Vibrato

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.

I remember preparing a piece of music by the composer Mel Powell. On the second page of the clarinet part he indicated in one measure to use a "dead tone". I asked him how to accomplish this and he said, "Don't use any vibrato".

So the world is vibrating, we are vibrating, our reeds are vibrating (hopefully)! If, as a clarinetist, you are interested in experimenting with your own vibrato you can start with the breath. A flutist pulses her breath. Her diaphragm makes a pattern of pushes that provides living waves of alternating faster and slower breath speed. A violinist moves his finger on the string in a back and forward motion causing the tone to move slightly lower and higher in pitch.

When Brahms asks us in the language of music to play "espressivo, dolce, cantabile" -- he is asking us to give life to his notes. So we try with pitch, volume, pressure of breath -- searching for sound with meaning. Hearing inspired singing is a way into the miracle of vibrato. I recorded an entire album of opera arias in an attempt to find that magic. The "a, e, i, o, u" vowel sounds and their infinite variations and combinations become powerful parts of expression.

Wonderful nuances can be achieved with placement of the tongue, speed of air, and careful attending to the volume of a note from beginning to end -- its envelope. What's inside the envelope? Your tone. And this, your tone, must be the basis of vibrato. In other words, start with the most beautiful tone you can create, rich in overtones, and send that stream of air spinning through the entire length of the clarinet. Then, listen to that sound as it comes alive with the gradual pulsing of your breath, the subtle changing of vowels, the placement of tongue, the slight varying pressure of embouchure muscles. Your tone will contain a straight even line of sound, and within that sound will develop life as it explores vibration and the colors created by vowels and shapes resonating inside your body.

copyright Richard Stoltzman

40-CD Box Set

What a surprise! Out of the blue, on tour in Japan, my phone message says, “SONY has decided to make a 40-CD box set* from your recordings on the RCA, BMG, and SONY labels over the last 40 years.” What?

with Mika Stoltzman, marimba, after our concert in Tokyo

with Mika Stoltzman, marimba, after our concert in Tokyo

Already a bit spaced out in Japan, performing on a hillside lit by 1,500 bamboo candles, in a Buddhist temple, with a monk wailing “Amazing Grace” in Japanese, in a geisha bar, a hospital, in perfect acoustical classical concert halls in Tokyo, Nagoya, my mind begins spinning into time zones from the 1970s…

Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps with Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian and Fred Sherry. Max Wilcox producing in RCA Studio A and Tokyo. Remind me to tell you the story of our historic coaching with the master in an East side New York apartment and Toru Takemitsu quietly absorbing everything for his music of the future.

First classical concerti recording with the English Chamber Orchestra in London of Mozart’s K622 plus his bassoon concerto rewritten by me for clarinet. A bit conscious of my back being turned to the bassoon section with their reed knives ready to reap vengeance.

Begin Sweet World was my first “crossover” album made before the category was coined. Producer Jeremy Wall taking that first step of using touches of synthesizer sounds to infuse Debussy’s “La fille au cheveux de lin” with subtle newness. RCA’s wariness of a Red Seal classical artist sailing into unchartered waters turns into a forty-year voyage rich in discovery and delight. Crossing supposed boundaries which disappear in the waves of a clear clarinet tone.

*North American release date: May 5, 2017

Visiting Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Richard Stoltzman and Fred Rogers

Richard Stoltzman and Fred Rogers

Just around the time my daughter Meggie began sitting in her little chair right in front of the old TV set in order to watch and talk to Mr. Rogers and his Neighborhood, I was invited to Pittsburgh to visit Fred Rogers on his show. This pleased my Mom no end since she lived in Pittsburgh at the time and was happy to have me at home for a couple of days. Plus, she didn’t have to get all nervous as she usually did when I would come to play with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Sometimes I had to insist that she not stay in my dressing room to listen to performances over the speaker backstage. “Mom, just enjoy the concert and don’t worry.” But a mom often can’t help but be worried about whether or not every single person in the audience loves her little boy as much as she does. So coming with me to the Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood stage set as the only person in the studio (other than the crew, and Mrs. Rogers) was pure pleasure.

