Saturday, December 21, 2013

Website Watch (December 2013 column)
Greeting viewers with the beautiful and languid sounds of Harold Wright performing Richard Strauss’s Duet-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon, the homepage of has much to offer clarinet enthusiasts. Webmaster Russell Harlow has done an excellent job in providing a unique platform that allows viewers to listen to and compare various national styles of clarinet playing. The abundance of rare photos and excerpts of audio files of distinguished clarinetists from around the globe make this website an invaluable resource.

Tracing the lineage of clarinet teaching originating with European-American players such as Daniel Bonade, Gustave Langenus, and Simeon Bellison, Harlow conveniently categorized musicians by their nationality, including a set of links for easy comparison of the national styles of sound associated with Austria, France, England, and America.

Over fifteen countries are represented on the website, each with numerous listings of clarinetists including biographies, photos, and audio samples. Many of the sound files are of symphonic solos or exposed sections of chamber music, and many of the recordings span across several decades, giving listeners the opportunity to hear the evolution of the clarinetist’s sound and style. A handful of entries also include famous pupils of teachers.  

One notable entry is on Gustav Langenus. His biography highlights his innovative approach to teaching as he may have been one of the first clarinet teachers to help students via long-distance learning. Langenus would record himself playing his own etudes and studies on 78 rpm records and mail them to students lacking access to a local clarinet teacher. The student would then listen to the recordings, fill out the accompanying questionnaire to document their progress, and return it to Langenus, who would then respond accordingly. On these archived recordings, you can hear Langenus’s voice as he calls out the etude number and plays the musical line.*  [Edit: the voice is not actually Langenus; see note below]

The “Embouchure and Technique” section features a comical group photograph of the principal woodwind players of the Philadelphia Orchestra whimsically playing their respective instruments, followed by a second snapshot of a similar pose, this time with serious expressions. Daniel Bonade’s expression in the humorous photograph is priceless! In this section Harlow has compiled articles by Ralph McLane and James Collis on playing with a double-lip embouchure. He also includes Tom Ridenour’s three-part video explanation of double-lip embouchure and an audio file of oboist Marcel Tabuteau explaining the art of supporting the air. Anatomical diagrams of the chest, abdominal, and facial muscles further explain the concepts taught by Tabuteau. One interesting component of this section is the application of double-lip techniques by multiple clarinetists in different manners, highlighting the benefits and usefulness of playing double-lip.

An accompanying blog, also run by Harlow, mirrors content found on the main site and can be accessed from the home page. Although the blog contains many broken links or repetitive material borrowed from the main site, there is a handful of photos worth pursuing and also an interesting article on Louis DeSantis. Various clarinet-related merchandise, clothing, and printed music are available for purchase from the Clarinet Store section.

Only few hiccups were encountered when accessing the Clarinet Central website. As noted on the homepage, viewers using PCs or Google Chrome as their Internet browser may experience troubles accessing the toolbar for the audio files. Harlow recommends using Internet Explorer for access to all of the audio files. Hopefully Harlow is working towards fixing these technical issues as this site is a definite must-see for all clarinetists. is a streaming audio and video website for fans and performers of classical music.  All content is user-generated -- anyone can upload tracks, and the online community can leave comments and vote on the quality of each selection. A search for “clarinet” brings up more than 150 recordings by performers as accomplished as Alexander Fiterstein and John Bruce Yeh, along with many lesser-known players.

While visitors to the site can listen to the first three minutes of any selection, the free registration allows users to hear the full versions, create their own playlists, vote on recordings, and maintain an individual artist profile. Artists can upload MP3 files and link YouTube videos to the site, with all their recordings linked back to a profile page with biographical information. Users can also enter their concert information into an online calendar, though feature is somewhat lacking in that you can browse by instrument or performer but not location.

One useful aspect of the site is the ability to create playlists which can be shared and embedded on other websites. Teachers can create playlists for students to listen to, and performers are able to create a playlist of their own performances that can be embedded on their personal website. Better yet, these embedded playlists update automatically when the playlist is updated at

Because users upload the content, recordings range widely in quality of audio, performance quality, and even volume level. Like YouTube and other websites where content is user-generated, the quality and usefulness of the website is directly related to the activity of the users. If many high-quality recordings continue to be uploaded, and clarinetists rate recordings thoughtfully, it could prove to be a much more refined resource for listening to clarinet music than YouTube, where low-quality recordings often have high view counts. But as is, many tracks on are currently unrated, and there is a lack of variety and quantity (there is only one recording of the Mozart concerto, for example).

Despite these issues -- and the fact that the interface could use updating -- it’s a great place to discover new repertoire and performers.  With more participation from performers and listeners, it has the potential to become a valuable resource for clarinetists.

*Note from David Ross:
I did want to make a little correction to what you wrote about Langenus. His “Clarinet Correspondence School” is certainly a fascinating document of a world long gone. I have a complete set of these discs and they make interesting listening. But the voice announcing the etudes is certainly not Langenus. The practice in early (pre-WW1) discs and cylinders was to have a loud-voiced speaker (not the player) announce the pieces to be played, and this is what Langenus did.