ClarinetFest2014: All The Laughter, All The Smears...

This past Friday, August 1st, 2014, I found myself on a bus at the crack of 8am from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to spend a day at the International Clarinet Association's 2014 ClarinetFest, a trip made possible by the kindness and generosity of Tom and Ted Ridenour, who had extra admission badges and allowed me to have one. Thanks, guys! :-)

 This article is going to be primarily a review of what I felt to be the standout instruments of the day, but I would be a terrible blogger if I didn't mention the unholy cacophony of 50 clarinetists at a time (most of whom I imagine to be collegiate underclassmen incapable of controlling their desire to strut their stuff, no matter how ill-advised that desire may have been) playing the smear from Rhapsody in Blue over. And over. And over. And over. All. Day. Long. There was one particularly charming fellow who thought it was a fantastic idea to try it up an octave. Multiple times. At FFFFFF. Without success. I don't know how I've made it through 3 decades of life without truly understanding just how unbearably irritating the clarinet can be in the wrong hands, but rest assured, that has been rectified. Why DARPA hasn't taken it upon themselves to weaponize the clarinet is beyond me, but I think they could do a bang up business in non-explosive warfare that way.


 I digress...


 Of course, I wanted to try as much stuff as I could possibly get my hands on (y'all know how I do), but I had two clear goals for the day, and anything else was icing: playing the new Buffet Tosca bass clarinet and the new Selmer “SeleS” Presence clarinet. (Turns out that cake had a LOT of icing on it, though...read on!)



BUFFET TOSCA BASS CLARINET


 I've been having vivid fantasies about the Tosca bass since the first second I saw Buffet's slickly-edited Youtube video announcing its existence a couple months ago. All that daydreaming built up some pretty lofty expectations, of course...and I have to say, I was not in the least disappointed by the fact of the thing. I didn't get to spend as much time with it as I would have liked, and of course a festival is HARDLY the ideal environment for getting a true picture of an instrument, but I did what I could. There were several available, the one I ended up trying was at the booth of Lisa's Clarinet Shop. I waited for a relative lull in the action, and then I went for it. (For those who may want to know this sort of thing, I tried it with my Ridenour Artist bass clarinet mouthpiece) From the moment I picked it up, I was smitten. I hadn't even played a note, and I was ready to sell a kidney. The mechanism on this instrument is almost freakishly perfect. Somehow, they have managed to achieve a totally balanced resistance on every key, even the left hand pinky low D, which took no more effort to depress than, say, the LH3 C key. Replacing the right thumb low D with an alternate low Eb was an absolute stroke of genius, and once you get used to it being there, using it is almost intuitive. The roller on the low C key was also a nice touch.


In the short cell phone video I made of it, you can see the left hand low D lever depress itself whenever any of the other basset notes were deployed, and it's a visible testament to the smoothness and responsiveness of the action on this instrument.  The other big thing I noticed about the keywork is that it is just about completely SILENT. There was hardly a key-click to be heard, and on a low C bass clarinet, that's just about miraculous. It's also extremely comfortable under the hands...I have relatively large hands, but I would imagine that someone with smaller hands would be just as comfortable on it. In fact, there could have been a bit more spread on the right hand pinky feather keys, and still have been fine with.


Then I played it...wow. From the first note I played (which was, logically, an open G), the resonance and warmth of the Tosca bass was evident. There wasn't any of the hollowness or buzziness that one often encounters in the throat tones of the bass, and descending chromatically to the low C, there was a beautiful evenness of tone color and resistance that was really pleasant, as a player. Crossing the break was smooth as silk, and the traditional "pinch" throat Bb was full and robust, and matched beautifully with both the A directly under it and the B over the break. The B and C were wonderfully in tune, thanks to the redesign of the register mechanism, and it maintained a full-throated lyrical quality into the upper register. (Soundwise, it actually is remarkably similar to my Ridenour Lyrique hard rubber low-C bass, which has one of the darkest and most beautiful bass-clarinetty sounds I've ever heard).