I remember I was dressed informally as befit the temperament of the show, and Mr. Rogers himself made me feel completely relaxed and comfortable. He possessed no pretensions at all. I’d brought along my signature Linzertorte at his request. I had baked it the day before and he was eager to let all the children watching know that, “Daddys can cook too!”

The whole show seemed to be based on free, natural curiosity and improvised conversation. I loved it. He asked me to draw out various moods from the clarinet based on how I felt. Music allowing us to express feelings that were personal and hard to put in words. How beautiful and simple were our interactions.

When I suggested he put the Linzertorte in the refrigerator until ready to serve, he picked it up and spontaneously asked for some “walking to the refrigerator” music to which I responded with the rondo from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. The late great jazz pianist for his show, Johnny Costa, suddenly jumped in with the orchestral part off the top of his head and transposed to B-flat clarinet by the time I hit the second measure!

Excerpted from ANOTHER NAME FOR GOD, copyright Richard Stoltzman

John Pearson

John Pearson, photographer, has been such a good friend for over thirty years.  We first met when his new girlfriend, Liz Lamson, insisted they attend a Music from Marlboro concert at Dinkelspiel Auditorium on the Stanford University campus on a Sunday afternoon in the early 70s.  The concert included (I think) Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” and/ or Messiaen’s “Quatour pour le fin du temp.”  At the end of the concert I was in a narrow backstage dressing room when suddenly in burst this big teddy bear of a guy full of enthusiasm and effusively coloring his concert experience in slightly psychedelic images of my clarinet as a flight of birds, rainbows, sparkling streams, etc.  Not having the vaguest idea who this babbling fellow might be, and wary of fringe contingents of leftover 60s flower children, I somewhat superficially accepted his praise while calculating my nearest route to the hallway.  But then he went on to explain that his passion for the music was so gaily wrapped in such vivid images because he was a professional photographer and indeed music had this overwhelming magical effect on him.  Well, we ultimately exchanged addresses, his in Berkeley, mine in Los Angeles, and I assumed that would be the end of that.

Little did I know that this star-crossed meeting would lead to concerts of improvisations of music and images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Tokyo and hundreds of halls, charmed audiences and vibrant collaboration in between.  And not only that.  John Pearson became a role model for me of the free spirit.  He brought me together with the beautiful human beings with whom I never have had the good fortune to be connected.  Susan Boulet, the Brazilian artist, Anais Nin, poet and author and diarist, Tom Robbins, novelist, Jaren Dahlstrom, designer and artist, so many good, kind, loving and vitally alive people who recharged my artistic batteries over and over again.


Excerpted from ANOTHER NAME FOR GOD, copyright Richard Stoltzman

Chick Corea

ANFG 8-20-13

I spoke tonight to Chick Corea about my project writing about my teachers, and as we talked I realized he was becoming a possible subject.  So, a few observations to save for future use:

He is thinking about his experiment at Tanglewood last summer where he taught four days of classes in jazz improvisation to a small number of students.  The first day he lectured and felt attention wane.  The second day each person played and he saw that the performers were all waiting for his critique.  This was not the direction he wanted to go.  The third day he asked everyone to bring up specific things that they were troubled by or felt lacking.  So one student said he felt stuck in certain sequence or progression and was frustrated not to be able to discover some fresh path in the improvisation.  Chick had him go back to the basic melody and play only that.  Then he asked him to play it again, perhaps modifying it slightly.  Chick continued in this mode playing accompanying bass and chords.  Then at one point Chick saw a slight smile of satisfaction cross his face so he stopped and asked him, “Why did you smile just then?”  The student answered, “I sort of liked that.”  Chick then replied, “Ah, you were thinking for yourself.”  So -- it’s not about me or criticism, but it’s about you listening, liking, and learning.

Chick is so supportive in his music making -- listening, liking, learning and embracing each of us in love by “comforting accompaniment,” i.e., sensitively balancing dynamics and tempi to achieve clarity and fluidity.  Working with us as classical musicians playing exactly his written notes, he gently, gradually inserts inflections, embellishments, and even continues to allow the form to expand as he senses possibilities for the music to breath and bloom -- and therefore giving us more pleasure in performing freely.

