinet: Interview and demonstration with principal Jon Manasse

Video transcript

("Symphony No. 3" by Robert Schumann) - This thing is a clarinet, and it is made out of different materials. It's actually made from a tree in Africa called mpingo and it's a funny spelling: m-p-i-n-g-o. It has to be cut very carefully. It has to be aged, it has to be seasoned, and then only after many years to find just the right material you bring it to the very special craftsman who can then put the holes in all the right place and drill it out to make the little hole in the middle so that air can go through and it makes sound. The clarinet actually has a number of pieces. So it starts with what looks like a bell. Could be a telephone. Then it has this part right here called the lower joint. This part that's called the upper joint and this little piece here called the barrel and then at the tippy-top there's the mouthpeice. Now, if I assemble the whole clarinet again I should be able to get a musical sound, shouldn't I? The mouthpiece, the barrel, the upper joint, the lower joint, the little bell there, and now we should get a sound. That's enough pieces, one, two, three, four, five pieces. So here we go, we're gonna get a nice sound on the clarinet. (whistling air) Something's missing. Oh, this is called a reed. Let's see. I have another part here called the ligature that holds the reed onto the mouthpiece. (plays jaunty tune) Reeds are actually their own plant. These little things come from long stalks of bamboo that's very carefully grown and it's grown in the very warm region of the south of France. And the wind blows just the right way and the sun shines just the right amount and these long stalks of bamboo are cut, they're harvested, and then stored very carefully in just the right climate, just the right humidity for a number of years. And then a special craftsman gets them and makes these little tiny reeds for all of the clarinetists of the world to use, and play, and make beautiful music. Now, how does a reed work? How can this little thing make such a difference? There's a very skinny, thin area at the tip of the reed that vibrates when it goes into your mouth and you blow air against it. Much like if you're a trumpet player what makes the sound is your lips vibrating so something has to vibrate. If you're playing a violin the string vibrates and you can actually see it on the violin you can see the string moving very rapidly. On the flute, and this is very silly, but I can make the clarinet sound like a flute. Here you can't see the vibration but the air, much like if you learn to whistle, the air vibrates between two surfaces, so one side of the barrel and the other side of the barrel (plays high pitched flute like notes) But if i put the reed on, and I put the ligature on I can get a sound. ("The Firebird Suite" by Igor Stravinksy) The clarinet can take on so many different voices. It can be jazzy. (plays jazzy tune) It can be very sweet and gentle. (plays low gentle tune) It can be very high. (plays very high notes) It can be low. (plays low notes) With a clarinet you can pretend to be anyone you want and it has the voice of being sweet, it has the voice of being happy, it has the voice of expressing all the feelings. ("Symphony No 4" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) The repertoire we got to play with the all stars here is just magnificent. We all had such a fun time playing together and perhaps there are very special clarinet moments that we as clarinet players love and several are in the Shostakovich symphony. There are these beautiful, lyrical, singing solos that rise and emerge quietly and then make a crescendo and then come back down. ("Symphony No 5" by Dimitri Shostakovich) The age I really started getting going on the clarinet was right when I started, which was 11. Interestingly I did not love the clarinet at first because I never heard it played in a way that really attracted me to it. My first love of music was with the saxophone. My big inspiration for playing the saxophone was hearing "In the Mood" which is a very fun Glenn Miller song from the swing era. And, I didn't have, I'd say, the direction or focus on the saxophone but I truly enjoyed it. And it wasn't until I met my teacher David Webber that I truly became enamored with the instrument and all its wonderful possibilities and the color. And I always sort of loved to practice, it was my special place. As it turns out I seem very well suited for the clarinet. I do a lot of funny things and I have very happy moments and very quiet moments and the clarinet really lets me speak all those feelings. ("Symphony No 5" by Ludwig van Beethoven)