“Why? I’ve been playing on it for weeks, and I like the way it sounds.”
“That’s just dirt/marker/pencil.”
“That is not going in your mouth again.”
I cannot recall the exact number of conversations I have had like this with students in the last twenty-one years. What students are willing to shove in their mouths is absolutely astounding, and then their parents cannot figure out why these students are always sick. Hmmmmm.
To prove a point to my students, and any other reed players out there reading this, I have always wanted to do a bacterial test on reeds and mouthpieces. Luckily for my checkbook, Michael Lowenstern did this exact experiment for me. Behold, the reed and mouthpiece bacterial study:
Still think playing on that reed with “just a little bit of black” is okay? Not in my studio!
Below is the post shared by Richie Hawley on his blog about reed care that I think my students and colleagues might find interesting:
Many students and professionals ask me, “How do I make my reeds better?” This question comes with the expectation that I will be passing on advice or a method of adjusting a reed with a knife or sandpaper. All are surprised when I say that I NEVER work on my reeds and that I confiscate my students’ reed knives and adjusting tools on their first day of lessons with me at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Instead of giving them a claim check for their confiscated knives, I give them a Tupperware box with a humidity pack inside of it, or a reed storage case (also with a humidity pack inside).
One week after this exchange of reed knife for humidity control, my students all remark about how stable and consistent their reeds have become. This is because their reeds are no longer going from 100% humidity (a wet reed after playing) to the 20-30% humidity of their daily surroundings, which happens when they are left out in the open to dry. This rapid and damaging drying of a reed occurs when the reed is just placed into a clarinet case, case pocket, or even left out on a stand or table. These are the main causes for reed warpage and also the dreaded “potato chip tip.” I call it that because a reed that dries rapidly to below 50% humidity can get a tip that looks like a Ruffles potato chip! This is extreme warpage! Once a reed gets to this point, it will have lost its clarity, response and depth of sound.
Some will argue with me, saying “I live in Houston and its 90% humidity outside… I don’t need one of those humidity packs…,” etc. What those skeptics fail to realize is that in the most humid cities, the air conditioning is cranked up full blast all of the time, thus making the indoor humidity below 30%.
The other advantage of putting your reeds in a humidity controlled environment is that they have a chance to start to acclimate to a consistent environment right away upon opening the box. This is especially true if you ordered your reeds and they traveled to you via plane, train, or truck through many different temperatures and environments. A humidity-acclimated box of reeds will yield a higher number of great reeds than one that has not stabilized in this manner. I recommend unwrapping the cellophane from a new box of reeds and placing it in a humidity-controlled box or bag for one to three weeks before trying them. I guarantee that you will find more terrific reeds than ever before.
Give your reeds a little bit of humidity and TLC, and they will be there for you when you need them to be at their best.
Since this was shared so much on Facebook I have received wonderful questions about my process. Some have asked which level of humiditypack to use.
The answer is: learn and understand the humidity in your box first. Having a hygrometer in there would identify the situation. I keep 59% in my box when it is dry outside or indoors. But in places like Santa Barbara in the summer (with no AC running and drying things out indoors), I dont even use a humidty pack! Knowing the ecosystem in the box via a hygrometer is telling. The bottom line is that preventing rapid changes and keeping a stable environment is critical.
Next Sunday, May 1st, 1-4 pm at George Mason University, Richie Hawley will be giving a clarinet masterclass.
Who is Richie Hawley? If you are not yet familiar with this incredible musician and pedagogue, allow me to introduce you:
Richie Hawley is a versatile and critically acclaimed artist who ranks among the most distinguished clarinetists of his generation. Mr. Hawley was appointed Principal Clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1994 at the age of 23, only two years after graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music. He has since enjoyed a rewarding and multifaceted career as an orchestral clarinetist, recitalist, chamber musician, teacher and clinician. From 1994-2011, as the Principal Clarinet of the CSO, he impressed audiences around the world with a wide-ranging talent that blended virtuosity and the velvety, sonorous tone that has become his trademark. The Cincinnati Enquirer has praised him for the “seamless flowing tone so many clarinetists long for and few can achieve.” Many of the 60+ recordings by the CSO and Cincinnati Pops during his tenure have featured major solos of the clarinet repertoire. American Record Guide hailed Hawley’s “gorgeous” clarinet solo in the CSO’s Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 as “the crowning achievement” of the recording by Maestro Jesus Lopez-Cobos.
In 2011 Mr. Hawley became the Professor of Clarinet at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. During the summer season, he serves as the teaching and performing clarinet artist at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, one of the premiere summer festivals for exceptionally talented musicians from around the world
Mr. Hawley is dedicated to performing chamber music, and appears regularly as a chamber musician and recitalist throughout the United States and abroad. In 2014/15 he made frequent appearances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as their guest Principal Clarinet. His upcoming chamber music activities include performances at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, the Da Camera of Houston’s chamber music series and an international tour in May 2016 with the Rogue Ensemble. He made his debut at the Marlboro Music Festival in the summers of 1999 and 2000 and performed with the legendary “Musicians from Marlboro” for the Festival’s gala 50th anniversary tour at Carnegie Hall.
Mr. Hawley has garnered awards as both performer and educator. He won the Coleman-Barstow prize at the Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition in 1988 with Trio con Brio, and that same year was one of five musicians to receive the Gold Medal as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts from Ronald Reagan in a ceremony at the White House. He has received the Léni Fé Bland Foundation Career Grant twice, and he was awarded the 2009 Glover Award for Outstanding Teacher of the Year at UC’s College Conservatory of Music.
Mr. Hawley began his clarinet studies with Yehuda Gilad at the Colburn School of Performing Arts at age 9. He made his orchestral solo debut at 13, performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the winner of its student stars competition. At 14 he performed on one of the New York Philharmonic’s young person’s subscription concerts as a winner of the Philharmonic’s national talent search competition. While a student of Donald Montanaro at the Curtis Institute of Music, Mr. Hawley appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
A Buffet-Crampon artist, Mr. Hawley performs on the Tosca model of clarinet. He is also a D’Addario Woodwinds Performing Artist and Clinician, and plays exclusively on the Reserve Classic reeds and mouthpieces which he helped to develop.
When I double-majored in Clarinet Performance and Civil Engineering at WVU twenty years ago, I was the first person ever to do so. Seeing the younger engineering students remaining active in the music department, pushing the limits of new music, and integrating arts and engineering makes my heart so extraordinarily happy.
As with the HONY post on a horn player and her search for a new horn, Demarre McGill speaks about his attachment to his Powell flute in this short video from the Dallas Symphony. He also speaks to the difficulty of not only being that struggling musician but also how that struggle affected his parents. Bravo, sir!
Thank you, Music & Arts of Ellicott City and Stephen Byrd, for a wonderful experience today. One of my middle school students is the lucky, new owner of a Buffet E11 intermediate clarinet today, and both she and her mother were so pleased by the experience we had.
I was able to visit the store thirty minutes before my student in order to try the clarinets I had in mind for her. I played through the Yamaha 450N, Buffet E11, and Buffet E12F clarinets in a lesson room with plenty of privacy and pleasant assistance from the manager and his staff. Once my student and her mother arrived, I had Grace play through all the models and tell me which she felt played the best. Luckily, we agreed on which clarinet played the easiest and had the warmest tone: the Buffet E11.
Everyone walked away from today’s experience happy, and now Grace sounds even better than she already did. Thank you, again, Music & Arts of Ellicott City.