 

Excerpted from ANFG, copyright Richard Stoltzman

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.

http://spokanepublicradio.org/post/studio-clarinet-soloist-richard-stoltzman

Tashi: Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time

My School Band Directors

Glancing through my list of now more than 50 names of teachers who have influenced me, I noticed several band directors. What exactly was it about that particular profession which seemed to produce remarkable individuals who made such a lasting impression on me? Indeed all through my four years of college I held on to my goal of becoming a junior high school band director who, perhaps after of number of years honing my craft, might some day attain the ultimate position in music- a high school band director.

Dr. Donald E. McGinnis stands atop the apex of that succession of men I looked up to both figuratively and literally. However, before I reach him, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize Mr. Kessin who arrived one morning in my fourth grade classroom at Douglas Elementary School in South San Francisco to announce that a band would meet once a week in the basement. Any child could bring a musical instrument from home and join and Mr. Kessin would teach them music. One would learn how to press fingers down, blow air on bamboo, pull bows across strings, buzz lips on mouthpieces, count time in your mind, and finally play a scale, tones reaching higher and higher following notes climbing a staff and watching the baton of Mr. Kessen as he painted four invisible beats in the air.

Both of my parents enjoyed music. They sang in the Steward Memorial United Presbyterian Church every Sunday. My Dad also loved to play his saxophone with a buddy, trumpet playing Ronnie Yourd, who was the son of our Presbyterian minister and taught high school science in Berkeley, across the bay.

My father actually owned two saxophones, one tenor, one alto.  As a young man in Lincoln, Nebraska, he had played in a band for dances on occasion and had hung on to his instruments even after becoming an employee of the Western Pacific Railroad and transferring to the San Francisco office. Though he persevered as a bread-winning head of his young family, he must have allowed a wisp of his dance band days to linger in his heart for I found not only the saxes, but a small, mysterious, black leather cylindrical case underneath the bed. As a very young child I discovered this intriguing case with a special clasp I was finally able to unlock. Out spilled dark black cylinders made of wood, which rolled on the floor. They could be toy barrels, telescopes, megaphones. They had silver rings and keys and rollers which opened and closed other holes. My reverie was short-lived for my parents quickly gathered me up and let me know I had accidentally found my father's old clarinet. The revelation came with an unspoken bargain. At the young age of four or five, I could not play with this instrument, but if I lived another life time (say four more years), I might be allowed to play on an instrument. But that's another story...

All my band directors gradually reinforced the same attractive attributes in my young mind. They loved music and believed we could together make music. Of course they would get discouraged when we failed to reach the seemingly high goals of playing in tune, together, not only without mistakes but with brio and brilliance. They despaired of our lack of self-discipline and preparation. Yet each director dreamed a vision for us of a final ultimate performances that would go beyond our individual weaknesses and limitations and amaze us and inspire our audience. What a worthy aspiration for me to hold secretly inside as I struggled to divine the path leading to the rest of my life after school.

Because of my junior high band director's determination, my father reluctantly accepted the fact that my rented metal clarinet, albeit cheap and durable, was not the brand new French instrument made of wood Mr. Patenoe wished for me. Because of my first high school director, dear Mr. Curtis, who could come close to tears when we let him down with our inattentiveness and inadequate preparation, I began to sense an adult's sensitivity and seriousness towards me and hope for what we might accomplish.

Because of my final high school band director, Mr. Wolfle, I was unswervingly guided towards Dr. Donald McGinnis and Ohio State University. I can still recall my surreal sense of my band director bringing me to audition for Dr. McGinnis, feeling Mr. Wolfle's deep respect and utter humility in his presence. Mr. Wolfle had graduated from Ohio State and was convinced that here would be the ultimate band director and teacher for me. Thus began my four years under the spell and baton of Dr. McGinnis.

Being Nervous

I often am asked about nervousness during performance and how to cope with it.  Here is what I recently responded to a young clarinetist who asked me about it:

Being nervous is part of life.  I still get nervous and I have been performing for sixty-three years.  Know the music as well as you can.  Memorize and sing and copy it on manuscript paper, play slowly, know the intervals well by name and appreciate their characters from half step all the way to octave.  Perform the music many, many times in front of anyone who will listen.  Send your music out into the air of the room.  Use the power of your breath to continue the stream of sound, pushing through nervousness into connection with the composer.  You are there to serve the composer and send his music to inspire the listener.

