John Moses

Aus Cladid-Wiki

The Interview with John Moses, woodwind specialist, lecturer and educator took place on June 7th, 2019 at the Gershwin Theatre in New York and was edited by Heinrich Mätzener.

John Moses’ teachers

HM: The purpose of this project is to follow the traces of [Daniel Daniel Bonade and Ralph McLane, who in turn were educated according to the old French school and were important personalities forming a lot of famous clarinetists in the USA in during the 20th century. I think that you have also partially completed your studies in this tradition.

JM: [I studied] in the Older French School, although they [my teachers] called themselves [representatives of] the American School, which was a combination of a kind of Bonade, and also Kal Opperman. [Also] the German School of playing was very, very popular here. There was also a kind of “Italian School”. That came from Gino Cioffi. He was a kind of leading exponent of this school and I went to Boston to study with him and got a different idea. He played a crystal mouthpiece, and a Selmer clarinet and had a different sound from German or French.

HM: So, you know really…

JM: All the different influences, exactly. Because I was in New York with many of the German School teachers, a lot of them were here.

HM: Was New York more orientated to the German School than in Philadelphia?

JM: No, I think, more French. But there was a strong German influence also in New York, and guys went back and forth to different teachers. So, I went to Harold Wright, he was in Washington DC at that time. He was probably a really great example of the [Old] French School, with a little bit of German mixed in, because his tone was dark, but he had that sparkle of French, which was amazing! We called him “Buddy” but his name was Harold Wright. And then there was Anthony Gigliotti, who was in Philadelphia, who I also studied with.

HM: Gigliotti was a student of Daniel Bonade.

JM: Exactly. And he had more of a French style playing. Although he loved the Italian sound that Cioffi got, he didn’t imitate that Italian School, he was more in the French School. But the best example I had as a teacher was Joe Allard.

HM: Is he still alive?

JM: No, Joe passed away about 10 years ago. I studied with him at Juilliard, for many years, and many of the great players in New York at least studied with Joe Allard or with someone who had been a student of him. So Joe was one of the biggest influences on many of the clarinet players in New York, and I think he was from French Canada, like Quebec. But he was really a very French School Canadian and taught the embouchure of the French and didn’t like the German concept at all! So when you went to Joe, you got the French concept [Joe Allard studied during four years with Gaston Hamelin.

HM: Was he a student of Bonade also?

JM: Yes, he was. And of Augustin Duquès, a very famous teacher here also. Joe and Duques were both at Juilliard when I was there. So they were always talking to each other in French and making sure their students got the French concept.

HM: I see.

JM: But Duquès was also a student of Bonade and they all loved the French School! Sound concept: be flexible!


HM: What would you say, in your point of view, what should be important for a clarinet sound? What is important for the clarinet sound, one should be able to do, artistically?

JM: it must change.

HM: it must be flexible.

JM: It must be flexible. What happens now in many auditions and jobs and places is that playing in auditions making everything sounds the same. It has to sound dark and rich and dramatic, perhaps, although I hate to blame the German sound, I must say so dark and tubby and covered, that there’s really no sparkle, no excitement around sound. It’s all too carefully constructed, so I think if it could stay flexible- in a Brahms symphony, if it needs to be dark and germanic, play that way! But if it is a Poulenc piece or if it is Debussy, we need sparkle, we need to come out as French! So the American way of clarinet playing should be flexible. And I have an article in the union paper[1] which you could look off called “You must be flexible.” Flexibility is the main way to get a job, the main way to play in orchestras. The main way to be kind of right all the time is to be flexible.

HM: You also change B clarinet, E-flat, doubling all the time.

JM: Yes, I play all the levels: I play saxophone, flute, clarinet!

HM: Bravo!

JM: Here [in the Gershwin Theater] I play many different instruments. But I also play in orchestras where I only play clarinet; I played in five major symphony orchestras where I only played first clarinet! There I didn’t have to play saxophone or flute. When I came back to New York, because I went to school there, I found that the orchestral scene was spread out. You had to play many different filling orchestras. I played from Opera orchestras to the ballet orchestra, I played with the philharmonic, but it was not regular. The most regular work was Broadway! So I jumped on a Broadway show that Leonard Bernstein from the Philharmonic asked me to play in the seventies, and I played his Broadway show! So, I got back into Broadway when I came back to New York.

HM: Was Leonard Bernstein conducting at Broadway?

JM: Leonard Bernstein was guest conductor of the Philharmonic. I can’t remember who the actual conductor was, Boulez or Zubin Mehta, someone because I worked for those guys also.

HM: Is there a difference between the old American-French school and the today’s way of playing?

JM: I think there are few of us who play with a French style, as Joe Allard [1] gave us and we’ve maintained that sound. There are some guys, who are very famous and play in the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic who have contained their sound down to a darker, more Germanic sound, so some of them still play with the French-American sound, and others are trying to play more Germanic-American. But I think they all have flexibility. They are just limited in the orchestras to what they can do, whereas when we play films or jingles, or anything in studio, we can play a dozen different ways from day to day and be right whereas they have to keep in the narrow box of the way they think they have to play for conductors. So, I can be very flexible because I play for many different art forms of the profession.


HM: And what is the secret of your embouchure to be so flexible?

