Monday, December 15, 2008

John Cipolla (December 2008 column)

John Cipolla's website aims to help viewers become better musicians with advice and tips on such topics as doubling on woodwind instruments, practicing, and performing. In addition to the articles and lecture presentations available on the website, Cipolla also offers video and audio clips, creating a well-rounded site with multiple formats for learning.

A a woodwind doubler himself, Cipolla designated an entire section of the website to the art of doubling. Here he gives information on not only the history of doubling, but also supplies fundamental concepts that apply to playing multiple woodwinds. He underscores the need for doublers to master the basics of each instrument, briefly discussing applications for correct embouchure, breathing, finger technique, articulation, and intonation. His advice on woodwind equipment is indispensable to the novice doubler. The website also contains an extensive listing of recommended method books for each instrument in conjunction with recommended listening sources and general readings. Information on doubling effectively covers all of the necessary components for multiple-woodwind players.

Extending the scope of information found on the website, Cipolla provides links to four of his lecture presentations at past ClarinetFests. The lecture topics range from applications of Carl Baermann's method for modern clarinetists, to jazz improvisation on the clarinet. All four of the presentations are located on the I.C.A. website. In another article titled "Internalizing the Music," Cipolla enlightens viewers with strategies on how to suppress conscious thought while playing an instrument. The player must become completely comfortable with the music in order to fully internalize it, so that in Cipolla's words, "the music will play itself." Cipolla provides clearly defined steps and exercises essential for mastery of this concept. Additional musical concepts found on the website are also concisely presented in a collection of video excerpts and audio files. Granting viewers access to an assortment of topics, Cipolla's website is highly informative and full of valuable insight.

Michèle Gingras (December 2008 column)

Infusing technology with the art of teaching, Michèle Gingras' website offers innovative resources in a variety of formats. Viewers can enjoy mp3s, mini-masterclasses presented on video, and an interactive course on circular breathing (complete with a quiz). Gingras also provides downloadable versions of many articles she has written for various publications, on topics such as klezmer, reed balancing, and performance anxiety.

Gingras' "Clarinet Secrets" podcasts are a highlight of the website. Since its publication in 2004 (and 2006 revision), her book Clarinet Secrets: 52 Performance Strategies for the Advanced Clarinetist has gained popularity in written form and on the Internet. Gingras has chosen twenty of these "secrets" and transformed them into podcasts in which she demonstrates techniques put forth in the book. If you are new to podcasts, just think of a podcast as an audio or video file (like a radio or television broadcast) that is recorded and put on the Internet. These files are available to download onto your computer or iPod, allowing you to listen or view at your convenience.

Podcast topics include finger motion, tonguing, extended techniques, and much more. Their potential as teaching tools is readily apparent. Clarinetists can watch videos that address areas of interest, and teachers can discover new approaches for difficult aspects of clarinet playing, such as the "flat chin" or throat flexibility.

Gingras has made these podcasts available as free downloads from the Apple store. The only drawback is that iTunes is required in order to view and download them. Another option is to watch videos as streaming Quicktime files from Gingras' website, although only a few are available in this format and they can be slow to load. If all else fails, the twenty "Clarinet Secrets" videos are also available for purchase on DVD.

Michael Lowenstern's Earspasm (December 2008 column)

One of the most outstanding clarinet websites on the Internet is, created by bass clarinetist (and composer, producer, and web designer) Michael Lowenstern. Earspasm's captivating interface contains a treasure trove of materials and resources for the bass clarinetist.

Earspasm has the standard sections for a performer website: Lowenstern's upcoming performances, recordings on which he is featured, and his press kit with biography and photos. But the good stuff is in the "Performer Info" section. After clicking on "How Do I...", one is invited to drag and drop topics such as "circular breathe" and "buy a new bass" to view Lowenstern's mini-classes. Stealthily embedded videos provide a visual demonstration of slap-tonguing, and all of the text is downloadable. Teachers may appreciate Lowenstern's methodical approach to bass clarinet voicing (under the "altissimo" topic), including his motto: "There are no squeaks, only wrong voicings."

Lowenstern describes himself as "an unashamed gear-hound," which becomes abundantly clear when exploring the "gear" section of the site. When Lowenstern talks about his "rig," he's not referring to his instrument; there is a photo of him playing onstage, and viewers can mouse over pieces of equipment for a description and picture -- from the wireless microphones on his bass to the LCD display he uses instead of a music stand. There is also a great discussion of equipment needed to perform pieces for clarinet and tape/CD as well as clarinet with interactive electronics. As for more conventional equipment, he highly recommends the Backun bass clarinet bell with a neat video demonstration.

Under "charts," there is an interactive altissimo fingering chart that can also be downloaded and printed. The chart has only one fingering per note, but makes up for it with the range covered -- up to a double high F! Other goodies include the download section with free mp3s (both streaming and downloadable) and pdfs of sheet music. For reference, Lowenstern includes his repertoire list, and has also begun an online composition database of works for bass clarinet and tape/CD/electronics.

All of this great content is assembled into an innovative Flash site that is a pleasure to explore. The site is highly interactive; you can not only grab windows and watch them bounce around, but also adjust the "viscosity" and "elasticity" to your liking. Don't like the default color? Choose from seven others to find the most pleasing hue. Some sheet music examples even zoom in as you grab them, iPhone-style.

The site will undoubtedly change as Lowenstern updates it and adds new content, but it is probably safe to say that Earspasm will remain on bass clarinetist's bookmark lists for years to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

International Clarinet Association on Facebook

In case you hadn't noticed, the International Clarinet Association now has a group on Facebook. Officers Diane Cawein Barger, Keith Koons, and John Cipolla have created a way to keep up with the ICA via Facebook, including details of upcoming ClarinetFests. But don't forget - you should still go to the ICA's main website to pay your dues and become a member in order to receive The Clarinet, the fantastic quarterly publication of the ICA.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

YouTube is calling all musicians across the globe to participate in the world's first collaborative online orchestra. Musicians of all ranks are invited to submit video performances for the chance to play in Carnegie Hall under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. The April 15th concert will feature the YouTube Symphony Orchestra performing Tan Dun's Internet Symphony No.1 "Eroica." Best known for his music in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dun specifically wrote the piece for the YouTube project, inspired by the idea of creating music through the mobilization of talent globally via the Internet.

For those of you interested in auditioning, check the YouTube Symphony website for official rules and deadlines of the application process. Finalists will be selected by a panel of judges in the first round and YouTube viewers will be able to cast their vote for their favorite musicians starting February 14th-22nd, 2009. Each instrumentalist must submit a video recording of their musical part of Dun's work (music available in PDF format) and a second video of orchestral excerpts. The required works for clarinetists include: Dun's Internet Symphony, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (mvmt.2), Mendelssohn's Scherzo, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. In order to help viewers with Dun's piece and the audition process, YouTube offers master class videos for all of the orchestral instruments. London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) clarinetist Chi-Yu Mo gives his advice in the clarinet master class and LSO musician John Stenhouse offers instruction for bass clarinetists. The deadline for applications is January 28th, 2009.