 

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.|"

"This is not my hobby. This is my life."

The inner sanctum of Kal's apartment is the living room. A daybed/couch occupying one corner is the sole indication of repose. Every other corner, nook, and cranny is filled with the essentials of Kal's intense life: pile upon pile of music manuscripts, containing countless etudes, compositions, and books in various stages of completion for publication; work benches filled with unique, esoteric tools, many designed and hand made by Kal to exacting specifications for use in this creation of one-of-a-kind clarinet mouthpieces, barrels and reeds; heavy machinery such as drills, lathes, vises and sanders to aid in his crafting and experimentation with new designs. The walls are covered with posters from some of the more than fifty ballets, Broadway shows, and concerts where, as principle clarinet, he made the necessary money to support his children and keep the outside word at bay as he pursued his passion during every other waking moment. The cynosure of this seeming chaos of creation is a hand crafted wooden music stand and a stool. It is here at this symbolic center of the clarinet universe where Kalman Opperman, teacher, is passionate master.

All true clarinet compasses point to this magnetic pole from which emanates the powerful philosophy of teaching the clarinet where Kal has relentlessly held firm. Above, below, and in between the framed public posters testifying to Kal Opperman's success in the music business, file cards, scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, and sheets of legal pads are pinned and Scotch-taped to every surface. Here is written what one might call the wisdom of Kalman Opperman if it weren't for the fact that he has no time for such pomposity and carries with him a lethal dosage of cynicism which might be symbolized by “the wall test.” If a particular reed seems to want to play but defies that last bit of crating to make it truly playable Kal simply seizes the reed and jams the delicate tip into the wall, where upon it is crushed beyond redemption, and proclaims, “I was right, bad cane.” Some Kal pronouncements for the wall:

“God Bless me, my students, and my students' students. Them- and NOBODY ELSE.”

“If there aren't good reeds in heaven, I'm not going.”

During my three years with Kal while at Columbia Teacher's College, I began the scary and exhilarating process of submitting my ego to the force of my teacher's. At one point in my studies, Kal required that I must only practice with his supervision and within earshot. This meant staying in his apartment day and night, sleeping on an army cot, practicing in the room next to him even as he gave the students lessons. Occasionally I would be interrupted by the crash of his fist on the wall indicating I was not practicing correctly and I'd better stop, wake up, and focus! Fairly early on it became clear to me that I had to give up thinking I knew anything about the clarinet. At one of my lessons I began to play the opening notes of Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen and he abruptly stopped me with this shocking exclamation, “You don't even know where the holes are on the clarinet!” I, with my Master's Degree from Yale and doctoral pursuits at Columbia, was being reduced to raw clay.

I even altered the basic way I hold the clarinet in my mouth. I left behind my embouchure of some twenty years, the one every other clarinetist I know in the world used (with one crucial exception). I gave up the security of upper teeth anchoring the clarinet and began using only the delicate pressure of the lips to control the reed and create the sound-double lip embouchure it is called. So now, I was a rank beginner, able to make sounds only in the lowest range, the chalumeau, and even then only in very short stretches of less than a minute. I had to give up playing in public or with other musicians. For this concern, Kal simply replied that I did not need the outside, the connections, the approval of others. Practice slowly, do what I say and don't concern yourself with society. This was a frightening prescription for me. I had thrived on the accolades and acceptance of others and resisted Kal's stern assessment of such neediness.

I remember coming for a lesson on a beautiful spring day. The sun barely filtered through the covered windows of his studio. I told him my plans for a picnic later in the day with my family at Riverside Park. “You don't need sun, you need practice,” was his only reaction to my ebullience. When my mother came to visit in New York I wanted her to meet my teacher, so we planned a quick coffee midtown in between his matinee and evening shows. My mother was effusive in thanks to Kal for being such an inspiring teacher for me. “Richard really thinks so highly of you, Mr. Opperman.” Kal's terse response, “Not enough.”

The full dedication to me and every one of his students remains the same. “This is not my hobby. This is my life. I'm here for you completely, but don't jerk me around.” When I first tried to pay him for my lesson, I asked him how much I owed him and he replied, “you can't afford me.” Complete dedication was the true price.

