The interview with Eli Eban orchestral soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and professor at Bloomington School of Music was held on 22 June with a telephone call from Zug, Switzerland, to Baltimore, USA and was edited by Heinrich Mätzener.
On the tracks of the old French School
HM: After the Interviews with colleagues in Switzerland, France, Germany and Austria, I now want to focus on the traces of the old French School in the USA. In the beginning of the 20th century, important French clarinet teachers came to the States and had big influence on the clarinet playing of the of the following generations. Interestingly, the development of the French school in Europe took a significantly different course.
Eli Ebans Teachers
HM: I asked you to participate in the project because your teachers can be assigned to the tradition of the Old French School. I saw that your teacher was a student of Louis Cahuzac.
EE: Yes, one of my teachers was Yona Ettlinger , a student of Cahuzac, and my other teachers came from the Bonade side, Anthony Gigliotti from Curtis, and Richard Lesser, who was principal in Israel and who had studied with Mitchell Lurie and Anthony Gigliotti, so I had in me both of these French influences.
HM: Having students of Louis Cahuzac and Daniel Bonade as your teachers, I hope in this interview it will make it possible, to understand certain aspects of the development that the French School has undergone in the States.
There is a story, when Bonade came back from France in the 50th, where he was invited to a competition of a class in the Paris Conservatory. He was disappointed of the sound of the new French school . He couldn’t believe it. He went back to the States and followed what he had developed. I met Richard Stoltzman in New York, David Shifrin in Yale, I made an interview also with John Moses, with Steve Hartman from the New York City Ballet Orchestra, as well as with the soloist Sunny Kang, a former student of David.
EE: Oh, yes, I taught her at Eastman for a year. Also, a wonderful player.
HM: All of these clarinetists are still near the tradition of the old French School.
Describing sound quality
HM: How should a clarinet sound today, what would you say, must it be especially beautiful, what is your ideal of sound?
EE: So, I think first of all, a centered sound, meaning something that has a definite shape to it, and for me personally that means beauty of sound. Thinking of Mozart’s letter to his father Leopold, the sound was the first thing that attracted his ear: „Ach wenn wir nur auch clarinetti hätten! – sie glauben gar nicht was eine sinfonie mit flauten, oboen und clari- netten einen herrlichen Effect macht“ ["Oh, if only we had clarinetti too! - you wouldn't believe what a symphony with flutes, oboes and clarinetti can do for a magnificent effect!]" , I think, the great composers were attracted to the clarinet’s vocal aspect than its agility and facility. So, for me, always sound has been the most important thing.
The beginning of the sound as part oft the aesthetic concept
I took some notes as per your emailed questions and what I think is important, other than a center so that a well-defined shape to the sound, is dynamic control and that the attack, that the beginning of the sound be part of the aesthetic of the sound. Not like: here is the attack and here is the sound.
HM: I think, making attack can be high artistry. You can do with the beginning of the sound different colors. Do you see it in the same way? Do you use different ways to attack a sound?
EE. Yes, like different textures to the tongue, different contact but mostly something different in the ear, different consonant/vowel combination- like a vocalist. I mean I try to do that or share with you that I find this is the hardest thing to do, just to get an even attack in all dynamics and all registers.
HM. Of course. And then it depends from the reed, from the mouthpiece, from the day. I would like to speak more about the (technique of doing) an attack. I thought going from “outside” (embouchure) to “inside” (voicing).
Playing with double lip embouchure
HM: Embouchure building and embouchure developing It is a big chapter.
Which embouchure did your first teacher teach you? And what do you teach to your students?
EE: Well my very first teacher was Giora Feidman. He was a double lip player and he taught me double lip. I played double lip on an open Pomarico mouthpiece, just played for a while. After Feidman then I went on to Richard Lesser who was principal in the Israel Philharmonic, also a double lip player. And I played double lip all through my army service, where you know on a marching band, playing standing, that’s not supposed to be feasible with double lip, but I had little advantage, because I had part of the two front incisors chipped, and I just folded the upper lip into the little gap where material had broken. It enabled me to play standing up double lip and marching in the marching band. It may sound rather strange, but it proved to be a viable, well-functioning embouchure, and the “proof” is that I used it through my three years in the band, during which time I also substituted with the Israel Philharmonic and won the solo competition with that orchestra, four years at Curtis - Gigliotti saw no reason to change it - and my first two major jobs, the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. So, I learned from this a principle that has accompanied as a teacher as well - if something unconventional is proven to work, don’t try to “fix” it to fit some dogma…
Imitation double lip
EE: Then my dental arch changed a little bit and I felt that I needed just more… a different approach to the mouthpiece. So, I went to Robert Marcellus and he switched me to single lip (9.08) I was already in the Israel Philharmonic. And now I use a combination, I would say it’s a combination actually, as Marcellus and Gigliotti advocated (for his single-lip students), the “imitation double lip”, in single lip of the double lip embouchure with a downward pressure of the upper lip and a little bit of curling in of the center of the upper lip pushing down the mouthpiece. Gently! The word gently was often stressed when describing the degree of downward pressure. Ettlinger talked about this in very general terms, suggesting a “horseshoe“ shape to the upper lip wrapping down and around the top of the mouthpiece.
