Colab begins…

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Harry, Charlie and Louis while arranging the Paragon Rag for a group of 9

Today I start the glorious fortnight at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance that is Colab! The college is becoming well know for its fortnight of creative project making that has now been running annually for several years.  It is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new either with your instrument or without, it’s about broadening your creative horizons and discovering new skills and learning how to work with others on a level that other musical institutions do not teach.

Now in my fourth and final year at Trinity Laban I consider myself well versed in the weird and wonderful experience that Colab is.  My projects have ranged from semi-improvised film scoring to cabaret and Klezmer, this year I am set for a week of Ragtime tutored by jazz trombonist Malcolm Earle-Smith.

This morning Malcolm kicked off the day with a lecture about the history of ragtime taking us from its origins in military music to becoming the most popular music of the day.  Plans are underway though we have had run throughs of the Paragon Rag and discussion on how we are going to continue to arrange it to work for the group.  Apologies for dodgy sight-transposition and iffy notes!!!

ipsHow to Prepare for Orchestral Work

Hi all!  I wanted to share something with you because I think it is an amazing concise list of how to prepare yourself for working in an orchestra.  Getting ready for this kind of work takes so much more than just learning notes and this list gives you the perfect structure.  I am NOT the author and I take no credit whatsoever for this article, it is just something a friend of mine sent me and something I think many musicians will find very helpful.  It was written with wind players in mind but I think that many other instrumentalists would benefit from some of the tips!

Please click on the link to access the document it is a word file, it is 100% safe, please let me know if it doesn’t work and I will fix it asap!  Thank you!!!

wind part preparation for orchestra

Buffet Tosca Bass Clarinet Review

I have made the decision recently to purchase a Buffet Tosca Bass Clarinet, so starting here, if handing over £8,000 doesn’t show how much I like it then I don’t know what will!  But here is my review of this instrument anyhow and I hope it tells my fellow clarinettists a little bit more about it compared to some of the other models.

20150508_135812I won’t pretend to be an expert but in the few years I have been playing the bass clarinet I’ve truly fallen in love with the instrument.  I’ve had experience in orchestras, the Women of the World Orchestra and the Orion Orchestra coming up in June, and many solo recitals on bass clarinet with works by Will Howarth (Livefrommybedroom) and Paul Harvey so I know enough and have enough love for it to have become a little bit of a geek about it.

I’m not going to talk much about Selmer, I have had experience with their older models, I find them generally very nice indeed with very rich tones, however price and reliability comparisons to the most recent Buffet Prestige and the Buffet Tosca models make them a little wanting in my opinion.  Having said that, I have played on some very very nice Selmer basses and when looking for an instrument I would never rule them out.

Buffet Prestige basses emerged as an instrument that was more easily playable, with a warm sound that is easier to transition to from a standard Bb clarinet.  I have to admit I really like these instruments, I have played on several new Prestige instruments, and on the whole I have found them very nice sounding and very easy to play on especially in the upper registers around the top end.  My music college has two new prestige bass clarinets 20150508_135859However tuning has remained a serious issue on these instruments.  As my bass clarinet teacher Ian Mitchell said to me last week “It’s just something we learn to accept as bass clarinet players to deal with” in reference to the inevitably sharp concert A.

My first impression on the Tosca the moment I played it was how free blowing it was.  It is so easy to make a sound, it just falls out, the instrument just seems to do all the work for you!  Going over the break has never been so easy!  I have actually found myself moving to slightly harder reeds on this instrument.  I usually play on a Vandoren Traditional size 3 on bass clarinet (3.5 for Bb clarinet) but I feel like on this bass I need somewhere between the two.  I have been experimenting with V12 3 reeds and blue box 3.5 reeds, my results have varied so I haven’t quite decided, I sometimes find V12’s a little unresponsive, but they can have more oomph.  Either way I think I’m going to stick with the blue box based on price, I have had a lot of success with my sandpaper adjustments as well with slightly harder reeds, and if something is unplayable then they normally remain that way no matter what I do!

