Every musician who ever experienced the outrageous gravitational power of Alexander Schneider has his or her own orbit-changing, life-affirming tales about their encounters with this wild keeper of the flame of music. If you can, try to talk to someone who knew him, find a musician who played with him, for him. Anyone whose life in music was forever changed and electrified by Sasha will have their own shocking and exhilarating story about him.

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Woody Herman's Thundering Herd

I first met Woody Herman at a jazz club on W. 52nd St. in NYC. It was dark in this basement lair though it was still late afternoon on the street. I’d been invited to “sit in” by the writer/critic/ drummer, George Simon. The band struck up “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and after I played George said, “There’s somebody I want you to meet.” We walked over to a table in the back and a dapper gentleman, well-dressed with a silk ascot, shook my hand and said, “I’m Woody Herman.” Oh, my god I thought, I just played a mediocre chorus on my clarinet for the leader of the Thundering Herd—one of the greatest big bands in the world!

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One of my earliest memories of playing the clarinet was using it to join the altos alongside my mother in our church choir. It was my father's idea (he sang tenor) to help the inner voices stay on pitch. And so I tried to blend in with the singers. Emulating the singing voice became a natural goal in creating my sound, my tone. Life is vibration.

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Spokane Public Radio Interview

Below is the link to a recent interview with Spokane Public Radio.  I enjoyed this interview of course because Verne is such a long time fan and he asked about composers with whom I've been fortunate to have personal experience. He even showed me his own copy of the original first Tashi record, Messiaen's "Quatour pour Le fin du temps" , which brought a rush of memories.

Tashi: Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time

High Notes

Recently, a high school clarinetist sent me a letter, in which he asked me a few questions.  One of the questions was about how to play high notes.  This is a difficult question to answer in a letter, especially when you aren't able to see and hear the person playing them, but here is my answer.  And while it is fairly general, I thought I would include it here:

 "...when you are working with very high notes your embouchure will need to alter slightly.  The lower lip must roll out slightly to allow the reed to vibrate intensely.  This will have the effect of flattening your chin muscles firmly against your teeth.  Your jaw must project out towards the ligature: form the vowel “Ee” inside your mouth with the tongue higher towards the roof of your mouth.  Hold the clarinet closer to your body so the wedge shape of the mouthpiece applies more pressure to the reed while allowing more vibrating surface.  Push up with your right thumb to involve the mouthpiece and reed deeply into the sound.  This will help tone quality.  Practice chromatically in the altissimo and learn the alternate fingerings which will aid facility and help intonation.|"

Mr. Gasbarro

I think I cried a little when I had my last lesson with Mr. Thompson, and it's possible that Mr. Thompson's eyes became a bit misty. At any rate, it was a sad and empty and strange time that summer of '56 leaving San Francisco and ending up in a Cincinnati motel with my mom and brother waiting each day for my dad to come back after each day of working at his new job for Eastern Pacific and hunting for an apartment for us. I don't remember taking out my clarinet to play even one note. But within a few days our family settled into Roselawn Village on Joyce Lane across the street from Swifton Village and one block through the parking lot at the mall to Woodward High School, where I entered 9th grade and found the band room. Presiding over the band was Gilbert Curtis, our harried conductor. And I think it was on his advice that I found my next clarinet teacher, William Gasbarro. He held down a job as a band director at Walnut Hills High School and lived with his young family in a Swifton Village apartment so my parents decided it might be possible for me to cross the street and find my new teacher.

Mr. Gasbarro had gone to the Julliard School of Music in New York. Though this credential did not register on my young, naïve mind, I now realize that it was his passion for the clarinet that aligned me on the track to serious work in the technique of playing.

Mr. Gasbarro introduced me to the French school of etudes, using Paul Jean-Jean and Paris Conservatory Etudes. I entered the world of whole tone scales, flowing rhythms, and dynamic range. Placing his nicotine-stained hand (he was an avid smoker) on mine, he tried to teach touch and, ironically, breath conrol. He was the teacher who opened my ears to the gamut of sound dynamics by diagramming: air....pppp<fff>pppp....air.

This magical drawing transformed my physical relationship with the clarinet. For the first time, I sensed a chemical transformation of human breath changing into vibrating bamboo reed, then into the birth of tone and finally reversing and returning to nothingness -- leaving only air.