Use double lip therapeutically
And sometimes, if I get very, very fatigued, or if I just want to re-establish a good embouchure, then I play “therapeutically” double lip, ten or fifteen minutes, or even in a tutti part in the orchestra, just for a minute, I find it snaps (9:45 ) my muscles back into shape. And as a teacher that’s also what I advise to the students.
HM: Is it mainly for the muscles of the lips and the face or also to form the inner constellation tongue, with the gorge and palate? Would you say, that it also helps to find a good voicing, finally?
EE: Absolutely! Because I think everything is connected, so the double lip seems to be a trigger also for getting the tongue in the position I want. For me also it helps to keep the jaws open and it engages the side walls, so everything participates in the muscular balances of the embouchure.
Playing high C
HM: To play a sustained c3 where the clarinet rests on the left thumb as if on a pivot point. The weight of the lower joint of the clarinet is diverted "unbraked" to the upper part of the embouchure. The fingering of the c3 gives us no possibility to reduce this torque. That seems to me the difficulty.
EE: That’s the disadvantage. I guess the hands do more holding there, than I thought. That’s the hard part. I know some double lips players advise attacking the high C, pressing down on the body of the instrument near the left hand g-hole, [with a finger of the left hand] to have more control.
HM: But for you, the reason to chance was to have no pain in the upper lip or are there other reasons than more comfort for the lips.
More power with single lip
EE: It was more comfort and you know, my wisdom teeth started to move when I was around 28, and kind of push the other teeth forward a little bit and I was not as comfortable in the front of the mouth. I had them taken out, and the mouth changed a bit. But also, I must say that there is more tonal power and endurance to be had with the single lip embouchure. So, for all of these reasons I have decided to change.
HM: I had the interview with Richard Stoltzman and he told me how painful it was, because he changed in the other way, from single lip to double lip, after his master’s degree in Yale.
HM: I think it is important, playing double or single lip embouchure, is to find the good embouchure placement on the reed, that determines finally the position of the jaw. It depends on the position of the teeth also. Do you agree that there should be the most possible surface of the reed vibrating, so the embouchure line shouldn’t be too near to the top?
EE: No, I believe we don’t want just a narrow bar across the reed, you know, that horizontal line across the reed in a way that divides the reed in two. That makes [that] we don’t get enough cushion and power in the sound.
Consideration of the individual anatomy
HM: I think that it is part of the embouchure to deliver just enough pressure on the reed, so that we do not only get a noise of air going through the bore. Bonade suggested to push the instrument a little bit towards the embouchure, so that the bottom lip is shoved over the bottom teeth . Do you also practice this technique? Or do you just create a certain pressure on the reed by finding the right angle holding the clarinet?
EE: This is, where I think – you know my education with my wife who is a physical therapist and a great anatomist has helped me define this in ways that are more custom-made to each individual’s anatomy. Not like a rigid dogma for everyone, but I think it depends on the player. I know that Bonade had a very long jaw – Marcellus talked about this – and quite a pronounced overbite so he had to bring in the clarinet. But I think if someone has an equal bite and tries to bring down the angle of the clarinet to create an artificial overbite, it will strain their jaw. It’s like size of shoes, you know not everyone wears the same size of shoes.
Finding the firm lower lip cushion
EE: So, in terms on your question, what do I advise, and what do I do myself? I experiment with the angle and trying to find the point, you know, where is it natural to get a firm lower lip cushion gathered under the reed, where is the jaw placed that offers that gentle pressure, stability and comfort, that’s the embouchure. Of course, as you know, for all of us it’s different.
HM: And the certain pressure that we need to make the reed vibrate, that we do not only hear an air noise passing through the instrument, do you create this with the muscles of the lips? Or do you push the clarinet a little bit against the embouchure?
Two cog wheels in a fine Swiss watch
EE: I believe that the pressure we need, is very, very light, hopefully, but that it should come more from the jaw placement than gripping with the lips. So, for me the circular shape of the lips is gently wrapped around the mouthpiece and held in place with minimum tightness. The pressure of jaw into reed and the reed into the embouchure [by pushing the instrument lightly towards the embouchure] is almost like two cog wheels in a fine Swiss watch, you know, so there are two rotational forces opposing each other. Again, then the mouthpiece comes in and up a little bit into the natural hinge or “hang” of the jaw, so that when we lower the angle of the clarinet, we [are] turning [the mouthpiece against the jaw counter-pressure. Again, this is a very subtle, delicate balance.
