Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cosby Show - Vanessa Plays the Clarinet

One of the great things about YouTube is watching clips of vintage TV shows, such as this gem from the first season of the Cosby Show. In this clip, a chess game between Cliff and Theo is interrupted by Vanessa's horrible clarinet practice session. Cliff encourages Vanessa not to quit - at least, not until after her upcoming recital!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Facebook's Clarinet Jobs - An Interview with James Zimmermann (Sept 2008 column)

In May of 2007, clarinetist James Zimmermann decided to form a group on Facebook dedicated to announcing and discussing orchestral clarinet auditions. The group, Clarinet Jobs, became immediately popular with clarinetists on Facebook -- it now has over 1,000 members, including the principal clarinetists of the Dallas, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras and the Minnesota Orchestra. Zimmermann (a former student of Yehuda Gilad at the University of Southern California and Burt Hara at the University of Minnesota) recently spoke with Clarinet Cache about his Facebook group and how social networking is changing the clarinet world.

Clarinet Cache: What inspired you to begin the Clarinet Jobs group?

James Zimmermann: Last spring, there was a stretch of auditions - Memphis, Minnesota, Pacific, Detroit, and Kansas City were all holding auditions, basically one weekend after another. The first one (Memphis) was on May 14th, and I created the group a few days before I left for the audition. At USC, Yehuda always encouraged post-audition discussions in his master classes. Whether it was for summer festivals or jobs, we would always return and report. As an undergrad, it was tremendously helpful for me to hear what the graduate students had to say about their experiences auditioning for real jobs. So, with the auditions coming up, I decided to make a group so all my friends and I could talk about our results.

CC: Why did you decide to use Facebook as the platform?

JZ: I decided to use Facebook purely because it was so easy. I made the group, wrote the description of the group, put up the clipart for the group's picture, and invited my fifty or so clarinet friends that I am friends with on Facebook in a span of about five minutes.

CC: You have documented some interesting audition experiences on the Clarinet Jobs discussion board, including your winning audition for the Pacific Symphony and an audition for the Boston Symphony in which your final round was interrupted by a fire alarm. What are your current career plans? Are you still auditioning for jobs?

JZ: My only career plan is to try to become a better musician. Like most young professionals, I am always looking to move up in the industry and make more money, but that's not my main motivation - if a person thinks solely of becoming a better musician, better jobs will hopefully be a natural side-effect. So yes, I have taken some auditions.

CC: On the Clarinet Jobs discussion board, there has been some debate about the fairness of the orchestral audition process. In your experience, have you been treated fairly in the auditions you have taken?

JZ: Well, I have taken about a dozen auditions, and I've sometimes been treated like royalty, other times like an animal. Generally, the better the orchestra, the better the audition. With the exception of the fire alarm, the Boston Symphony was the most perfectly run audition I've ever participated in. The Minnesota Orchestra also held what was essentially a flawless audition last May for their bass clarinet position. All that anyone can ask in an audition situation is for the playing field to be level.

CC: Clarinet Jobs seems to be equal parts support-group, classified listing, and geeky message board. Have you been surprised by the way members have made use of the discussion board?

JZ: I don't know if I'm surprised by it, and I'm definitely not bothered by it. The main function of the group is contained in the name - it's about Clarinet Jobs. What jobs are out there, when are the auditions, and who won. I am thrilled when people share their experiences (particularly winners) -- I wish there was more of that going on. However, the other stuff is great too. For example, a couple months ago I needed an E-flat case, so I posted on the wall, and somebody got back to me and two days later I drove to his parents' house, which was ten minutes away from where I live, and picked it up. Clarinet Jobs is a great place for people to advertise instruments that are for sale, or to recruit young players for summer festivals.

CC: How do you feel about members using the group for advertising?

JZ: Usually I'm fine with it. Like I said, I personally have benefited from it. I'm not a big fan of plugs for other Facebook groups, but I just let it get buried deep in a thread or way down on the wall. Occasionally I get people joining the group and spamming the wall with advertisements. Those people get removed from the group and all their posts get deleted.

CC: A recent wall post read, "1,000 members of this group and, what, 10 jobs? Bon voyage." What is your reaction to this perspective? Do you view the current orchestral/band audition scene to be overcrowded?

JZ: Not at all. This is why you tend to see the same handful of people in the finals for most jobs. I have never seen more than about 100 people at an audition, and that average number has dwindled over the years. Also, at many of the auditions I've been to, there are a lot of people doing it "just for the experience," so that dilutes the applicant pool a little bit.

CC: You seem to have a lot of unnamed "informants." Where do your get your information about upcoming auditions and the coming and going of people in orchestral and band positions?

JZ: I get my information from the same place everybody else does: the union. They publicize audition ads in the International Musician and the website. I occasionally look on as well. Lately, with the success of Clarinet Jobs, if there is a job open, someone will usually contact me and ask for my help in publicizing it. This happened with the openings in the Vancouver and New Mexico Symphony Orchestras -- I was in touch with both Jenny Jonquil and James Shields a few weeks before those auditions were advertised, and they helped me get the info out sooner. Those two, who are both principal players, want to get the info out as soon as they can, to attract a larger applicant pool and thereby find the very best candidate. That should be the goal of any audition, though sometimes as a candidate it does not feel that way at all. As far as my informants about other more controversial topics, I can't reveal those sources. I am contacted by tons of people now with great, juicy inside information, but most of that never goes public.