When Buffet first released the Tosca bass information, I thought for sure it was going to be ungodly expensive, on the order of a German bass clarinet, at least $20,000USD or so. Now, I don't have any American dealer pricing information, but I've found it already listed on the Thomann website, and the list price is 11,008 Euros, which works out to $14,773USD, and their actual selling price (ex-VAT) is 7,740 Euro, or approx. $10,387. This actually makes it a significant chunk less expensive than the Selmer Privilege (currently clocking in at a street price of just north of 12 grand), and only slightly more expensive than the existing Buffet 1193 Prestige bass (which is riding just below the 10 grand line in most places). Hey, if I had it, I'd pay it.


I am greatly looking forward to spending more time with the Tosca bass, which I hope to do at the Buffet Showroom on my upcoming trip back to New York. Look for a much longer, proper demo video. In the meantime, check out this short crappy cell phone video, and look at that mechanism! :)





SELMER PARIS "Seles" PRESENCE 


Next up, the newest offering from Selmer Paris, under their new branding, "SeleS"...the "Presence" clarinet. There has been much ado and ballyhoo about this clarinet since they announced it, it was one of the most popular items at ClarFest, and now that I've tried it, I can see why. Honestly, at first, I was a bit skeptical, almost to the point of being annoyed. I mean, did Selmer really need ANOTHER snazzily-named clarinet model in the multiple-thousands-of-dollars price range? Wasn't the recent fizzle of the Artys and Odyssey and St. Louis enough? Well, it turns out, yes, it was. They have scrapped those three models (which can still be had as new/old stock for AMAZING bargains on the Bay of E, just sayin'. They're great clarinets!) and replaced that entire price category with the Presence. It fits nicely in that space between "Super Premium I Totally Can't Effing Afford This" and "I Really Need To Upgrade From This POS But Am Never Going To Be Auditioning For The Phil". (Though, frankly, even if you were, you could do it on a pair of these.)

 At around $3500, it's squarely in competition with that old warhorse, Buffet's R13. I say "competition" merely as a function of price point, because after playing ten of them, there isn't any competition. The Presence is freaking wonderful. I actually don't really see much of a difference between it and the upper level Selmers (the Privilege, Signature, and Recital) in terms of playability or sound. It is very much what you've come to expect from Selmer Paris over the past several years; it is extremely comfortable in the hands, the mechanism is very well made and beautiful to look at (you'll note that there has been some redesigning of the left hand pinky keys, and it's all very chic), and the sound is even, focused, and dark but flexible. Intonation is very stable throughout the range, as with the other more expensive Selmers.

Available in both Bb and A, with an optional left hand Eb/Ab lever, I'd say this should be on the short list of every person looking for a new professional wooden clarinet. My only major gripe about it is that for that price, the damn left hand Eb key should be standard, but easily removable for those who don't like having one. I rather dislike the idea of having to pay extra for it at that price point. In summation, if you really want a Signature or a Privilege but your bank account says "no way, Jose", then try the Presence. You'll probably really like it. 

While we're on the topic of new offerings from Selmer Paris... 


SELMER PRIVILEGE VERSION 2.0

So, a few years ago, Selmer came out with a new flagship clarinet called the Privilege, and it was good. It was very, very, very good. I was kind of in love with it. Ok, more than kind of...a lot. As is usual in these cases, though, apparently I was one of the only ones. I was chatting with the Selmer rep at the festival about why on earth they went mucking about with one of the best things they've ever made, and apparently, we (or rather, you...I might hold a US passport, but the clarinet player inside me is 100% German!) American clarinet players just didn't think it was...American enough. It was too free-blowing and even, and I guess y'all thought the gold rings were just a little too snazzy or something, but for whatever reason, they weren't selling terribly well here. So, they went back to the drawing board and came up with a Mk II version of the Privilege, this time with engraved black-nickel-plated rings and a new spiffy inlaid silver "S" Selmer logo for the upper joint. It's also a bit more resistant (because if there's anything we know about American clarinet players, it's that most of them think that playing the clarinet should involve a bit of work; why else would the R13 be so popular, eh? ;) ). It is still a lovely, lovely instrument, but honestly, I liked the old one better. The tuning is still excellent, and the sound is still sweet and ringing, though a bit less "alive", if I had to pick an adjective. Keywork is still beautiful and comfortable, though, and I'd still very happily play one (especially if someone gave me a pair!). 