Mr. Gasbarro made me aware of time and my conservation and control of it. After only a few lessons, he asked me if I had enough time to practice. I'd never thought about it. How did I use my practice time? I'd never thought about it. So he sketched a chart for me, showing each day of the week on a horizontal axis and the hours of each day as a vertical axis. Well, I was just at the right age (14) to take this idea and run with it. I came back to my next lesson with a chart 2x3 feet, minutely ruled out and divided into tiny time slots for each potion of my practice. I think Mr. Gasbarro was somewhat shocked to see how seriously and meticulously I had taken his admonition. I think I only brought this chart detailing every minute I used to practice for perhaps a few weeks before Mr. G. informed me I needn't lug it along anymore. But the impact of seeing the moments of my days with the clarinet writ large has haunted me ever since.

Mr. Gasbarro was appalled by the wooden clarinet I had. I, of course, thought it was pretty keen. My father had been persuaded to part with his hard-earned and small amount of “extra” cash to place a down payment with my junior high school band teacher in San Francisco, Mr. Patenoe, for what I now realize was a real clarinet in name only. All I knew at the time was that I now had a snazzy two-tone fake leather case and could leave my one-piece metal clarinet at home. I was thrilled to have a tiny container of cork grease. I was also initiated into the tiny mysteries of assembling the five sections of the clarinet and preparing my grip on the top and bottom joints of silver rings and keys so that the all-important crucial connection of the bridge key could do its magical job of permitting the right hand to communicate with the left in overlapping finger sequences.

Mr. Gasbarro insisted that I must prepare for state competitions. Though I did not resist I also did not look forward to playing for judges and being compared to others. But I must have been too young and inexperienced to really be nervous. That realm was ruled by Mr. G. Now, in retrospect, I see how the New York training, the nicotine nerves, the pride and the anxiety, worked their way from teacher to pupil. On the day of a contest I was neither nervous nor really prepared. So when my time slot for performance was delayed, I simply went out to get a chocolate milkshake, much to the horror of my dear devoted teacher, who frantically found me sipping as my turn quickly approached. “Didn't I realize drinking a milkshake would mess up my mouth for clarinet tone and articulation?” And I “should be preparing my mind for the imminent competition.”

As luck would have it, this time the judges were kind and Mr. Gasbarro was happy. A footnote to this story -- when I entered the Munich competition a decade later, I was prepared and nervous and was eliminated by the judges immediately. And four decades later, I judged the same competition.

Excerpted from Another Name for God, copyright 2015



Ten Summers at Marlboro

I sometimes say to people that my ten summers at The Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont really represented my true education in music. Most certainly the time was rich in intense involvement with chamber music. Rehearsing for hours, days, and weeks on one specific work with other truly enthusiastic, devoted musicians and without any outside world agenda or time constraints was rare indeed. Though I felt hardly worthy to be playing with such deeply experienced masters as Isadore Cohen, Felix Gallimir, Boris Kroyt, Rudolf Serkin, Miecyslaw Horszowski, Luis Battle, or Herman Busch, Sigfreid Palm, no teacher/student categories were demarcated. We were all merely labeled participants. But the truth was that these world class legends were drawn to this tiny isolated summer community of artists by the magnetic vision of Mr. Serkin, who believed that transcendent beauty and revelation could be found when a duo, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet (and perhaps ultimately an entire orchestra) worked together with the score by their side and open-hearted joy in music making. A young person like myself was treated with the same respect as would be accorded the time honored master. Together we would work to unlock the wonders of the composition at hand. Yes, it was idealistic. But so is man's attempt to realize the heights of human aspiration in the inspired music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schönberg, Messiaen.

So, though ultimately I understood my teachers at Marlboro to be the scores themselves, the wisdom of interpretation was guided by sometimes direct lineage with teachers and performers from past and present. Thus for instance, Mr. Gallimir could speak to us of his premiere performances of the Ravel and Debussy string quartets for the composers. Mr. Serkin could draw on his music-making with Adolf Busch, Mr. Kroyt might unlock some discoveries of Bartok with the Budapest.

And then there was the poet philosopher of the flute, Marcel Moyese, who led wind ensembles with radiating iridescent facial expressions- a luminous smile sending a scale to heaven, a twinkling eye to make a rhythm dance off the page, a frown of displeasure for the ordinary, the mediocre, and the color in his cheeks responding to a flutist's invention of a vowel sound.


Excerpted from Another Name for God, copyright 2015