Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sherman Friedland's Clarinet Corner (March 2009 column)

Sherman Friedland's Clarinet Corner could win an award for being one of the most frequently updated clarinet blogs on the Internet. Since January of 2004, Friedland has posted several times each week on a wide variety of topics. Written in an advice-column format, many posts feature an e-mail from someone inquiring about an instrument they found, a problem with their playing, or any number of other clarinet issues. Friedland's responses display a vast knowledge of clarinet-related topics, as well as a sense of humor that adds a personal touch.

Through his blog posts Friedland also voices his feelings about certain types of equipment, shares stories of his own experiences playing clarinet, or remembers musicians who have passed on (as in his recent post in memory of Mitchell Lurie). The result is a blog that allows readers to learn a great deal about the clarinet, and gradually also get to know Sherman Friedland himself.

For readers unfamiliar with his background, Friedland's biography mentions his studies with Gino Cioffi at Boston University and Rosario Mazzeo at the New England Conservatory; his position as principle clarinet with the Milwaukee Symphony; and his time as Music Department Chair, Associate Dean, and professor at Concordia University in Montreal. Reading through the Clarinet Corner posts, though, one finds fascinating stories that fill in the details of Friedland's career. Friedland mentions acquaintances with Jean Franciax and his daughter Claude, Robert Van Doren, Maurice and Jean Selmer, and even Benny Goodman. He describes not only his experience studying with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory at Fountainbleau in France, but also how a scholarship was provided to him by Prince and Princess Ranier (Grace Kelly) of Monaco!

Friedland is not shy about expressing his opinions, especially when it comes to equipment. He frequently complains about Buffet clarinets, while endorsing others such as the Leblanc Opus and Tom Ridenour's Lyrique hard-rubber clarinets. He is also enthusiastic about Legere reeds, Vandoren mouthpieces, Richard Hawkins' "R" mouthpieces, and the double-lip embouchure (which he describes as "the most natural embouchure" for clarinet). Despite his thorough discussion of equipment, Friedland constantly deemphasizes the importance of any one "setup" in favor of developing a solid tonal concept and individual sound.

Other topics covered in the Clarinet Corner include the teaching methods of Rosario Mazzeo and Gino Cioffi; medical issues such as TMJ, tendinitis, and false teeth; and comments on specific pieces including the Sutermeister Capriccio, the Brahms sonatas, and Stravinsky's Three Pieces. (The blog's search feature is especially useful in sorting through the numerous articles for specific topics.) Friedland even offers career counseling to those who ask for it -- for instance, when one young person wrote in asking what to do if they enjoy both the clarinet and working with animals, Friedland's advice was simple: "Become a veterinarian." It is this mixture of sage advice and humor that makes the blog so successful, despite Friedland's quirky writing style and frequent typos. Blogging as a genre is still quite new, but it has become clear that the best blogs are those that provide great content while also conveying the personality of the author. Sherman Friedland's Clarinet Corner is certainly one of these.

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