The Advocate

Newsletter for The Music Education Community of Western PA

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Selecting a Clarinet Mouthpiece

By Rachael Stutzman Cohen

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Upgrading your equipment is always a great way to improve your clarinet playing. Choosing the right mouthpiece is one of the most cost effective ways to do so. I have some suggestions on which brand and model might be right for you.

You may or may not have considered how much of an impact your mouthpiece has on your

tone, articulation and feel when you play, but it’s huge! The mouthpiece you use has as much

impact on your clarinet playing as the reeds you are choosing. Selecting the right mouthpiece

for you can greatly improve your abilities on the clarinet, even if you are still using your student model instrument.

Clarinet mouthpieces have two main varying characteristics: tip opening and facing length. The tip opening is the distance between the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. Mouthpieces curve away from the reed, and generally a wider opening will do best with a softer reed and a smaller opening will do best with a harder reed. Facing length is where the reed separates from the mouthpiece table, the flat surface the reeds rests against. Generally, shorter facings will respond better with softer reeds, and longer facings will respond better with harder reeds. All this to say, we have many variables and thus many mouthpieces to consider.

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My brand of choice for clarinet mouthpieces is Vandoren. This company, founded in 1905 in

Paris, specializes in the top piece of your clarinet, from mouthpieces and ligatures to reeds. I

also highly recommend pairing a Vandoren mouthpiece with a Vandoren reed, but that’s another article altogether!

My top three Vandoren mouthpiece models I recommend are the M15 series 13, M30D and

B45. These three mouthpieces are a great middle ground of the above described characteristics (tip opening and facing length). The M15 is the most closed of these, and thus would be best paired with a harder reed (size 3.5-5). The B45 is the most open and therefore works best with a softer reed (size 3-4). Though reed selection is important, you’ll have the best long term outcome if you choose your mouthpiece then find reeds to work with it, not the other way around.

These mouthpieces will run you about $150 and are a good choice for any advancing middle

school, high school or college student. These are professional mouthpieces and would be great options for the serious musician as well.

So, which is right for you? My next recommendation is to try several mouthpieces before you

buy one. This would be great to do with your private teacher, band director or other professional musician. It’s very helpful to have a different set of ears present to give you feedback when you are testing new equipment! When you try mouthpieces play the complete range of the clarinet and try articulating (tonguing) through the whole range too. Listen for clean and clear starts to your notes and pay attention to how it feels when you play. Are you working much harder to get the sound you want? Or maybe you feel you can relax and get an even better tone. That’s the ideal mouthpiece!

Lesser Known Christmas Songs

While we love the Christmas standards and all of their variations, it can be fun to mix it up and play pieces of music that still hold the Holiday theme but are less popular. Below is a list of works contributed from Dennis Emert for lesser-known Christmas pieces. These music pieces are sometimes obscure, not directly tied to Christmas, or have just been overlooked with time as more popular Christmas pieces are played constantly. However, they still have that holiday spirit, and it is only from the popularity of the Christmas standards that they are not performed more.

Engelbert Humperdinck, Prelude to Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel, the opera, was based on Christmas songs Humperdinck’s sister had written for her children about the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. The piece, which Humperdinck referred to as a "fairy tale opera," features many Christmas motifs, and the overture sets the scene.

Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Christmas Overture

Coleridge's Christmas Overture was discovered in 1925 after his death. It features “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”.

It is thought to have been put together from music he wrote for a children's play called The Forest of Wild Thyme.

William Henry Fry, Santa Claus Symphony

The Santa Claus Symphony is a 26-minute-long single movement structured as a series of loosely tied-together episodes. The piece premiered in 1853 and was progressive for its time, featuring a saxophone solo, an instrument that was only invented a few years prior.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson, Carol Symphony

Carol Symphony is based on five Christmas Carols as an assembly of four preludes. The first movement is based on “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the second is a scherzo on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and the third is based on “The Coventry Carol,” with an interlude based on “The First Noel.” The finale reiterates material from the first movement and uses “Here We Come A-Wassailing” before concluding with a re-stating of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Frederick Delius, Sleigh Ride

Originally written for piano, it is the second part of Three Small Tone Poems, which depict three of the four seasons. The piece portrays a sleigh ride through the forest with moments of serene appreciation of the winter landscape. It concludes with a peaceful resolution as though the passengers are looking up at the winter stars.

Caring For Your Wood Instrument During Winter

As the weather gets colder, it's only natural to want to turn up the heat to stay cozy and warm.

While this might feel great, it is not the best environment for your wood instruments.

Forced central heat drastically lowers the humidity in the air, which causes wood instruments to dry out and become brittle. This dry climate can cause intonation loss and leave the instrument more susceptible to damage.

I know what you're thinking, "I'll just turn off the heat in my house, and my instruments will be fine… the family won't mind". However, cold weather is also harmful to wooden instruments. When the temperature is cold, the fibers in the wood contract, which can cause warping. Nonetheless, these drastic temperature shifts can cause the wood's structural integrity to be compromised and eventually crack.

With the cold and dry climate of the winter season, wood and stringed instruments need to receive supplemental moisture. When a wood instrument is humidified correctly and kept at room temperature, its fibers will remain flexible, and the instrument will be less prone to damage and tone loss. Below are some tips for keeping your instrument in top playability during the winter months:

  • Keeping the instrument away from direct heating sources (HVAC vents, radiators, space heaters, etc.)
  • Limit exposure to cold air
  • Using a space humidifier to compensate for dry air (ideally, one should store an instrument in 40-60% humidity)
  • Use instrument Dampits and case humidifiers
  • Applying peg compound to the pegs of the instrument so that it maintains its tuning
  • The use of Hidersine Hiderpaste Peg Compound, which, when properly used, ensures that tuning pegs stay fixed in place while maintaining the integrity of the wood. Here is a video explaining how to use Hiderpaste - Johnstonbaugh's Music Centers - How to Fix Slipping Pegs
Wood is a living, breathing material that behaves similarly to a sponge. With that, it is susceptible to changes in shape from changes in moisture in the environment. String instruments are also composed of thin pieces of wood under constant tension, so changes in their shape can easily cause parts to shift or break. It is essential to keep this in mind as the weather changes so that our instrument remains playable.

The Return of Allison Fong

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JMC is glad to have Allison Fong back as a repair technician after a two-year hiatus to raise her child.

Allison was Johnstonbaugh’s repair coordinator from 2018 to 2020 and left after giving birth to her son. Allison has an extensive music career, having played and taught oboe throughout the Sacramento area. Also, she holds bachelor’s degrees in Oboe Performance and Music Education from California State University, Sacramento. While attending college, Allison began working at her local music store, where she was introduced to band instrument repair.

She apprenticed in instrument repair under Scott Mandeville until 2018, when she moved to Pittsburgh. Allison has been a NAPBIRT member since 2015 and has attended national conferences and clinics for instrument repair.

Allison’s passion for instrument repair stems from her passion for quality music education.

While in college, Allison had many friends who were music educators. She witnessed their struggles as music educators, such as administration difficulties and lack of proper or functional equipment. Allison felt she could help her community's music programs in a supplemental capacity by offering compassionate and mindful instrument repairs. She recognizes that by providing a band director with functioning instruments, she is, in turn, helping all of the students that are under their supervision.

JMC appreciates the high quality of work she delivers with her repairs and is glad to have her back in the shop.

Customer's Creative Repairs #1

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Issued December 2022

Newsletter by Joe Weinzierl and Dennis Emert