Reflection on the clarinet today

A question was posed recently on a clarinet group I belong to on Linked in: "Where is the clarinet going musically" and I decided to share my response right here on my blog.

Since the cartoon character Squidward is the only popular icon of the 21st century to play the clarinet and most commercial bands have been denigrated to a small box with a screen and keyboard, it's difficult not to feel lost as a clarinetist today. I have always strongly believed in the power and beauty of the clarinet and the way you can scream with it over the top. Getting in with as many new and creative musicans as we can is really important. We are all looking for ways be heard, whether you're a guitarist, trombone, sax player. It seems that the "popular" idioms that are represented in media really exclude a lot of instruments or all instruments, except a computer and a voice. Well I think a lot of instruments really should interract with computers, but also many of us would agree that music like that is somewhat vapid. Popular music today sounds overproduced and really lacks character. Us clarinetists tend to gravitate to academia. I personally have a masters degree and teach at a college. But honestly I wish I saw more adds on craigslist advertising something like" clarinetist sought for band" I mean that's rare right?

What ends up happening is clarinetists have a tendency now to get somewhat introverted and get into discourses over the minutia of a CM Weber solo. As modern classical musicans seem to have a tough time 'chamioning' modern music, I think we should all just 'be'. When you hear guitarists play, they each have their own style, tone, character. We should all proactively get out there and expose ourselves, other musicians, canary vocalists, computer people and potential fans to our sound and style. If you are a clarinetist, you really should improvise like crazy and if you don't improvise, compose. Get your ideas out there, we live in a post millenial modern era where anything is possible musicially.

I'm really curious to get your responses here on my blog. You see there are only really two jobs in an orchestra, there is also a utility player on call, or an associate principal position. So....fulltime orchestral jobs are scarce and most clarinetists as a result I think are scared of their prospects. I know I was when I graduated from the Boston Conservatory. The other thing is that I have always loved other kinds of music besides orchestral and have chosen to embrace and champion the clarinet in diverse and even popular music setting in order to remain musically active. I know I would have made a lousy accountant! We all grow musically and in order to remain relevant as a clarinetist, the idea is to reintroduce your sound and style and you'll probably get lots of nods of approval and people going, "oh yeah....wow that sounds awesome" of course you may need amplification, but what clarinetist doesnt want to turn it up a little?
Improvise, improve and groove clarinetists!
 

Todd

5 comments

  • daddio

    daddio

    Excellent !!! squidward ! hahahaha

    Excellent !!! squidward ! hahahaha

  • Dean Curtis

    Dean Curtis

    Very thoughtful, and beautifully phrased.If your music is like your writing, you must make very beautiful music.Best to you.DC

    Very thoughtful, and beautifully phrased.If your music is like your writing, you must make very beautiful music.Best to you.DC

  • Todd B

    Todd B

    I think Brazil has a terrific music tradition and it is a very much a life tradition that I think young and old relate to. The thing is today in The US of A, people dont care anymore about tradition. The whole Warner Bros Bug's Bunny thing used so much tradition, they would make a joke out of it, but the regular folks knew about classical music. I mean the whole Kill the RABBIT to Ride of the Valkyries for instance. I think in a way mainstream culture has become very dumbed down along with the pursuit of traditional art forms. The good news is there are people everywhere who are actively seeking music they no longer hear on the radio. Here in Boston Clear Channel (a media conglomerate) has taken owner ship and artistic control over what individual DJ's used to put out. The one saving grace is College radio. At least there you really can hear musical truth and well Democracy Now...media truth!! Also bringing music directly to the people through live music venues, thank god there are a few of those around here....

    I think Brazil has a terrific music tradition and it is a very much a life tradition that I think young and old relate to. The thing is today in The US of A, people dont care anymore about tradition. The whole Warner Bros Bug's Bunny thing used so much tradition, they would make a joke out of it, but the regular folks knew about classical music. I mean the whole Kill the RABBIT to Ride of the Valkyries for instance. I think in a way mainstream culture has become very dumbed down along with the pursuit of traditional art forms. The good news is there are people everywhere who are actively seeking music they no longer hear on the radio. Here in Boston Clear Channel (a media conglomerate) has taken owner ship and artistic control over what individual DJ's used to put out. The one saving grace is College radio. At least there you really can hear musical truth and well Democracy Now...media truth!! Also bringing music directly to the people through live music venues, thank god there are a few of those around here....

  • Mike McClellan

    Mike McClellan Woodland Hills CA (Los Angeles area....)