So now that that's out of the way, let's talk about some of the other things I played at ClarinetFest that really, really stood out to me, and I think y'all should give a try! 

RIDENOUR LYRIQUE "C" CLARINET


I would be remiss not to talk about this gem from my wonderful Fest hosts, the Ridenours. Everyone knows I play the Lyrique low C bass and the Libertas clarinet, and I love 'em both, so I don't need to tell you about those (especially since I already have two blog entries dedicated to them :) ), but we should REALLY talk about this lil' C clarinet, you guys! I mean, wow. I know that most of us have always thought of the C clarinet as a shrill, evil, impossible-to-tune, slightly-less-uncontrollable big sister to the Eb clarinet, but it really doesn't need to be that way. Talking with Tom about the C, he confessed that it's actually his preferred instrument to play (which may surprise you in much the same way I was surprised to find out that the alto flute was Boehm's preferred instrument of personal expression!), and in his opinion, it should be the most naturally in tune and free-blowing instrument of the clarinet family. I don't know about the rest of you, but when the man who designed the Leblanc Opus has an opinion about the clarinet, I'm not going to take it lightly! 

Of all of the instruments I played at the festival, there were two that I simply could NOT put down, and returned to over and over again all day...this C clarinet was one of them. It is just SO much fun to play! The sound is sweet and pretty, and really has its own character. It isn't a Bb, but it isn't an Eb, either. It possesses little bits of both of those personalities at times, but it's honestly just its own thing. I understand why Strauss and Beethoven liked it so much! There is a flutey delicacy in the upper register that comes across as very charming, and the intervallic agility of this instrument is most impressive indeed. I played some "Barber of Seville" and "Der Rosenklavier" on it, and it seemed that the intervals just leapt out of it on their own; Debussy's "Syrinx" for flute took on an entirely new persona on the C clarinet, and the Mozart clarinet concerto just sounded...weird. Don't do that. Ever. :) (the Oboe Concerto was kinda fun, though!)

LYRIQUE 576BC Bb CLARINET


So, if the Libertas is the Opus (or Tosca, if you will) of the Ridenour Lyrique lineup, then the 576 is the Concerto/Infinite (or R13). It's a workhorse, all-around, pro-grade clarinet. I hadn't ever really spent any time with one before, so I played both of the ones that were on the table pretty thoroughly throughout the day, and boy, was I impressed. Getting that much clarinet for under a thousand bucks, man...who can argue? They are crazy in tune, very flexible and easy to play, and the keywork is top notch. I would say that the Libertas has a bit more "punch" overall, particularly in the bottom quarter of the range, but the 576 is no slouch, either. It would make an amazing all-around clarinet for the gifted student or the adult player who doesn't want to invest thousands of dollars into an instrument but still wants to sound like they did. Give one a try, I think you'll be surprised at how easy it is to overcome any bias you might have about inexpensive hard rubber clarinets. 

YAMAHA CSG-IIIL


A minute ago, I said of all the things I played during the day, there were two I could not stop going back to over and over again...one of them was the Ridenour Lyrique C clarinet, the other was the newest incarnation of Yamaha's German-inspired CSG clarinet, the CSG-IIIL, particularly the "H" version, with the Hamilton plated keys (an alloy of nickel and gold). This thing...good god. It's like the R&D department at Yamaha somehow found a way to get inside my head and find out *exactly* what I think the clarinet should sound like, and then made it...with really, really awesome keywork. 