Thinking of these two wheels, the pressure on the reed it’s not like a biting pressure, opposite top to bottom. It’s kind of rotating, it’s oblique or indirect pressure. And Ettlinger talked a lot about that: he always said “get indirect pressure on the mouthpiece”, but he never told me how, but I think what he meant was this kind of miniscule rotating of the jaw. And it’s so tiny. If I tell the students to do that, they’d probably do too much! By no means does this imply thrusting the jaw out to even top and bottom teeth!!!! I think that is a recipe for problems.
HM: You are right! Mostly the students exaggerate the movements that they have been told to do. In this context, a passage in Keith Stein's “The art of Clarinet Playing” comes to my mind.
Be conscious about all details, but don’t forget to relax
HM: He writes a chapter “Embouchure” and explains it in all details, I think very well. And then follows directly the chapter “Relaxation”. I think it’s first of all, basically important to know all positions of the jaw, the tongue, the throat, and the very small tensions that sometimes are necessary also. But only if we know about them, then we can have over all a relaxed position. I think to arrive there with any musical instrument takes a lot of time. We always have to work and try to improve it.
EE: Exactly. I mean every element that you mentioned: it is important at a certain point to analyze that and give that each element to a student as a tool. But an analogy I heard once about some sequences of physical action, it might have been embouchure or not: first you do the components, it’s like the melodic triad (sings do, mi, sol) each one separate and then after each one becomes natural, you do just a vertical harmonic, “all at the same time” chord do-mi-so, all together. And that the inner embouchure, the lips, the jaw, everything is coordinated like a chord.
HM: Very good picture!
EE: That takes time and takes the awareness of not doing too much as well as you know, it is a very sensitive operation.
Chaining of muscle activations
HM: As Keith Stein describes it, the chin is not relaxed, but there is some tension downwards.
EE: For me the tension is more into the [jaw]bone. If I do that, it goes down, and that’s synonymous with the tongue position. I don’t think that I can stretch the chin without raising the tongue. I think it’s physiologically impossible, I’ll have to ask my wife again.
HM: That’s right!
EE: If I try to stretch the chin without raising the tongue, I get in trouble, it doesn’t work. It’s again one of those chords, a simultaneous happening: when go to the whistling position, the tongue comes up and then the chin stretched. So, I just hold it there.
HM: And, as I mean, it stabilizes also the bottom of the mouth.
EE: I agree, this is after all the bottom of the jaws: it’s the tongue so it [tongue, chin and bottom of the jaw] kind of flexes together. I think a “relaxed” tongue can be overdone, it’s more like a gently poised feeling of the tongue flexing like you are lengthening it a bit in the oral cavity.
HM: I think it’s important to have the back of the tongue a little bit, let me say fixed, in the same time the tip of the tongue is very flexible, very near the reed.
HM: Also, if I have just to play a sustained note, the tongue never should fall back to the throat. In this way the esthetic of the sound would go in another direction, like a Russian, big dark sound.
HM: How would you describe the term voicing in connection with the sound production on the clarinet? When we go inside the mouth, we talk about position of tongue, but voicing is differently understood. Does it only concern the position and shape of the tongue, or also the entire mouth cavity and the vocal apparatus?
Always i, j, ɯ, y but never æ or ʌ
EE: I think when all is said and done, it’s the overall shape and size of the oral cavity, that determines what vowel shapes the sound, is what is coming out of the clarinet what I’m trying to put into the clarinet? So, for me, voicing, a well voiced clarinet sound is always i, j, ɯ, y (IPA) but, for me at least, never æ or ʌ
(Forming our lips to a clarinet embouchure around the mouthpiece, we still can bring the tongue into positions of different vowels.
(Vowels and the position of the tongue)
HM: Do you use different voicings if you play very high notes, middle range or low notes? Do you change the vowel, the tongue position, when you change the registers?
Use your ear for changing registers
EE: Yes, I don’t know if it is very conscious or if it just happens when I’m able to go to a high register with a legato good sound, then I know there is some small changes. I would hope that it would happen naturally, from the ear, looking for a certain color or “magic” in the sound.
HM: Every melody we play, we have to sing along inside as well. But I think it is very hard to describe what happens inside the voice tract. Maybe your wife knows more about these mechanisms?
EE: Well, I know from her, and from my work with the great wind teacher Arnold Jacobs, that we don’t have many nerves inside the mouth that give us sensory feedback about placement in space, which is called proprioception. We are equipped with nerves there that tell us about taste or pain. So, when we flex the tongue, we can’t really go by feeling alone to perceive accurately if we are raising the tongue or doing something else. That’s where it is important to always engage the ear, which is like the “flight recorder” to tell us if we are achieving the results we want.
HM: I never thought about this, maybe the proprioception of the tongue is also different from our hands or arms, because in the movement of the tongue and in our oral cavity there are no joints involved. Proprioception is highly developed in our extremities or in our torso, but less clear in the tongue.
