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

"...just remember you have something to say with your music."

Crawling around on the floor as a normal, curious little boy, I discovered a black leather pouch underneath my mother and father's bed. The metal latch was particularly intriguing and I finally managed to flip it open and dump the contents upon the floor. Out rolled a small wooded toy barrel, then a wooden bell, and then two wooden cylinders like telescopes but with holes on the sides to let in light and strange metal rings, rods, and keys. The wood was dark black but the metal was shiny and silver. As I began peering through the telescope and sending the little barrel careening across the room, I must have thought, “what a wonderful discovery. My own little toys to play with all inside this black pouch under the bed.” Of course, soon my play world was interrupted by my father who quickly scooped up my toys, placed them back in their leather case, and explained to me this was not a toy but rather Daddy's clarinet and that maybe someday I might be big enough to try one out.

That day came in fourth grade when a round little man named Mr. Kessen bounced into our elementary school to announce he would be back next week to teach a scale to any of us who could find a musical instrument at home and bring it with them to school. My father rented a one-piece Conn metal clarinet which I wouldn't be able to break and inside the long case with the clarinet was a bamboo reed for the mouthpiece. The bamboo tasted green and porous and this I could break. I soon learned the idea was not to chew it, but to make it vibrate by placing my lips around the reed and mouthpiece and blowing through the clarinet. Somehow the subsequent squawks and squeaks and my perseverance in producing them convinced my father to find a private teacher for me and that's how I ended up taking the Market Street Trolly with my Grandma every week to Sherman and Clay Music store for a clarinet lesson with Mr. Howard Thompson.

I have always been blessed by wonderful teachers who somehow taught me what I needed to know when I was ready to know it. As a beginner, I thought I needed to know everything at once. Howard Thompson allowed me to understand that the next thing he showed me was exactly what I was to supposed to know next.

The crucial insight it gave me was in preparing me for my first moment to shine during his students' recital at the end of the year. He gave me two little pieces. The first was from a book entitled, “100 Favorite Classical Tunes” (or something like that) and was Rimsky-Korsakov's “Hymn to the Sun.” The second piece was two choruses of “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael. I played the introduction and first chorus as written. On the repeat, Mr. Thompson had jotted down in pencil a few embellishments on top of the melody line to lend it a sense of improvisation. I loved this chance to play both something “classical” and something “jazzy.” So my very first public appearance presaged my path in music, thanks to Howard Thompson. He was a kind and gentle man and when my parents announced the family move away from San Francisco to Cincinnati, I was very sad for my last lesson and felt my life in music would now be over. Howard Thompson looked at me, light blue eyes through his thick glasses, which made his eyes seem larger and luminous and told me, “Now Richard, don't cry. You just continue the way you're going. You'll find another teacher and just remember you have something to say with your music.”

Excerpted from Another Name for God, Copyright Richard Stoltzman, 2015

Kalmen Opperman

August 26, 2008 Borgen-Gemen, Deutchland. Home of Hans-Jörg and Hildegard Modlmyer:

I played yesterday morning in JohannesKirche, a small protestant church with a lovely sound. The congregation was full (due in some degree to Hans-Jörg's dilligence in driving me directly from the Düsseldorf airport to the Gemen Daily News for an interiew and photo). I tried Syrinx of Debussy for the 1st time (given to me by a clarinetist who came to a Messiaen concert in Highlands, NC) before a Christening for a brand new baby Tristan, who was dressed in white silk tuxedo à la Sir Elton John. After the sermon I performed Bach's Chromatic Fantasy, walking down the aisle to the back of the Church during the last page, in my manuscript, which descend the chromatic scale melodically and harmonically at the same time. Then I went up the stairs to the organ loft and joined the organist for Amazing Grace and Meditation on 'My Shepherd Shall Supply My Need.' I was told some cried and a young man thanked me for the gift to his heart.

This week of repose, so generously offered by Hans-Jörg and Hildegard, is a blessing of rest, practice, peace- and the potential to get another start on Another Name for God. I just collected a voicemail from Mika on my new iPhone describing the emotional tears of a young Japanese clarinet student and her family who came to 17 W 67th and heard 88-year-old Kalmen Opperman play for them.

Time for me to reflect on the father-god-teacher man that is Kalmen Opperman.

My relationship to Kal began in lessons with my penultimate teacher, Keith Wilson, at Yale. Inquiring about reed making, Mr. Wilson referred me to his copy of Single Reed Making Handbook, by Kalmen Opperman. I asked if Mr. Opperman was still alive but Keith Wilson wasn't sure. This was in 1966. An address in the book prompted me to send a letter to him in the chance that he was indeed “still” alive, and requesting the opportunity to meet with him for a reed making lesson. I was happily surprised to receive a prompt typewritten reply, suggesting I take the train down from New Haven and meet him at his studio in New York. I did and my life changed forever.