As I got to know Benny Goodman a bit, I realized he was in some ways just like every clarinetist. He wanted to talk clarinet: what kind of reeds, what kind of barrel, whose mouthpiece? So when I told him about this miraculous teacher and designer and inventor, he wanted to meet him. I called Kal from Benny Goodman's penthouse and told him Benny would like to come over and meet him. “He liked the mouthpiece I had and I told him it was yours!” Kal sounded almost reluctant in his reception of what I had assumed was an exciting phone call. However, Benny quickly swept me into his waiting limo and off we went to visit my teacher. Benny breezed into Kal's apartment fifteen minutes later and there I was starry-eyed witness to the meeting at the summit of master clarinetist, pedagogue, and artist/craftsman with the icon of the clarinet and historic living legend. Yet there was a wariness in the room as Benny gave Kal a nod of recognition (“but not enough,” I thought) and Kal Opperman presented Benny with a beautifully crafted Opperman mouthpiece on which Benny proceeded to blow a few notes and pronounce, “Not bad.” Then came Benny's mortifying, “How much you want for this, five dollars?” and Kal's dark, quiet, contemptuous, “It's yours, keep it.” The next thing I knew, Benny Goodman and his limo were gone and I was alone with Kal at the summit, no stars, dark clouds assembling. I hold each of these great men of the clarinet in highest esteem and was not prepared for such a precipitous fall from grace. Great egos need room.

The student aspires to the model which the teacher sets. But the ascent is precarious. At one lesson I came unprepared. Kal listened for a moment and then said, “You know, Dick, you don't really want to play the clarinet. There are so many things to do in life. Go, have a picnic, enjoy. Why bother with this, you don't need it.” Tears of frustration and anger welled in my eyes. Was my teacher mocking me, was he telling me truth I didn't want to hear, was he giving up on me, was he expecting too much, did he think he was God? Enraged, I hurled my clarinet at him. Instantly, he caught it, handed it back to me and told me I could come back when I was prepared to learn. He did not let me fall all the way.

Excerpted from Another Name for God, copyright 2015

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

 

 

Another Name for God

“Taxiiiiiee! I'm going to The Skylite Diner on 27th off of 8th. Do you...?” “No problem, sir.” One sharp, illegal U-turn and we were on our way. I glanced at the driver's photo and taxi I.D. number in that habitually hopeless memorization of vital information to cough out to police after being overcharged for my Sucker's Tour of the Bronx. But as we swiftly zoomed towards the right destination, I euphorically explained my rendezvous for the birthday breakfast of my clarinet teacher. “You have a teacher?” “Yes- he's 80 years old today.” “You are very lucky. To have still such a teacher- you are very lucky.” “Yep,” I said. As we rolled to a stop at the corner I said, “I can walk from here.” But as I gave him the fare he said, “you know, in my country, we say, the other name for God is teacher.” From that corner to the Skylite Deli entrance, the morning light intensified and I felt and injection of insight course through my 58-year-old veins. Teacher. Another name for God.
 
 Excerpted from Another Name for God, Copyright Richard Stoltzman, 2015

"Go to Yale"

I had been accepted by The Cleveland Institute to pursue graduate studies on the clarinet with Robert Marcellus.  This followed my previous summer’s series of private lessons with him while I was still at OSU.  I had also applied to Yale Music School because I knew it had a good reputation in music history and theory, and my crazy enthusiastic history teacher had been a Yale product and was vitally excited about the motets and life of Guilliame Machant.  Never really thinking I would be accepted, I was confused when in fact Yale informed me I could go there.  I remember asking the advice of Burdette Green who was one of my music theory teachers and also played a mean jazz alto sax on the side.  He didn’t hesitate even a moment, “Go to Yale.”  But I didn’t have any idea what my clarinet teacher, Keith Wilson, would be like.  Unlike the famous principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra, I had never heard Mr. Wilson’s sound.  I knew he had been president of the national organization for band conductors but that didn’t have the romantic aura of principal clarinetist under Maestro George Szell.
 