HM: To divine the tongues position in the mouth, we have to hear the sound we produce, then make the connection between the tongue-position and -form and the ear.
So, we can modulate the color of the sound, its core, ring, and even the intonation. I think also for changing between different registers we need this sensibility.
HM: This is difficult for beginners, even for professional students, it takes a long time to appropriate that! EE: You said it!
Where does the tongue touch the reed?
HM: We talked a little bit about the tongue positions and its form. Articulation, as Bonade wrote, should happen always by the tip of the tongue on the top of the reed. A technique, that the gives good results, so I guess. But when I play lower notes or bass clarinet, I go towards the middle of the reed. How do you usually touch the reed, and how did you learn it with Yona Ettlinger?
EE: Yes [the tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed], but then through Marcellus, I learnt to come down a little bit from the tip, may be two three millimeters down. Touching the tip of the tongue or the front of the tongue towards the very beginning of the “heart” of the reed instead of the extreme tip, it gives the tonal vibrations a cleaner “stop”. With tip-to-tip, especially if the reed is a little bit too light, then sometimes when we touch the tip, we get that kind of left over in the sound, as if not all of the reed stops vibrating immediately. So, I do go a little lower on the reed. When tonguing gets too extremely fast, I do whatever is necessary for survival (laughs). I don’t know, I think it does change from sometime even side to side and I found that’s it’s possible to get a very, very delicate attack sometimes when I touch a small corner of the reed.
HM: Yes! That’s a good thing.
EE: Do you also do that?
HM: Yes, but I only learnt about it in the interview with Pascal Moraguès. He told me about this technique.
HM: But for doing a delicate attack on a high register, let’s say between G’’ and C’’’, or as an example the four repeated eight notes in a’’ in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, it’s a really a good technique to touch a corner of the reed on the high a’’ in pianissimo.
Finding the right pressure of the tongue against the reed
HM: My teacher Hans-Rudolf Stalder, also student of Louis Cahuzac during his summer vacations, showed me this exercise: You form your embouchure and touch the tip of the reed with the tip of the tongue, then you start blowing. Only after the vibration of the reed has been produced, you release the tongue to get the articulation of a sound with a free vibrating reed. It’s like articulating a sound in slow motion. Do you also use this technique, as you studied with Yona Ettlinger, who was a student of Louis Cahuzac?
EE: Yes, something similar to that from. Yona would be let’s say play a high D, mezzo forte and then to approach the tongue to the reed very gently and then just kind of feel the “tickle”of the reed’s vibration. And not to stop the vibration all together completely, but it is almost like nuance tonguing within a continuous sound. And that forms base of a good tonguing, of not overusing the tongue muscle. So, this is a sort of variation of what you describe, but-yes!
HM: Do you use also this technique, let’s say may be in Mozart or classical style to make a special effect of détaché, so that you don’t really stop the sound but just dump the ending.
HM: Did you learn it by yourself or… sorry, did Bonade, Yona Ettlinger or Robert Marcellus teach this technique?
EE: I think all of them, also Gigliotti at Curtis, who was a Bonade student, and Marcellus later and Yona they all talked about something similar and you had to get a very good détaché, I had to play an F major scale, mezzo piano, third octave, make all the notes sound very clear but very smooth. So that was something that was really a project, to do a lot of that deep study. All of my teachers had me do variations on that, in different ways.
HM: And now, you use different staccatos when you play, I suppose. There is not just one way, it can be shorter, or with each note having a ring? In the piano, just a non-legato. It’s nice!
Tonguing on the lower lip?
HM: Some French teachers learnt to do the articulation not on the reed, but on the lower lip. And then, the tongue pushing at lip, the vibration of the reed is reduced, and in this way, we can produce a very mellow staccato. It’s a possibility to have another variation of articulation. What do you think about such special techniques?
EE: I will try that but, one has to ask, what is the style of music that would work well for? And perhaps, you describe a very personal way of doing something for a very certain player. I don’t know enough about the results of that, but I think anything for excellence is good!
Anchor tonguing interferes with voicing
HM: Anchor tonguing, another technique: the front of the tongue stays in contact with the lower teeth and then the tongue touches in the middle of the reed. I don’t know where this comes from, it was not part of the old French tradition.
EE: As far as I know it was not, and what I am seeing is, I found out, that the anchor tonguing is something that occurs to some players on their own, no one taught them that. It has some disadvantages, it makes the back of the throat, where the tongue drops back into the pharynx, too open for focused voicing. Anchor tonguing can go very fast sometimes maybe but it’s more difficult to get a very clear staccato. I think it interferes with voicing. Again, it depends of the individuals! Some players do very well with it, in which case it should be left alone. Some of the students I had to help re-train to get the tip of the tongue to the reed. That’s a big deal, that’s not easy. It’s something that costs them some speed and agility for a while, but the rewards, is improved voicing and the agility can be regained with some careful, non- strained work. In some cases, it works fine. I could never do it myself, I find it just unnatural.