Buzzed into his building and let into his apartment studio on the ground floor I was was struck by a tremendous vitality packed into a powerfully small man. There were few social pleasantries and a no-nonsense directness to his demeanor and questions. So, I wanted to learn how to make reeds? I was finishing a Master's Degree from Yale and yet none of my teachers had taught me this basic knowledge? Observe, and with that, Kal Opperman took a piece of bamboo, cut off a section, split and sliced it, peeled the bark, willed his razor-sharp knife through the many intricate steps detailed in several chapters of his book, slapped the sculpted brand new reed on his clarinet mouthpiece and breathed vibrating life and tone through that bamboo which ten minutes earlier was inanimate wood. Oh my God- I was in the presence of a true master.

The ten minute transformation of a piece of bamboo into a resonating reed turned the engagement with my clarinet into a more than forty year marriage discovery, desire, discipline, dedication and, dare I say, near-death experience with the man who became my teacher, father-figure, iconoclast, and executioner. I have sometimes said Kal was an overwhelming force who sometimes deems to teach from the dark side, by which I mean that your passion for the instrument becomes a test of your own destruction as a mere player and your rebirth as a disciple to almost unattainable excellence. As Kal would say, quoting from one of his many words of wit, wisdom, and cynicism, “Each of us has his own way of destroying himself. Some choose the clarinet.”

After this first meeting I decided after Yale to move to New York and study with Kalmen Opperman. Comments like, “You don't even know where the holes are on the clarinet,” goaded my desperation to prove him wrong.

"Play with more honesty."

Rare is the reed to pass through the stringent trials and live up to the expectation demanded by Marcellus. One day I found him sitting at a long table on which was spread an enormous pyramid of perhaps 200 reeds. At the base, stretched about half the total. As the pyramid ascended along the table toward the top fewer and fewer reeds made the grade. The pinnacle waited for a single reed, which, so far, Marcellus had not found.

The lessons passed quickly and soon my father was picking me up outside the Conservatory for the last time. As Marcellus lit his cigarette and glided off in his blue Chevy convertible, I waved to my past teacher of six lessons. He was already disappearing back into the glamorous world of the classical symphony orchestra and didn't see me. My father, who had paid the princely sum of $20 an hour for the lessons turned to me in the car and asked, “Well, what did you learn from Mr. Marcellus?” Simple question, but I couldn't think of an answer. I breathed out, then took a fresh bit of air and said, “well, he told me to play the clarinet with more honesty.” The trip back was very quiet.

Excerpted from Another Name for God copyrighted 2015, Richard Stoltzman

Mr. Marcellus

It was James Griesheimer, an oboe student at Ohio State, who put me onto the famous “cloboe” sonority of Marc Lifschey and Robert Marcellus, principal winds of George Szell's Cleveland Orchestra. He shared his recording of a Schumann Symphony slow movement. The oboe and clarinet exchange melodic lines in loving caresses of intervals. This breathtaking sensitivity to tonal color between Lifschey and Marcellus was so inspiring that I vowed to force myself on the mercy of this great clarinetist and beg him for some lessons. In the summer of '63 Marcellus found time for me and I was his starstruck, trembling student for six lessons. It was a very special glimpse into the realm of clarinet playing, a rarefied stratosphere where only the deities of the wind world dwelt. Here were divulged some of the mysterious secrets of producing sound and creating a melodic line. The revelations were heavenly, the realizations were devilishly difficult. Searching to discover this new sound, Marcellus would have me make a tone and sustain it, then drop my jaw. This feeling was akin to standing on what seemed to be a firm platform, then suddenly feeling the floor drop away to reveal a cavernous trap door. If a noose had been wrapped around my neck, I wouldn't have felt any more hopeless and despairing. And this was just the beginning! While suspended in this terrible lowered depressed tone, Marcellus then entreated me to leave the trap door open but fill the hole up with a huge blast of accelerating air from my diaphragm muscles in order to levitate the tone and induce a brand-new series of supporting overtones. Turning purple and shaking with the effort to squeeze more air out of my distressed lungs, I finally shattered and broke.

What I had thought as a simple, beautiful melodic line was clinically dissected and microscopically examined for inner architectural secrets. A crescendo from soft to loud grew by a precisely graded system of numbers. To begin a sound one first had to expel all the stale air in the body, then breathe deeply, let the fresh air settle, set the embouchure, touch the first millimeter of the reed tip with the first millimeter of the tip of the tongue to prevent the reed from vibrating as the air pressure builds behind, and slowly release the bamboo, while the air induces the reed to vibrate.

Excerpted from Another Name for God copyrighted 2015, Richard Stoltzman