Clarinet Update

I’m in the middle of breaking in some new reeds. And I’ve just been working on a staccato exercise quartet. I’ve recorded it before, but I didn’t push the tempo. This time I’ve been practicing this cute little 3/8 piece with three eighth notes = 144 beats/minute. It feels good to play it at that speed. We’ll see if it sounds good.

Here is the next repair project, which arrived this afternoon:

The tarnish on this clarinet looks really cool, so I probably won’t polish it. The instrument doesn’t play, though. After an initial tinkering around, it looks like a total take-apart job. Replacing pads and springs. The whole thing is leaky.

This evening I also watched this discussion between Peter Cigleris and Michelle Anderson, clarinetists who play on Backun clarinets.

Cigleris uncovered a bunch of unperformed early British clarinet music and recorded an album:

It sounds really lovely. And during this discussion Cigleri pointed out a lot of the composers were women, which is really cool.

A Comment I Made on YouTube, then Deleted

Last Wednesday I watched this panel, previously recorded:

They discussed Black activism and broader inclusion in the arts. These 90 minutes are well worth your time.

As soon as the discussion finished, I left these remarks in the comment section:

This discussion was so insightful, and so necessary. This is the day after riding on the cautious optimism of the Chauvin verdicts, then going to bed with the news of Ma’Kiah Bryant and waking up this morning angry. I’ve been trying to learn how to support Black people, to empathize deeply, to unlearn the ingrained racism that I grew up with while – as an Asian American, in this past year particularly – feeling unsafe as I read headlines of Asian hate. Navigating all these human paths, all the nuance, is so important. Listening to the wisdom of all the artists on this panel was encouraging. I loved how you all supported each other and acknowledged the process of becoming better, being intentional and uncomfortable, chipping away slowly at racism in the arts, making small, deliberate yet significant efforts to be more inclusive, to create belonging in lesser represented groups. I wish I knew about this series sooner, but I will go back and watch the previous episodes. Thanks so much for this.

I let the comment sit there, not knowing what to expect. There weren’t a ton of views at the time. Mine was the first and only comment. After a whole day with no other engagement with the video, I began to feel self-conscious about my comment. Did I say something wrong? Did I offend anyone? Was this video not for me? Should I have pointed out how vulnerable and willing to learn Hilary Hahn was by expressing to this all-black panel how much she didn’t know yet? Perhaps, to all these questions.

By Friday morning I decided to delete the comment. I felt that it wasn’t my place to say anything. And I’m perfectly fine working behind the scenes. (Obviously in my own blog space I feel more comfortable.)

Anyway, that’s all I have. I do want to see more diversity and representation in the arts. More access to opportunities. Better funding for access. An eventual unwinding of privilege to allow for truly equal opportunity for all.

I don’t know if this makes any sense. Just sorting through thoughts, I guess.

But I do want to donate to organizations, like Project 440, whose mission centers around opportunities in the arts for youth in minority groups.

If you have the resources, you should donate, too.

Karim Dabbèche Animation to Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19, II. Scherzo: Vivacissimo, Performed by Hilary Hahn

I have included watching this video into my daughter’s morning routine:

We listen to the whole thing. Z may wander during this piece, but she makes sure she watches the part where the main character falls out of the subway train. It seems she also likes to watch them stand up after falling down. Which is pretty dang cool.

The other day I scrolled through comments to this video and came across this opinion.

To be honest, I knee-jerked when I first read this. Like, I was sort of offended? But I didn’t need to be. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to understand this person’s perspective. I get it: Hilary Hahn is mesmerizing to watch. But without really knowing this commenter, maybe I’ll try unpacking what they said here.

Disclaimer: This is not a defense of Hilary Hahn, as she does not need defending. This is a rebuttal of an opinion of a YouTube commenter. That is all.

I’m a fan of Hilary Hahn. Oh, me too! She’s so talented. She has great energy as a performer. A beautiful personality, and very gracious to her fans. I mean, here Commenter is setting up for the but of their comment. I can feel it.

I appreciate her sincerety [sic] and commitment to her music. I agree! She’s very sincere! She’s very committed to her music. Both are not always simultaneously present in famous musicians or public figures in general. The way she presents her 100 Days of Practice demonstrates both of these qualities in spades: she offers valuable music and life wisdom, and in the 100 days themselves she shows her dedication to her craft. Plus she provides videos of her practicing, so we get to see her every day during this time. This would be an easy thing to feel entitled to. Even as her adoring fans we are not entitled to see Hilary Hahn every day.

That said… “but…”

I would rather… Commenter is stating a preference, which they are absolutely entitled to. People like what they like. Just like I’m stating my preferences right here. Which happen to mostly disagree with Commenter.

I would rather watch her play the music than watch animations. Commenter seems to be dismissing the work of the animator here (as a preference, but still). Hilary Hahn has made an effort to work with Karim Dabbèche in his interpretation of this Prokofiev work. This is a collaboration of interpretations. A different expression of Hilary’s “sincerity and commitment to her music.” And why not promote other artists? Dabbèche is clearly talented, and this video is legitimately cool, and Hilary testifies that it captures the spirit and weirdness and charm of Paris. This work also overflows with real representation of diverse backgrounds and cultures, which is really what we need. It’s refreshing, frankly. That she has played an active part in bringing this video to reality says a lot about her generosity and breadth of creativity as a human being. And she wanted to share it with us. I’m so grateful she did.

I mean, right?

Done ranting now.

Supergroups I’m Currently Into

I’m With Her – bluegrass, Americana: Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan. Because I’m a long time Nickel Creek fan, I happened to come across their individual projects. I’ve seen both Punch Brothers and I’m With Her live, and they are fantastic. The solo pursuits of these ladies here are remarkable, too.