HM: When it works, why not? It’s near to the slap tongue.
HM: Do you use double tongue, or have you been taught in double tonguing? Was it in the tradition of the old French School?
EE: I use it in a very limited way. I must admit I never took the time to really practice it in a scale. I use it mostly on repeated notes. And I can’t though much about the break. A little bit I’m starting now to get into that a bit higher. But I use it for passages like Prokofiev Classical Symphony, IVth movement, Molto vivace q =152 or Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony in the last movement, the fast-repeated notes with the horns double-tonguing, or even may be also in the Allegro theme of Rossini’s Italiana in Algier. But I know some young kids and some players that can double tongue the whole range of the instrument. It’s amazing! It’s supposed to be impossible and I think for me it’s too late to do that. But I do use it for to repeated notes and for short bursts of scalar passages, up until top-space from E to E’’’.
HM: It can be helpful, yes. But if you’re so quick with single tongue, you don’t have to use double tongue.
HM: How have you been taught about breathing and how do you teach breathing? I think it is also connected with the embouchure, when we have too much pressure in the embouchure, we have to force with the air. Do you do exercises for breathing with your students?
Studying voice as best school
EE: First of all, I went to study voice for a while, just for myself. And I found that helped enormously, because when I would hear wind player that has a certain “something” in the sound and I was able to ask them, I don’t know if you know Francis Orval , the French Horn player from Belgium, he comes to mind, as one that responded, “Oh! I studied voice!” I thought, maybe we are telling ourselves, and our teachers tell us “sing, sing, sing, through the instrument, make the clarinet sing…” So, I thought maybe I should go and find out what it’s really like to sing, at least on a well-trained elementary level. Just simple vocalization, breathing and posture, for that, helped me a lot. When I started with Richard Lesser, before Yona, he talked about low diaphragmatic breathing, how important that is, we just do kind of hands here (shows the flanks of the torso) keep them extended and use that oppositional feeling of the abdomen to the hands, to control the air flow. I try to warn my students and myself against using too much muscles, just to keep it flexible and I think, if we don’t slump, if we stand up and use whole-torso breathing, also a little bit of rib expansion, just expand in all directions and then hold it, gently from down to low, the very low muscles hold it in.
HM: So, you would say that the posture is very important for a good breathing. Hold the posture while exhaling, don’t curve yourself when exhaling.
EE: Yes. Naturally stays open, then we don’t force the breathing against the closed throat and it’s also more appealing as a performer and I think all of us, as you know, the weight of the clarinet drives us down, and then the computer and reading, everything is pulling down and forward like this and pretty soon we have a somewhat choked wind pipe. The Alexander Technique helps a lot with this aspect.
HM: Do you also speak about back muscles?
EE: Yes, and I try to show my students. Now, if you touch a student, I ask permission, can I put my hand here. (The back lowest ribs, just above the kidneys). To expand in the back and a little bit of yelling with their hands on their back ribs, they can feel then something bounces back here. I show them that the bottom rib is higher in front than in the back, they want to breathe into there, back and down. That’s elusive, that’s hard to get, but I think it’s extremely important. So, yes, back breathing. I don’t know, I hear that in the good European conservatories there is always an Alexander Technique teacher or bodywork expert on staff. I studied it privately as a young soldier in the band in Tel Aviv. I think the great Swiss flutist Aurèle Nicolet introduced it to the Israeli musical milieu when he appeared as a recitalist in the mid-Sixties, but please check my facts about this - being from Lucerne, you would know better than I! From Alexander technique I got the awareness of the participation of the back of the ribs breathing in the back, not just the front that you see in the mirror, but what happens back there when we use all of our body.
HM: Yes, we are always orientated in front. And then, just important is to hold this opening in the back and on the sides while breathing. My idea is that these muscles used for our inhaling stay in action when exhaling for tone production. Do you think it is right?
Balance in– and exhaling muscles during sound production
EE: Yes, I think that the muscles that inhale and exhale, create a gentle oppositional tension with one group against the other. Otherwise, all the air would come suddenly up and out, as in a sigh. So, we have to hold all in to control the outward flow. Now, one can do this opposing action with muscles only but with no air moving across the embouchure, so our bodies can deceive us, in a way. One might can think of that support, but it’s not support. It’s only support IF I’m playing, IF air is moving and we do this, then we have support.
HM: Yes, the in- and extending muscles are team players, so we don’t have too much pressure on the embouchure. This gentle tension allows us to play with low pressure.
EE: That’s it.
HM: And then I just to try to focus the air with tongue and embouchure. My idea is, that this is one of the important features of the old French School. And may be other schools work with a mouthpiece- reed combination that needs more pressure in the embouchure and in the air. Of course, it sounds nice also.