The CSG (for "German") clarinet has taken the sound concept of the German Oehler-system clarinets, that beautiful, polished, darkdarkdark, focused sound and applied it to the French system of clarinet keying, with a bit of an international sensibility. It doesn't sound *exactly* like a German clarinet, but it is very considerably different from the standard French instruments that we've all been playing. The upper joint is longer than the standard French clarinet, with a correspondingly shorter barrel (like the German instruments), and the bell is of the thick-profiled ringless variety. The keywork has been extensively redesigned and sculpted, and is a thing of abject beauty. The left-hand Eb/Ab key stands out from the rest of the key cluster and is set at a steep angle, putting it exactly in reach and exactly out of the way. The thumb-activated low E/F correction key is right where it needs to be for easy access, and doesn't really affect the balancing of the instrument at all once you get used to it being there. 

On the left hand, the third finger D/A tonehole, which was the standard drilled-through-the-wall type on the original CSG, has been changed to the chimney-style raised hole seen on some other top-level clarinets, and it really has aided in the clarity, intonation, and projection of the low C# and upper G#. 

Speaking of the intonation, it's very, very good, and there is an ease of playing about this instrument that is nearly unmatched by any other clarinet. Wide intervals speak easily and without hesitation, and the altissimo is sweet and very easy to control. The sound does not spread at high dynamic levels, and it does not dissolve on the whisper-quiet end of the spectrum, but maintains its core and clarity. 

Yamaha has increased the price considerably on these since their inception, but they have also improved them in proportion, so one can't complain too much. They're still very much less expensive than other premium-level Boehm clarinets on the market. You can buy them with silver plated keys or the beautiful gold Hamilton plating...purists may prefer the silver, but there is a warmth about the appearance of the gold against the unstained colorful grenadilla that I just can't resist. (I also tarnish silver only slightly less quickly than would wrapping it in a giant rubber band and putting it in a closet...) 

If they ever make this in an Eb clarinet version, I am going to sell whatever internal organs I need to in order to afford a full set. 

Since we're on the topic of my love of the Germanic clarinet sound, let's talk about my favorite new discovery...the

Uebel Superior Bb/A Clarinets and Emperior Bass Clarinet





Uebel has been around for a really, really long time (since the '30s, at least). Over here in the States, though, if anybody has heard of them, it has been primarily in connection with flutes that looked like this: 

and/or bass clarinets that looked like this (which I actually think is cool as all get out): 



However, that was quite a long time ago. In Germany, they have long been known and respected for their German-system clarinets, which are played in quite a number of orchestras. For the past several years, they have been working on developing a clarinet for the Boehm market that combines the most desirable traits of both worlds, without quite going the Reform-Boehm route. What has emerged as the final product of that process is the line of Boehm clarinets that tops out with the Superior Bb/A, and the Emperior bass. 

The Uebel table was directly across from the Ridenours at ClarinetFest, and for the first half of the day, every time I went to talk to Tom or Ted, I'd sneak an eyefull of the Uebel table and think "I really should go check those out, I've seen them online and I'm super curious", but there were always tons of people there, doing their shrieky screamy awful altissimo Festie-showoff thing, so I kept putting it off. Finally, there was a significant downturn in the action (I think a big recital or lecture had started, and most of the Festies scampered off to see it), so I walked over and asked to try a clarinet. The poor fellow (a charmingly harried Mr. Moe, husband of Victoria Moe, CEO of Moe-Bleichner Music Distribution, the US distributor of these amazing instruments), having been subjected for the entirety of ClarinetFest to the wailing, screaming antics of 80% of the attendees, understandably looked a little apprehensive. He handed me the base model in the lineup (the "Classic", intended to compete with the likes of the Buffet E11, but after playing it for about a minute, I'd rate it much, much, much higher than that), but after listening to me play (primarily long tones and Brahms legato passages), got an absolutely adorable twinkle in his eye and said "Ah. No, no, THIS is the clarinet for you..." and handed me the Superior. Dear god, that clarinet! I played four notes and had to stop because I started grinning involuntarily. It was everything I loved about the Yamaha CSG, but with perhaps a slightly more restrained Bavarian sensibility, which is very up my clarinet-alley. Even more so than the CSG, they have managed to capture the essence of the German clarinet tradition and put it in a Boehm package. The bore design is quite proprietary, neither pure Boehm nor Reform Boehm, and I can only imagine the extent of the research and development that went into this instrument. I don't think I have ever played a French system clarinet that behaved quite the way the Uebel Superior does. It's almost perplexing. 