    I'm basically a folk or jazz musician, though I listen to everything. Clarinet was one of my first instruments; in my old age I'm concentrating on it! (Don't laugh--I have publications on Cajun accordion & on Hawaiian slack key guitar, and have made a "living" at music for some of my life....) As a folk dude, I ended up on the Albert system clarinet! As clarinetists, we have a low profile! I often practice live at a farmers' market on Saturday--make at least more than minimum wage! Half of the people don't even know that the instrument I play is a clarinet! I get questions.... (At the market I double on the 2-row Irish diatonic accordion, but that is weird....) The clarinet is so vital to so many different kinds of music; more people should know what it is! What'll we do?

    I'm basically a folk or jazz musician, though I listen to everything. Clarinet was one of my first instruments; in my old age I'm concentrating on it! (Don't laugh--I have publications on Cajun accordion & on Hawaiian slack key guitar, and have made a "living" at music for some of my life....) As a folk dude, I ended up on the Albert system clarinet! As clarinetists, we have a low profile! I often practice live at a farmers' market on Saturday--make at least more than minimum wage! Half of the people don't even know that the instrument I play is a clarinet! I get questions.... (At the market I double on the 2-row Irish diatonic accordion, but that is weird....) The clarinet is so vital to so many different kinds of music; more people should know what it is! What'll we do?

  • Todd Brunel

    Todd Brunel

    Well hopefully for one...they'll raise the minimum wage...HA!! Here in Boston I consider myself fortunate to work with some fine musicians, but really there is this very conservatory strict classical clarinet ethos. I really think we owe a lot more to musicians like Benny Goodman and Buddy DeFranco than we pay mind to these days. I do not think the acoustic music world is done with experimentation and I think that's what I was really getting at. The thing that is so challenging of course is finding the medium...the platform through which you can add your voice. It could be that in this post modern millenial world, the clarinet does have a resurgence as a voice, the bass clarinet certainly does seem to. Apparently there was a NYT article calling the bass clarinet the modern voice of the 21st century. Getting back to the classical clarinet thing. I'm really wondering when the reinvention and the super pyrotechnic new realizations of CM Von Weber and others will grow weary? I think for many they already have but where are the new voices in the clarinet world? And I'm not talking about uber virtuosi...maybe 2% of the clarinet population. I'm talking about new directions that might have a slightly more considerate rapport with a general listening audience. Dont get me wrong...I am truly an avante guardist and I really love modern music, but I really love to reach people. With all of this emphasis on the voice these days in popular culture, if you look at the sound spectrum of a clarinet, the wave pattern is most similar to the human voice. Instead of marveling at the introvert who isolates him or herself for years to emerge as a super uber clarinet acrobat, I suggest with the level of proficiency you are at, get out there with your clarinet and join in with sessions, not to prove anything except your connection with humanity and how your clarinet voice can get into the flow. It is most definitely possible that folks will pick up on it, dig it and who knows, maybe those folks have a project and you'll start going places. And if you play the 2 row Irish diatonic accordion, man people are going to totally dig it!

    Well hopefully for one...they'll raise the minimum wage...HA!! Here in Boston I consider myself fortunate to work with some fine musicians, but really there is this very conservatory strict classical clarinet ethos. I really think we owe a lot more to musicians like Benny Goodman and Buddy DeFranco than we pay mind to these days.
    I do not think the acoustic music world is done with experimentation and I think that's what I was really getting at. The thing that is so challenging of course is finding the medium...the platform through which you can add your voice. It could be that in this post modern millenial world, the clarinet does have a resurgence as a voice, the bass clarinet certainly does seem to. Apparently there was a NYT article calling the bass clarinet the modern voice of the 21st century.
    Getting back to the classical clarinet thing. I'm really wondering when the reinvention and the super pyrotechnic new realizations of CM Von Weber and others will grow weary? I think for many they already have but where are the new voices in the clarinet world? And I'm not talking about uber virtuosi...maybe 2% of the clarinet population. I'm talking about new directions that might have a slightly more considerate rapport with a general listening audience. Dont get me wrong...I am truly an avante guardist and I really love modern music, but I really love to reach people. With all of this emphasis on the voice these days in popular culture, if you look at the sound spectrum of a clarinet, the wave pattern is most similar to the human voice.
    Instead of marveling at the introvert who isolates him or herself for years to emerge as a super uber clarinet acrobat, I suggest with the level of proficiency you are at, get out there with your clarinet and join in with sessions, not to prove anything except your connection with humanity and how your clarinet voice can get into the flow. It is most definitely possible that folks will pick up on it, dig it and who knows, maybe those folks have a project and you'll start going places. And if you play the 2 row Irish diatonic accordion, man people are going to totally dig it!

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