EE: In a different way!
Holding the clarinet
Position of the thumb rest
HM: How do you have your thumb rest, between index and third finger or lower?
EE: I think thumb and index should be at about the same height.
Shape of the hand
HM: I observed, that when the thumb is a little bit round, also the other fingers have a good position. Do you make some training for the thumb of the right hand to have a good form and enough force?
EE: Well, as you said, if the right palm is nicely arched and has a good tension, then the thumb is also curved and just I try to keep that shape. I try to keep the whole hand a certain shape instead of isolating the thumb.
HM: Bonade describes in his method a special way of moving the fingers. He wanted us to make really very big motions. What is the purpose of these big movements? Do you use this technique?
EE: If I do too much of that, I get in troubles, I get very tensed. I do it a little bit and I try to think of the choreography and dance, what Marcellus should call: The hand should do what the music is doing. So, if it is fast music, a kind a jumping very close, if it is the slow solo form Tchaikovsky “Pathétique”, just a little bit of larger, slower movements. If I think about it too much, I don’t get a satisfying legato.
HM: Too much thinking doesn’t work.
Coordination of tongue and fingers
HM: There is another exercise Bonade describes: the finger move forward to the next note, while the tongue is touching the reed and damping the note.
HM: I tried it. I think it can help to be conscious about the tongue moving and to find a good coordination. It can be confusing also. What is your experience when you use it with the students?
EE: It’s very, very strong medicine and I think it should be described very carefully (laughs). I think it can come at a very, advanced stage…
HM: What you do as warm up exercises? I suppose you are changing between different models. Do you do long sustained notes, then go into scales and Arpeggios? What would you say has to be done every day?
Combine my long notes with moving etudes
EE: For me if I play too many just single notes, then I get very rigid. It is more a matter of fi connecting slowly note to note with an even sound and with an ear-governed musical impulse. So, I take Kroepsch  Book1. First of all, I don’t know a lot about Mr. Kroepsch, but he must have loved the clarinet because, as I tell my students: “If you make these phrases sound great, they will make you sound great!” There is such an enjoyment of the sound in melody in those! I don’t believe that there are velocity exercises because they are written like 16th and 32-notes. It’s like moving all, all melody. So, I’ll take a Kroepsch, lets’ say d-minor and select medium speed, so I can feel and hear the control of the line in everything I’m doing, not too slow that I got stagnant, and not so fast that I can’t hear! Then I combine with that may be a long note to start, establish the first note as a fermata, and then in the very last note, also fermata, con diminuendo al niente for a beautiful release. So, I try to combine my long note work with some moving notes to combine everything.
As an example: Fritz Kroepsch, 416 progressive daily studies: D Minor
To attack the D well in this exercise, I play the low g, fermata, add the register key without allowing any flinching of lips or jaw or back of tongue. My practice is to approach the twelfth from the fundamental (starting on the bottom and slurring up). After establishing the tone like that, with stable jaws, then I will re-attack the top note. And/or play the top note without a register key, which is a great embouchure strengthener.
HM: Very nice!
Play some beautiful 12ths
EE: And then some of that all, maybe do two or three of those and I’ll make sure that I cross some 12ths. The ones that starts above the staff. I’ll refer to the fundamental notes. So, let’s say g above the staff. I play the C below, play a beautiful 12th, make sure everything is common denominated and matching and then I play the exercise. And what helps me in addition to finding my sound, it helps me not play sharp in the second register, because I’m connected to the ground, to the bottom. Reinforcing the natural overtone of the low note, in a way C1 up to G2.
HM: Did you learn a lot about reed making and adjusting?
EE: My first lesson with Gigliotti at Curtis, I played an etude and he said; “very nice! And what methods do you use for your reed balancing?” And I went kind of “What…?” (laughs). So he taught me how to balance reeds. Of course, I think reeds are much better manufactured now than they used to be. Most of our cane is bad, always, but at least the modern cuts today, are better. I’m sure, you remember in the old days, you open a box, it could be anything, very sloppy. So, I started to adjust reeds, made them flat at the bottom and balance the tip: I used sandpaper. Now, I actually make my own reeds.
Making your own reeds with a BKM machine
EE: Do you know the BKM machine ? The American Reedual machines came out the 70’s when I was a Curtis student. Mr. Gigliotti said: you should get one of those. I said: But how do I make a reed? He said well, just figure out: you take a piece of cane and you cut away everything that doesn’t look like a reed (laughs). So, I was mostly self-taught with that.
HM: You like working with the BKM?
EE: Yes, but I learned a lot from that, and I know a functional reed is not just a matter of luck. Everything we’ve talked about today is dependent on a functional reed, because it is so that very important, but I try to get not like an oboist, to get too obsessive. Notice that I said “functional” reed, not “good” reed, because there can be very many ideas about what is a “good” reed, but there is general agreement among professionals as to what is a “functional” reed.