I was very obviously taken with this instrument, and as I kept playing it and acclimating to it, I realized I was working less and less and getting more and more color out of it, and the more I played it, the closer attention I noticed people around me were paying. I wasn't playing anything at all technically flashy, just things that I felt spoke to me musically and showcased the idiomatic color palette of the clarinet (Tosca, Act III; Forza del Destino; Tristan...), but the sound I was getting out of this instrument was so unusual and just GORGEOUS that people seemed interested in what I was doing. It felt kind of awesome, not gonna lie. :) 

One thing that struck me in particular about the Superior is that, much like the CSG (I'm going to keep making this comparison, because they're extraordinarily similar in about 90% of all possible aspects), no matter WHAT dynamic level I was playing, the sound stayed exactly in character. It never, ever broke, not even when I pushed it as hard as my six-foot-plus Scandinavian frame could muster, and I did that on an A above the staff. If ANY note on the clarinet is gonna crack, it's gonna be that A. Didn't on the Yamaha, and it didn't on the Uebel. It also kept all of its shape and focus at the most -issimo of pianissimos. 

If you look at the bell in the photo above, you will see a little hole lined with a silver grommet...this is genius, and a very simple solution to the low E/F problem. (You often see this on C and Eb clarinets, and most of the tip-top clarinet repairmen from Ridenour to Backun to Yan to Hammer have drilled holes in bells to fix the low E and F; it's what the bell key on Oehlers does.) I particularly love their approach to it, because it is exactly what my favorite French oboe/English horn maker, Fossati, does on their English horns and oboe d'amores in lieu of a bell mechanism for low B resonance, except Fossati uses mother-of-pearl instead of silver for the grommet. (See below)

A simple and elegant solution, non? :) 

I finally tore myself away from the Superior and focused my attention on the Emperior bass. Now, I know what you're thinking...yes, it does indeed bear an uncanny and downright remarkable resemblance to the Buffet 1193 Prestige bass, and I can't argue with that. The keywork is, well, I won't say identical, but I won't argue with you if you say it. 

However, two notes was all it took for me to assure you that it is NOT a copy of the Buffet. Uebel has taken the same wizardry they used on the soprano clarinets and applied it to the bore design of the bass. It plays with one of the most vocal sound qualities I've ever heard on a bass clarinet, and while the response all over the horn is excellent, the upper clarion is particularly beautiful and effortless. Haunting, even. The instrument was a fabulous match with my Ridenour Artist mouthpiece, and handled as nimbly in the basement as it did in the stratosphere. Written C7 was no problem on this beast. Victoria and I took it out into a stairwell away from the noise of the exhibition hall so I could really hear what I sounded like on it; I almost wish we hadn't. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I left Baton Rouge. It was like an extension of my own voice, and it was very, very difficult to stop playing it. 

Somehow, I'm going to get my hands on this anointed trio again and make a demo video for my Youtube channel so you all can hear just how beautiful these things sound! 

A final point (and the last time I'll compare the Superior to the CSG, honest!)...they are VERY affordable in relation to the level of craftsmanship and playability. You can have a Bb/A pair for the price of one Buffet Divine, they are quite a bit less expensive than the CSG, and you can in fact have the bass for about the same as the Divine or a pair of the sopranos. The Emperior is SUBSTANTIALLY less than the Buffet 1193, and made from the same grade of beautiful grenadilla. 