The Highwomen – country, bluegrass, Americana: Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires

I saw Brandi Carlile in concert a month before the pandemic shut everything down. It was a transcendent experience. My mother-in-law was listening to a lot of her music in her last months, and listening to all of Brandi’s stories and songs during her concert sort of took me out of my body and reunited me with Carla. I don’t care how cheesy that sounds.

Our Native Daughters – Black Folk, Americana, bluegrass, sort of unclassifiable? these ladies kick ass at writing about the Black experience: Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell

I’ve been a fan of Rhiannon Giddens for a while, as well as Allison Russell in her other band, Birds of Chicago.

I need more of this.

If you haven’t already, check all these groups out.

Making the Metal Clarinet Playable Again

Bought an old metal clarinet a few weeks ago. 1930s-’40s. When I received it, it was semi-playable. Notes above a certain point would only squeak. After the trial/error process of pressing on certain pads and blowing into the mouthpiece, I discovered that air leaks in the left-hand region of the instrument kept those higher notes from playing. The pads are in decent shape, but I removed what I thought were the problem keys and inspected the springs. Increased their tension. Better, but could be better still. Applied key oil to the joints so the springs wouldn’t have to work so hard. Even better! Then I ordered a cork replacement kit. Replaced my first ever cork today in my burgeoning hobbyist’s career. Now with the clarinet having proper seals, its performance: *chef’s kiss*

A few lessons emerge from this experience. Find the leaks. Address them. Make the seals tight. Take your time, get it right. The overall playability improves significantly. I mean, it’s still a second/third tier metal clarinet from the World War II era, but it’s been fun working on. And it’s fun to play.

I said a few lessons can come from this. I’m sure the analogies will become clearer at a time that isn’t now. I’m tired today.

I’ll still take my wood clarinets to the shop for tune-ups and repairs.

Practicing Stravinsky Piece 1 in A

Clarinets have become somewhat of an obsession of mine during the pandemic. Last week I found a nice intermediate model of an A clarinet. According to wikipedia:

In modern times, the most common clarinet is the B♭ clarinet. However, the clarinet in A, pitched a semitone lower, is regularly used in orchestral, chamber and solo music. An orchestral clarinetist must own both a clarinet in A and B♭ since the repertoire is divided fairly evenly between the two.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarinet

I’ve noodled around a bit on the A, breaking it in slowly. The tone is really nice. In this photo, the A clarinet is on the left and the B♭ is on the right. You’ll see the A is a little bit bigger–longer body, wider bell. Because the brand is different, the pinky keys are situated a little differently, but the response is just as quick as the B♭.

Practicing Piece 1 of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces has been way fun. Since I’ve been practicing on the B♭ up to now, I’ve gotten used to hearing this work pitched in a particular way. As I’ve been practicing on the A, hearing the music a half-tone lower was a bit weird at first, but i’m getting used to it. I’ll post two different practice sessions here: First the B♭, and then the A. And as I mentioned on Instagram regarding these sessions: Similar tempos. Some different approaches/attacks of notes. Different areas needing smoother transitions between notes. And more dynamics. Still quite a bit of work to do.

Practice is good.

Throwing Back to 2009

Once there was a band called Mechanical Violet. They were a group of four ladies who loved the hell out of life. They covered a single song, “Postcards from Italy,” by Beirut. Becky had vocals and tamborine; Eleece had trumpet; Alicia had ukulele; I had clarinet. We had fun putting it together. A really fun memory from a much-cherished time.

The other day on Instagram I posted part of Mozart’s “Waltz Fantasy,” a piece I played on the clarinet in 9th grade, when I felt most in my prime. A friend from the Mechanical Violet days more or less commented on that post about hearing some Beirut for my next video.

So I got to work.

Found some sheet music for ukulele, flute, oboe, piano, and percussion. I also had to look up ukulele fingerings to convert from the tabs on the sheet music. (I also played lines from two strings instead of all four, because clarinets can only play a single line and not chords, and because this was already turning out to be a lot of work.) I kept everything in the key of C, since only I would be playing with…me. Me and my shadows.

Recorded the parts, put them together. Not perfect editing-wise, but definitely recognizable. As I rewatched this a small sob got caught in my throat. Damn you, nostalgia. Miss you, Mechanical Violet.

Some Sunday Thoughts

The Little lost another tooth.

After a year of only bottom teeth–the four front ones–Z finally lost a top tooth.

Losing teeth always feels like a milestone. Part of the child goes away and a little bit of adult takes her place. Like sorting through outgrown clothes, this aspect of development saddens me a little.

I love that girl so much.

We watched part of the Grammys tonight in Payson. Talked about a few bands that Carla liked. A few songs that are hard to listen to. I walked into the living room to check on Z and my eyes landed on the photo used for Carla’s obituary. One of the tunes we’d discussed just moments before earwormed, and tears welled in my eyes.

“Golden Embers,” by Mandolin Orange.

I’ve always watched the music video of the band performing, and not the story form video. I’ll post the story here, still not having watched it. Not sure I can handle crying right now.

Lyrics here.

Mandolin Orange’s Tides of a Teardrop is a tribute to Andrew’s mother. It’s beautiful, poignant; very relatable.

It’s still hard. That’s really all I can feel right now.

PARIS Arrives

Snow this morning. A gentle drift.

I keep peeking through the front curtains.

Early still. Just a quick glance.

Not yet.

Spend time with the Little in the basement. Watch some television. She loves Mickey’s Christmas Carol in the morning. I fidget and read some news.

An hour passes. One more trip upstairs. One more glance out the window.

It’s there.

There.

I rush to get it out of the snow.

Then. I slow down.

Open it. Catalogue it. Selfies with it.

Now, I listen.