HM: Can you change the shape of the reed, with the with the BKM or is it given? I mean it is very important, it depends of the mouthpiece.
EE: It’s not very complicated, (shows it online).
HM: Oh, Yes, I saw this in Germany, when I visited the class of Ernst Schlader in Trossingen.
EE: It’s in a way printing, it’s like copying a key. You have a model reed on one side.
HM: And you copy it.
EE: Of course, it is never exact, because the raw organic material - reed cane - is very uneven in texture. It’s a product of nature, after, all. So, I still have to do some touching up. By starting my process from reed blanks I can more or less select what’s bad before I make a reed out of it. And, yes, they might be of different shapes, depending on my model reed or how much hand-finishing I had to do after the machine.
HM: You can take the model of the blank you want, but you before you choose the wood and you decide to make a reed only with a good quality of wood. That’s the advantage of this machine.
Cure the reed; wet and let dry it
HM: Wasn’t Alfred Prinz , the famous Viennese clarinet player also professor in Bloomington?
EE: Alfred Prinz was in Bloomington, yes, and I learnt a lot from him, a wonderful gentleman and a noble clarinetist and musician. I’m describing with the reeds is part of the old Viennese system, perhaps German as well, they call it “curing” the reed: so it is a wet/dry, wet/dry, wet/dry then sanding the underside flat, repeat until it doesn’t warp any more when exposed to moisture. . In other words, the piece of cane is allowed to “go crazy” and is stabilized before I make a reed out of it, not after. That’s what Mr. Prinz did. All the Viennese at that time did. After the blank dries out, he drew four horizontal pencil lines across the back of the reed, and sanded until they are erased evenly, if that makes sense. Then you know the cane is stable.
HM: Is that the difference to the industrial reeds? I don’t know how exactly they are made. But I think much, much quicker.
EE: Exactly they’re never made in a way that wet/dry, wet/dry until all instability is worked out of it.
HM: How much time does it take you to work until the stability is given? Does this process take several weeks or days?
EE: Well I might wet/dry some ten times, I don’t soak them for an hour, like some people who say, I soak them maybe for a half hour then let them totally dry. After sanding the underside flat, I soak them again, only a few minutes, and after drying, the next day, I do it again, and on the third day I look the lines on the bottom, and I see how flat it is. When the lines disappeared, then I know it’s flat. That’s very simple primitive work: I can do while I’m doing something else.
HM: Carl Baermann was right with his method and he describes, as I understood it, it needs really several days or even weeks of wet/dry and sanding the back side of the reed with on the surface of a very fine grindstone. You would say, it takes you one week to make a reed?
EE: You mean going from the raw material to the finished reed?
HM: Yes. EE: Over a period of a week. But about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Actually, making the reed with the machine is 2 minutes.
HM: But you would recommend to everybody…
EE: I use commercial reeds sometimes, but I think this process of self-manufacture enables me to do a better diagnosis about what a reed would never work, and makes me a better adjuster of commercial reeds.
HM: I see.
EE: May be even to touch the commercial reed in a way that makes it more personally, my sound. So, I think every clarinetist should go ideally through a period of doing this and learning from it. And we’ll find our own compromise.
HM: Hans-Toni Kaufmann, in Lucerne, Switzerland, studied with Alfred Prinz. He made also reeds for Alfred Prinz. but I never made a reed from beginning to end, just retouch. Maybe I should try again.
EE: I don’t think that It is necessary to do the whole reed by hand, I never did that, all by hand and knives. Some of the old American players did. I never developed that skill, and it’s also a lot slower. So, I think you would want a machine, or else it’s very time-consuming and one can’t make as many reeds, clearly.
HM: Hanstoni Kaufman makes reeds, with a slicer It’s a knife installed on a carpenter plane. He works very quickly. He made me a reed for the contrabass clarinet in 10 minutes, incredible! But we have so many different cuts today from different manufacturers. Is it better in principle to do it by yourself?
EE: Also, it depends on the climate. If you're near a body of water and your reed is stable, then commercial reeds are fine. I must say, a really good Vandoren, there is nothing like it. You know Vandoren or Steuer can make the reed much better than I can! All I’m doing better is preparing the reed cane, really.
HM: Do you work on mouthpieces also, or just on the reeds? Do you change the facing or even the chamber of the mouthpiece?
EE: I work with people who do. I could never do that myself because I’m too neurotic. But I worked with Ramon Wodkowski .
HM: Yes, he knows a lot about it.
EE: I play a very old mouthpiece which is from the old New York Woodwind Company, which is like a Chedeville blank. From time to time it needs a little bit of face lift, so he does that. But I would not touch a mouthpiece myself, because I know, even if I wouldn’t ruin it, I’d be so neurotic about it, so I go to the expert (laughs). You know a reed is different, less critical.