DO check them out! Uebel Clarinets USA


Royal Gao Clarinet (G-Soloist model)


Well this certainly was an interesting find...it was on the Lohff & Pfeiffer table, and it turns out it belonged to one of the evening's performers, who left it at their table for the day! It is the Royal Gao G-Soloist model, but was custom made with a one-piece body (a la Rossi) and gold-plated posts, with a RH1 C#/G# touch. It came with a Royal Gao Cohler barrel and bell (famed clarinet soloist Jonathan Cohler helped design them, and plays them exclusively on his Rossi clarinet). It was the first thing I tried at the L&P table, and I gotta say...it's a pretty sweet rig. It had a very idealized-Buffet kind of thing going; it was very focused, a bit bright, but very colorful, and just the right amount of resistance. The sound wasn't terribly large to the ear, but it bloomed at a distance (I had someone listen to it and report back). Keywork was quite comfy, and I love the adorable tiny little left hand Eb/Ab key! The RH C#/G# touch is also well sized and placed, and very easy to access for those pesky E-F Weber and Spohr trills (and yes, if you insist, the G to Ab in Rhapsody in Blue, which by the way, I DO NOT EVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN. EVER.) 

The one-piece construction also enabled ideal sizing/placement of the C#/G# tonehole, so those notes were delightfully clear and full. Not sure what the pricing is, but I do know that Heather Karlsson is a Gao dealer, so if you're interested in trying one out, she'd be the person to contact! :) Heather Karlsson Woodwinds: Royal Gao Dealer

Whew, almost there!

Wolfgang Dietz Reform Boehm and pure Boehm


And last but most certainly not least, it wouldn't have been a clarinet event without me being able to indulge my obsession with the German clarinet sound as expressed through the Reform Boehm clarinet, and this ClarinetFest didn't disappoint! Also at the Lohff & Pfeiffer table (you should check them out, btw. They are GENIUSES at setting up/repairing clarinets, and have a colossal stock of amazing instruments! Lohff & Pfeiffer), I came upon a happy surprise, a pair of Wolfgang Dietz (Dietz Boehm-system clarinets!) clarinets, one Reform Boehm and one pure Boehm system. HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY :) I've long wanted to try a Dietz, and I got to try TWO! O frabjous day, indeed. 

The pure Boehm was a delight, reminded me a lot of the Leblanc Opus (and my own Lyrique Libertas). Perfect balance of darkness and color, excellent presence to the sound, very even resistance. One of the sweetest altissimo registers of the day. 

The R-B was, of course, a near-orgasmic experience, as far as clarinets go. Much like the Wurlitzer R-B model 185 I played in Tokyo last year, it was everything I think a clarinet should be, sound-wise. It was incredibly comfortable ergonomically (something I could NOT say for the Wurlitzer), with an adjustable thumbrest and an ingenious cork thumb pad, Loree Dutch-thumbrest style, but thinner, right next to the thumb low E/F correction lever. There isn't much to say about the Dietz that I didn't say about the Wurlitzer in my earlier blog post, the sound is just beautiful. Focus for days, like a dark amethyst-colored laser beam. It's a Brahms-lover's dream come true! Those C/Eb rollers are handy as all heck, too, I gotta say. Positioning of the left hand pinky cluster was also very ergonomically friendly and intuitive, and the C#/G# key is just a stroke of lovely quirky genius. I'm glad I got to spend a little time with the lil' guy! :-) 

Before we go, though, I must put forth...

The First Ever Woodwindwonderland Sadface Panda Rant (Oh no!) :-( (Buffet BC1180 student bass clarinet)

A bit ago, I gushed and waxed poetic about the new Buffet Tosca bass clarinet, which I think is truly one of the most innovative and wonderful instruments to hit the clarinet world in quite some time, and Buffet should be very, very, very proud of it. Seriously. I want one.