Moving on from my reed rant… The tone on this lovely free blowing instrument, is stunning.  It is swee20150508_135908t and mellow, and just lovely to listen to.  It sounds uniquely like a bass clarinet but with the flexibility and softness of a Bb clarinet, at the same time it has great oomph (I like this word) when you want a big sound.  All in all it is hard to make this instrument sound ugly – I say that carefully – in comparison to it’s peers.  In Howarth’s of London I had the privilege to try two Tosca bass clarinets and found them both absolutely glorious sounding, with  with the only differences being in slight in timbre.  I chose the one that I thought felt a little sweeter, but really it was a very, very difficult choice.

Tuning.  On the whole the intonation is very good.  It’s not perfect, but I don’t know an instrument that is.  In any case, it is pretty damn good.  That tricky concert A I mentioned… sorted.  The G over the break… sorted.  High notes… sorted. That’s all I have to say really.  Or course there are discrepancies, it’s made by humans not gods.

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Me and my shiny bass

Key work is lovely, it’s very comfortable to reach most of the keys, I have small hands and low notes is something I normally really struggle with on bass, but the re-working of the keys (Eb key now on the back is useful) has made it much easier to play easily.  It’s much more compact, first time I played it I actually was overreaching for the low notes.  The only one I can’t reach easily is the alternative Ab key on the left hand, which is a funny one anyway which doesn’t get used much.

Overall I have to say, this bass clarinet feels absolutely superior to every other instrument I have played on, I love this instrument it’s the right one for me.  After a year umm-ing and aaah-ing about whether or not to buy a bass – and if I do which one, second hand or new? – it took me half an hour in the practice room to make a decision.

I hope this helps anyone else on the similar search to find an instrument, or for anyone who wanted to know a little bit more.  Feedback or questions are heartily welcomed! Video of me and my bass to follow as soon as possible!

The Masterclass

This is my first post, and for a while I have been thinking about what I might say… I am a clarinettist and a young one. I am in the third year of my degree, I’m 21, and I am always worrying, scared of the future, what it might or might not hold (having said that I am young, Karl Leister had his first job in an opera house at 19, and Stanley Drucker got his first orchestral position aged 17). As you may have guessed from the title, I am a little nervous, I am even nervous about this blog post! Will it be good enough? Will it be funny enough? Does it need to be funny? What if I say something wrong? Or even worse… what if people are bored?

Yesterday I watched a masterclass with the great Karl Leister, previously of the Berlin Philharmonic, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, and he had some wonderfully wise words to say to us about how to get to the top, or at least where we want to be in life. His words made me think, about my fears of mediocrity, and failure, when he asked us what WE wanted from life.

Some of Karl’s lovely quotes included some very nice technique analogies “Walk your fingers, like a cat, over the clarinet, not like an elephant!” & “Don’t polish the floor” and some good information on editions and never to play Schumann EVER on a B flat clarinet “It must be on the A!” (note to self: NEVER play Schumann on a Bb clarinet). Though despite his often humorous and very technical and wonderful insights on Schumann and Brahms he made me think about some of my own anxieties in relation to my music.

“If you want to get to the top, you have to practice, practice, practice…”

We all know that… right?

“…and if you are happy being somewhere in the middle, then ok.”

OK.

“OK” is the word that struck a chord in me. Am I happy with “OK”? Of course I don’t necessarily want to be the best clarinettist in the world, but I want to be the best I can be, and maybe I am starting to realise that part of the reason I am anxious, is because I am not really doing the right things to be the best for myself?  I am honest about the fact that I don’t practice enough, and whenever I think about it, the permanent knot in my stomach tightens a little, and it only gets better when I feel like I have done enough for myself to be better. Perhaps because the truth is, I’m not happy being the average of what I can be.  Maybe I DO want the best for myself, and I know what I need to do to get it, can I face it?

Congratulations to all of my musical co-students who performed yesterday in the masterclass with Karl Leister at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Well done!!!