CC: Many readers enjoy staying informed through the inside gossip and rumors posted in discussion groups. Have you experienced any backlash to the nature of some of the discussions?

JZ: Yes, there was a heated discussion on the wall in February, right after the Cleveland Orchestra's second clarinet audition. That was about the same time that Ricardo Morales was offered the job by the Chicago Symphony and people started tossing around salary figures and stuff like that. People then started to raise questions about whether non-winners of auditions should have their names posted on the Internet, or if we should be discussing people's salaries. Mostly, I try to be the voice of reason in the group. I try to just deliver the facts, and occasionally I'll express my opinion. Mostly though, I just try to stay out of it.

CC: In your opinion, are social networking sites such as Facebook fundamentally changing the often-secretive community of job-seeking clarinetists?

JZ: Facebook has definitely changed the landscape of how people socialize. As far as the community being secretive, that's just not how I am. Being a performing musician is about the most unsecretive profession you can have. You're on stage in front of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people, pouring your soul into what you're doing -- what's secretive about that? However, I know a lot of people who read everything that's posted to Clarinet Jobs, but they won't join the group because they don't want any evidence that they're affiliated with it. So, I guess I don't think that type of approach will ever change, I just think that groups like Clarinet Jobs will make all the information much more accessible to whoever wants it.

CC: What has led to your continued interest in administering the group?

JZ: Well, lots of things. For the most part, the clarinet community is a fraternity - we're all in this together, and the more people who share what they know, the better we all get. This goes back to what I was saying before, about how everyone's goal should be to reach their full potential as musicians. I think keeping the group up to date and creating a channel for information helps everyone gain the knowledge they will need to accomplish these goals. Secondly, it makes me happy to know that people are benefiting from the group. At two different auditions in the past year, total strangers have thanked me for making Clarinet Jobs, saying that they were able to pick up an obscure excerpt or something of that nature because they posted on the wall about it. It's gratifying to know that my little group has helped others navigate the audition landscape. It's my baby, and I am proud of what it's done for us all.

[note: Since this article went to press in The Clarinet, James has won the position of principal clarinet with the Nashville Symphony.]

Clariperu (Sept 2008 column)

Frustrated by the lack of articles, interviews, and other clarinet information written in Spanish, Marco Antonio Mazzini in 1996 began a mailing list for Spanish-speaking clarinetists. This mailing list has since evolved into the popular website, developed by Mazzini as an alternative to the multitude of Internet sources in English. Although its domain name reflects Mazzini's native country of Peru, the website covers a broad range of topics of interest to clarinetists in Latin America, Spain, and around the world.

Clariperu provides exclusive interviews with performers such as Sabine Meyer, Martin Fröst, Luis Rossi, and Guy Deplus, in addition to an extensive collection of articles, scores, audio and video files, and biographies. The main page highlights news of current events, interviews, writings, and awards granted, with a video del día featuring clarinetists of a wide range of generations and genres.

One section in particular, Figuras de Iberoamérica, showcases young clarinetists of Latin America and Spain, giving readers the chance to read about and hear performances by up-and-coming new talent. Spanish-speaking clarinetists may find the Artículos section to be extremely helpful, as Mazzini has not only written many articles but has translated articles by Pamela Weston and others into Spanish. Clariperu also provides information on international festivals and events and supplies free scores and musical exercises.

For those who don't speak Spanish, the videos alone make this site worth visiting. The video archives include everything from vintage footage of Benny Goodman playing "Why Don't You Do Right?" with singer Peggy Lee, to a performance of Alessandro Carbonare playing Tartini-Jacob's Concertino with clarinet choir accompaniment at the 2006 ClarinetFest. These videos can also be accessed through YouTube, where Clariperu publishes all videos. To make the already fantastic Clariperu site even better, a separate blog component ( was added in 2005 to allow for frequent updates and visitor comments. The team of collaborators includes creator Marco Mazzini (Peru), Ivan Martinez (Mexico), Valentina Palma (Venezuela), Dieter (Spain), and Daniel Blech (Argentina). Allowing the expression of many voices from around the world, this section features news, announcements, anecdotes, "links of the day," and personal observations, all of which pertain to the clarinet.

Although some knowledge of the Spanish language is necessary, readers will find at Clariperu a wealth of information gathered and presented in in one complete source. Just have your Spanish dictionary within arm's reach, and have fun.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Artie Shaw's clarinets up for auction

John Moran Auctioneers will be featuring items from Artie Shaw's personal collection (including paintings, his saxophone, and yes, his clarinets) at an auction in Pasadena, CA on Tuesday, September 16. Their feature page about the items includes a biography of Artie Shaw and two videos showcasing the talents of Shaw in vintage film footage as well as information about the instruments and the paintings. Have some extra cash laying around? You can participate in the auction online, but be prepared: Shaw's Selmer B-flat clarinet, pictured here, is worth an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 dollars.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Craft Project

Plastic reed cases. Every clarinet player has them, uses them, and eventually faces the dilemma of what to do with them when we no longer need them. Most empty reed cases inevitably end up in the trash can or disappear into the dark crevices of our instrument cases. Not sure what to do with your old reed cases? Try collecting and saving the plastic cases for a rainy-day craft project. A comical step-by-step guide found at illustrates how to construct an igloo out of your old reed cases. This simple project provides a great creative outlet for any single-reed player wishing to find an alternative to discarding empty reed cases.