As proud as they should be of the Tosca, they should be the opposite of the "new and improved" BC1180 "student" bass clarinet. It's bad, y'all. Like, shockingly so. Now, to be TOTALLY fair, I'm going to play as many as I can when I go to the Buffet showroom in NYC to get as much of a sample size as I can, because the one I tried at ClarFest was abominably set up. I actually had to spend about a full minute prying open the register vent and cleaning the pad because it was so ungodly sticky. It's as though the vendor wanted us to hate it and buy a Prestige or a Tosca instead. Or just, you know, run away crying and vowing to never, ever touch a bass clarinet again. 

Speaking of the register vent, could it even *be* smaller? No way in hell is sufficient venting occurring for a clear and responsive upper clarion...it was so stuffy and small-sounding, I would have given anything for a plastic Vito or Yamaha 221 to magically appear. 


Yes, the wood is absolutely stunning, and yes the keys are beautifully sculpted and super shiny and silver plated, and yes, the (plastic) thumbrest is comfy (Seriously? Plastic?), and yes the bottom register sounds full and fine, because *IT IS A BASS CLARINET*, and full, fine low notes are what the bass clarinet is designed to do. All bass clarinets sound lovely down there. It's their job. 

Above the break, though, it's a whole different (sad) story. Just awful. Stuffy, tinny, wretched sounds were all it had to offer, and no matter how much I voiced and throated and pleaded and begged and voodoo doll-ed, it wouldn't give me anything close to what I wanted up there. 

Now, for a student level bass clarinet, I don't suppose one should expect great things in the high register. (Although I've gotten some rather decent results from plastic Bundys, Yamahas, and Vitos over the years; for example, this was recorded on a Bundy bass from the 70s: Bundy Bass Clarinet ) but look, for  OVER FIVE THOUSAND COCKADOODIE DOLLARS  I'd kind of like to be impressed. 

And really? Five grand? What kind of "student" is going to spend that, or even HAS that kind of money? Weiner Music, for example, is currently selling this monstrosity instrument at a "discounted" price (the list price is $8585) of $5,366. Be Still My Heart (not their call, of course, they gotta charge what Buffet tells 'em to charge)

 You have really got to be kidding me. Furthermore, if this is truly for students, can you IMAGINE what kind of condition this thing would be in after one school year? Students do NOT need beautifully grained unstained grenadilla bass clarinets, they need something that isn't going to crack in half the second some clumsy freshman knocks it off their chair during a break in concert band rehearsal, or, horror of horrors, takes it outside on the field for marching band. (You know somebody would do this. You just know it.) 

For fitty-three hunnit bucks, a school could buy TWO brand-new current-model Yamaha student bass clarinets (which are EXCELLENT) with a little left over for decent mouthpieces, or up to five used ones in good condition (or Vitos or Bundys). If one really wanted a wood bass clarinet and had that to spend, a quick web search turns up no fewer than 2 dozen fully-reconditioned professional model low Eb bass clarinets (and a couple of low Cs!) for well under that price. (or you know, GET A LYRIQUE.)

I dunno, man, I just...dunno. I can't get into it. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Overall, though, I have to say that this ClarinetFest was a total joy to attend...not only did I get to play some truly magnificent instruments, I met some truly magnificent people; the Ridenours, Mr. and Mrs. Moe of Uebel; my online clarinet friend of over a decade, Josh Redman, who was working (and I mean WORKING, honey!) the D'Addario booth (by the way, try the new D'Addario Reserve reeds. Just do it.); Elise Curran, another lovely online clarinetiquaintance and fellow Lyrique lover;  and last but most certainly not least, composer Kathy Henkel, who is just a dear little charming confection of a person and whose beautiful and fun piece for unaccompanied bass clarinet, Tintagel Dreams, I purchased and will be making what I believe will be the first recording of in this coming year. 

So much fun, I can't wait for next year in Spain! (Where I will have to endure all 4 days of smears and high notes, but I have a feeling it'll be worth it! So much more gear to try and many more people to meet!) 

Till next time, fellow clari-nerds and nerdettes! 

:-)

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