HM: A mouthpiece is really unique if you have a good one! Is it also the special rubber that makes the vintage mouthpieces so good, or is it only the special design of its geometry?
Playing a vintage mouthpiece
EE: I do think the material is important. I know that some clarinets players believe that it’s not important, but I believe all the mouthpiece vibrates, not just the reed, and the material composition of the mouthpiece body influences how the vibrations are transmitted to the listener’s ear. If u strike a brass gong, or an identical one from a different material, they would sound different, right? On a smaller scale I believe this vibrant coloring of the sound is true of the material composition of mouthpiece - and ligature, I might add. In a way a mouthpiece is like an embouchure, or an extension of the inner- and outer embouchure, there are many different aspects holding it together and giving it its characteristics. If it’s an unworn vintage mouthpiece, much of the work that was done by the old master craftsmen, I think is still valid. And then of course the dimensions in the interior are very important. They were not able to make mouthpieces all the same way in the chamber, the bore, etc.
Let me try to explain what I am thinking: in term of industry, now they try to make everything the same consistent, because the industry demands this. In the old days there was more of a spectrum: some were terrible, some were mediocre, but on the other side of the continuum you might luck into a truly exceptional exemplar of that spectrum. If you are lucky enough to find one! Yes. I think it is still a mystery, a little but like the Stradivarius varnish. It’s all been analyzed over and over, yet at the end there is still a bit of mystery as to what exactly, is the factor or combination of factors that makes an instrument truly, uniquely, exceptional.
HM: It’s incredible, in Europe we have a lot of people playing Vandoren, Playnick or Ligostini, made of different materials and designs. But we don’t follow this tradition of vintage mouthpieces. Ramon comes sometimes to Zurich. He works with us for the Opera. I play a Wurlitzer Boehm and he made me a facing. I have to use this mouthpiece because the bore and the geometry of the chamber of another brand would be unsatisfactory for some aspects of intonation. I cannot take a normal Boehm mouthpiece. But the Philadelphia inspired by vintage mouthpieces of the early 20eth, when I play it on a Buffet clarinet, I like it very much! Ramon did it and it works really well. But unfortunately, it doesn’t fit on the Wurlitzer clarinets.
EE: I’m sure, he could help with that too. He is a true artisan and has a great ear for quality.
HM: He made me a very good facing, even on the plastic Wurlitzer mouthpiece. It’s not so easy to work the facings on plastic, rubber is better for a mouthpiece maker.
The natural liss
EE: I wanted to maybe talk about because we were talking about the naturalness or the ergonomic naturalness and hopefully physical efficiency of clarinet playing. I would like to just to add a belief of mine.
Just the selection of mouthpiece, whether open, shut, or long or short, I know when I experimented with this, no matter what I did and no matter what mouthpiece I played, I got my own sound. So that led me to believe that it is a matter of comfort and efficiency, which is a very personal thing. So, it is ok for every student of mine to use different facing, if it is comfortable and if it fits so they get their own natural sound, of course within the necessity of controlling all the professionally expected aspects of sound production technique we talked about earlier. I have one student who uses to play a B 40 another plays Vandoren 5VR Lyre, some use the Philadelphia, and some have older mouthpieces that have been refaced. I think physical compatibility and efficiency should be at least as much, if not more, of an effect for our selection of mouthpiece tip opening or facing length. Ultimately, one will sound better with this approach, I think, than trying to “muscle” something uncooperative into submission. And we must be able to play a Mahler symphony five nights a week in the Israel Phil, or in your case a series of four or five back-to -back long operas, and still be alive the next day!
I know some teachers who say: if you are my student, you must only play the exact same physical equipment I do. It’s like telling us all me to wear all the same size four shoes. A certain well-informed flexibility of choice can make s huge difference, I think, in developing player’s growth.
HM: I think you are right. My teacher played both. He played Wurlitzer and then he changed to Buffet and changed again. It sounded more or less always the same, not only the mouthpiece but also the instruments: It was always Hans Rudolf Stalder’s Sound! Today some teachers say: you have to play this special kind of mouthpiece…I don’t know, if there is a commercial reason behind, sometimes. Thank you very much I am happy that you took your time for this interview, thank you very much!
EE Thank you! I loved talking with you about this, I am excited about this project and I hope we’ll meet in person soon!
HM: Al so if you perform in Europe, let me know.
EE: With pleasure.
- Letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father, Mannheim, December 3th , 1778 
- Kycia, Carol Anne. 1999. Daniel Bonade: a founder of the American style of clarinet playing, p 35. Captiva, Florida
- Stein, Keith. 1958. The art of clarinet playing. Miami, p. 12: Summy-Birchard, Los Angeles 
- Kroepsch, Fritz. 1900. 416 Etüden für Klarinette in fortschreitender Ordnung. Heilbronn: Schmidt.