Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bass clarinet quartets Edmund Welles and Acid Bass

What is it about bass clarinet quartets that seem to invite transcriptions of rock songs? Edmund Welles, a bass clarinet quartet from Oakland, CA, pulls off an incredible performance of Radiohead's "Creep" in this video.

According to EdmundWelles.com, the quartet "was originally founded on two principles: the bass clarinet can achieve a virtually unlimited range of sounds, and when this same instrumental voice is multiplied, it can be as powerful as a boogie woogie piano, a gospel quartet or a rock band." In addition to transcriptions, the group also performs original compositions by member Cornelius Boots.

Check out the MySpace page for Acid Bass, another bass clarinet quartet that harnesses the power of the bass clarinet to depict the music of rock bands. There, you can listen to their versions of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom," along with more traditional repertoire.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Robot clarinet wins international competition!

"To make a pleasant noise... is a very difficult task."
--Dr. John Judge, NITCA/UNSW senior research engineer and project leader

"We won the competition because the clarinet is a difficult instrument to play."
--Dr. John Judge

"You have the same problem as human clarinetists do, which is how to stop it squeaking."
--professor Joe Wolfe, School of Physics, UNSW

Don't worry, you're not going to be competing with robots at your next audition just yet. This robot clarinet won a different type of competition--the Artemis orchestral competition, in which contestants must create devices that play real, unmodified musical instruments. Built by a Australian team from the University of New South Wales, the robot will now be used to research the gestures of human clarinetists.

Although an excellent guitar robot created by another team was a close second, the clarinet team won the contest due to the extreme level of difficulty involved with automating the clarinet. You always thought the clarinet was the hardest instrument to play--now we have the evidence!

For a more in-depth look at the robot clarinet and its creators, check out this mini-documentary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Carrot clarinet

If you haven't seen this one yet, well, it's about time. Australian instrument maker Linsey Pollak shows off his "carrot clarinet" in this video, with the help of some electronics. Perhaps more technically like a chalumeau, this instrument is made with a carrot, a sax mouthpiece, and a funnel. This isn't the only alternative clarinet Pollak has developed; check out LinseyPollak.com to listen to the watering can clarinet and the clarini, a narrow-bore clarinet made with aluminum, wood, bamboo, and glass.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Created by Rose Sperrazza, ClarinetStudio.com offers unique tips, advice, and anecdotes from distinguished clarinet performers and teachers. The site's real gems can be found in the "Artists" link, where words of wisdom by several contributing clarinetists provide readers with inspiration and insight to playing the clarinet. The list of clarinetists includes: Richard Hawkins, Julie DeRoche, Robert Spring, John Cipolla, Diane Cawein Barger, Christopher Hill, Michèle Gingras, Mitchell S. Estrin, Micheal Drapkin, Linda Bartley, and Ben Armato. Topics discussed cover the entire gamut of clarinet playing (including a trick that involves aluminum foil!). In addition to the invaluable insight expressed in personal entries detailing trials and triumphs, readers will find helpful tips and advice on reed storage, internalizing rhythms, warm-ups, and recommended books.

(Update: as of February 2017, this site is no longer working. For more information on Rose Sperrazza and her clarinet choir, visit www.chicagoclarinetensemble.org

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Doreen's New Orleans jazz clarinet

It's impossible not to be captivated by Doreen Ketchens' clarinet playing in these two videos from the heart of New Orleans. Filmed on a street corner in the French Quarter, the videos feature Doreen singing and playing clarinet, accompanied by Lawrence Ketchens on tuba and Dorise Blackmon on guitar, as cars and pedestrians pass by. Far from being a mere street musician, Doreen has recorded fifteen CDs, partnered with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and toured all around the world, including performances for presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. Visit her website, DoreensJazz.com, for more information.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ted Oien masterclasses on orchestral clarinet auditions

The website BandDirector.com has several videos recorded from the Michigan State University annual "Clarinet Spectacular" events. These two Ted Oien masterclasses are a great resource for any clarinetist thinking about taking orchestral auditions.

The first class, Orchestral Clarinet Repertoire Everyone Should Know features Ted Oien (principal clarinet of the Detroit Symphony) working with students on exerpts from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and the Mendelssohn Scherzo.

Another class, Steps to Winning Your First Orchestral Audition, features Oien and Marlene Pauley (conductor and clarinetist with the St Paul chamber orchestra) in a great discussion about orchestral auditions. Topics include preparation for auditions, the importance of rhythm, and commonly requested orchestral excerpts. The class also includes an interesting discussion about bass clarinet auditions, including the Detroit Symphony audition that led to the hiring of Shannon Orme. For any aspiring orchestral clarinetist, this video provides invaluable advice on being proactive about your career, perseverance, and finding a career path.

BandDirector.com is difficult to navigate and the sound quality is lacking, but you can find more clarinet videos on the "Ensemble Videos" page, including a recital by MSU professor Caroline Hartig and several clarinet choir performances.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Music@Menlo chamber music festival opened its inaugural season during the summer of 2003. Daily concerts of classical music at the festival have delighted the ears of audiences in past years, and thanks to the recording services of American Public Media, the music can still be enjoyed and listened to today. Performance highlights from the 2004 and 2005 seasons are available in four 1-hour programs, including bonus material of intimate conversations with the musicians. Check out archive recordings of past seasons and the 2006 broadcast, where you can listen to many chamber works for clarinet. Recordings include Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time and Weber's Grosses Quintet for clarinet and strings (both featuring the flawless clarinet playing of Anthony McGill).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clarinet in the New York Times

Bernard Holland opines about the clarinet in this concert review for the New York Times. The review discusses a recent chamber music concert including Bartok's Contrasts and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, with clarinetist Martin Fröst. Holland writes:
When composers look for important voices among the family of wind instruments, they come away, more often than not, with a clarinet. It has many colors. Its acoustical presence makes it a good public speaker. It can sing simply or be complicated on demand. But there is something else: an ambiguous quality, a hint of delicious sourness that says to the listener, “You think I’m playing flat, but I’m not.”