Yale had a summer program for music study, which I decided to attend prior to moving to New Haven.  This would allow me the chance to play chamber music (I had only rare opportunities for that at OSU) and hopefully hear my soon-to-be teacher.  The opportunity came one summer Sunday afternoon in 1964 when Mr. Wilson was to perform Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Yale String Quartet in the venerable music shed at Norfolk, CT.
 
The large wood hall had been filled with the sounds of great musicians making memorable music for the better part of a century and now I was in the audience to experience Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet (for the first time) and hear my future clarinet teacher for the first time.  The artists came on stage dressed in white tuxedo jackets, bowed, sat down, and I felt a strange thrill of anticipation mixed with anxiety.  Here was the man who would soon by my teacher and I had no idea what he was like as a human being and clarinetist.

The audience grew silent.  I closed my eyes in order to focus all my attention on Mr. Wilson’s sound.  I heard the poignant expressive sounds of the two violins followed by the pulsing syncopation of the viola and then cello and then...I sat there, eyes closed, swept into the sounds of music of late Brahms, of passionately played themes and contrapuntal lines.  I held my breath waiting for the sound of the clarinet.  But, there was none!  I heard beautifully intertwined melodies and dance harmonies yet still the clarinet sound was not there.  Confused, I opened my eyes to see what was wrong.  Instead of a clarinet player waiting to play, I saw (and heard) five musicians enveloped in glorious sonorities.  And I stared in wonder at Mr. Wilson who had transformed the clarinet into a rapturous rich tone, blending with his fellow musicians to create a true quintet.

 

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

Silver Threads Among the Gold

One vivid memory.  Playing "Silver Threads Among the Gold" in fifth grade for a classroom meeting of my elementary school's PTA.  When I had finished I went out into the hallway to put my instrument back in its case.  An older woman (now I would guess she had probably been the ripe old age of 35) came out of the class meeting and bent down beside me with tears in her eyes saying, "That was so beautiful.  Thank you."  Then she walked away.  I never told anyone about that moment because, first of all, I didn't understand why she was crying, and secondly, I wouldn't have been able to put that experience into words.  But obviously it has stayed with me all of these more than sixty years, and when I am occasionally asked in an interview what made me "go into music," I retroactively realize this was my first manifestation of the mystery and power music possesses which is beyond our ability to put into words- ineffable and miraculous.

 

Excerpted from Another Name for God by Richard Stoltzman, copyright 2015

Mr. Howard Thompson

Mr. Howard Thompson was my first clarinet teacher.  The Sherman & Clay music store located in downtown San Francisco close to Market Street provided a room for him and I can remember he was a benign little man with gray hair, glasses that magnified his blue eyes in a warm way, coat and tie, both clarinet and alto saxophone at his side.  He listened gently to my playing, guiding me to make my sound, joining me in duets, and encouraging me to try the alto.  He was a busy "doubler" in the Bay Area and whenever a show like "The Ice Follies" or the circus came to town, he would be hired to play clarinet and saxophone in the orchestra.  He had me buy Harry Huffnagle duet books emphasizing music written in manuscript rather than printed so I would get used to reading different styles of note writing.  I loved the Rhythm Duets book which introduced all manner of syncopation and popular styles of swing.

My first public performance as a student at his class recital included Rimsky-Korsakov "Hymn to the Sun" from Everybody's 100 Favorite Hits of Classical Music, which I played on alto sax, and two choruses of Hoagy Carmichel's "Stardust" with the introductory verse.  Mr. Thompson penciled in little grace notes, appogiaturas, and abbreviated riffs for me to embellish the chorus second time around.  I really don't recall being nervous or judged.  I think I just had a nice time and was floored by Mr. Thompson's young teenage student who was the last to play and, it seemed to me, played incredible feats on her clarinet.

When I learned that my father was moving the family to Cincinnati and I would no longer have my teacher, I felt devastated.  Now, when I recall that final goodbye lesson, I realize I had a connection with this gentle man which was crucial in my young little life, though I had spent only 30 minutes with him each week.  Indeed that precious time was the first I had ever experienced alone, with an adult not in my family where I was listened to and guided into the deep fellowship of making music, its practice and its power.

 

Excerpted from Another Name for God by Richard Stoltzman, copyright 2015