JM: Joe Allard, again. There’s the name! Joe Allard kept stressing flexibility, no biting, no pinching, no pulling back [the corners of the mouth] on a smile, all of that is wrong! Joe said straight up “wrong!” He didn’t say “you shouldn’t do that” He said: “it’s wrong! If you’re smiling, if you’re pulling your teeth back, if you’re squeezing, if you’re biting your lower lip, all those are harmful to your playing, you will never be able to play into your seventies, which I am, and you’ll never be able to continue to play as an older person or sound good; so don’t do that!”

HM: It’s amazing, that you still are playing in the Gershwin Theater at Broadway, congratulations! You continue to play, like Stanley Drucker [2], who stopped playing as principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic at age of eighty years.

JM: Yes! Stanley is amazing and Stanley’s teacher was Leon Russianoff[2], who was… well, it was German-French. Stanley has both; the Russian school was different. You certainly know the great Russian players [Leon Russianoff himself was a student of Simeon Bellison, and took also some lessons with Bondade, but Leon Russianoff, he was a good teacher also. I took a few lessons with him. He was very “do this! do that!” – a nervous guy, very demanding.

HM: Yes, there are some videos on YouTube, masterclasses with Leon Russianoff. JM: I’m sure you have seen. The good thing is that Joe was patient. With each student was a different problem. So, he put his fingers in your mouth, because you were pulling your mouth back. Nowadays, a teacher can’t do that, because it’s considered inappropriate. He would also let you expand [the corners of the mouth during the embouchure building].

Double lip embouchure?

HM: Do you think that practicing double lip embouchure helps to improve the sound quality?

JM: No! Double lip only hurts your upper lip! You don’t want any pressure on the lips. There’s not more pressure or less, there is very little. So the single lip is bad enough, so we speak. In putting this [the bottom lip] over your teeth and putting the mouthpiece on it on it, then pulling your upper lip over your teeth and biting down on the mouthpiece, is even worse.

Use the upper lip to seal up the mouthpiece

HM: It hurts, when you are biting on it.

JM: It hurts, what’s the point? You don’t need to play with double lip embouchure, as Joe Allard said: “[The upper lip] just seals off your mouthpiece. So, if the mouthpiece is in your mouth, and your teeth are on the top, and you seal, with a little bit of pressure up at the reed. You just seal with the cornes of your mouth, you don’t pull them back [like when you would smile]. You pull it together to seal. The upper lip touches the bottom lip, and it’s just like this: the upper lip is relaxing over the lower lip, with the clarinet in mouth of course. And sometimes there is a little leakage of air, but you could stop it if you have to. Just let everything come forward, yes, relaxed and forward!

Play with a flexible embouchure-line

HM: There are different kinds to create the little bit of pressure that is necessary to make the reed vibrate. Do you create a small pressure by bringing the instrument with your right thumb more or less against the embouchure?

JM: Yes, the clarinet moves in and out. Ist like playing on a piano [each register has his place on the reed]. So, as I take more mouthpiece in the mouth it is to be louder and brighter; as I move out, it’s darker, because there is more lip on the reed. When there is more lip on the reed, it’s darker; less lip on the reed, and more you have in your mouth, it’s brighter and louder. The clarinet does move, in and out, yes. (see Joseph Allard)

HM: So, you change the embouchure line on the reed.

JM: Yes, for musical reasons. There is no one spot on the lip.

Use the bottom lip as a cushion

JM: And the lip is a cushion. Joe said it’s a cushion between your reed and your teeth. It’s just a small cushion, it’s not to be used as a battering ram. It’s not hit the reed with your teeth and lip, it’s a cushion. Everything should just be natural; you form a little cushion on your bottom teeth and you just put the reed on it. With a little bit of pressure up, on the reed. But the cushion is there, so there is no pain. You feel the reed here. Your teeth can feel the reed, but the cushion in between is stopping the teeth from touching the reed. It’s not stretched, it’s not pushed, it’s just a cushion.

HM: And you don’t have to center it inside either?

JM: No, you don’t, just the natural way the lips close when the mouthpiece is in your mouth.

HM: Also for E-Flat?

JM: With E-flat it’s exactly the same. There is a little more pressure on the reed, because the notes have to be in tune obviously, so it’s going to be a little more pressure on the reed, but then again, not pulling back.

HM: No, this was the Old Italian School.

JM: Yes, Italian and French [since about 1945]. Like I said there are great techniques of stretching, pulling, painful, all kind of ways to play and also great players who use those techniques, amazingly well, but I think what most of Joe Allard’s students learnt was that you play for many years, for many hours without any pain. Relaxation: extend your life as a player and you will extend your playing hours in a day. So I can play eight hours a day, seven days a week, without pain.

HM: Yes!

JM: I get tired, my body, but I don’t get tired from clarinet; I just get brain tired, body tired.

Control the sound by choosing angle clarinet/body

HM: And do you play also with different angles?

JM: Sure! Joe used to talk about basically a forty-five-degree angle [between instrument and body]. Joe used to support the clarinet during long performances between his knees. So, the bell was here [between your body and legs] and was at about a right angle. [The clarinet] shouldn’t be against your body and shouldn’t be Benny Goodman style, straight out, so both of those are kind of harmful, in terms of what it’s going to do to your lip. It’s going to pinch your lip or open your mouth too wide to be able to control the mouthpiece, which is why so many jazzers squeaked, because their clarinet was way out here and the reed was out of control with the lip. So it sounded like if the reed could just squawk at any time because it was too parallel with the floor.

HM: It’s just for special effects.

JM: Of course! And it does make a special effect. When I do Rhapsody in Blue, quite often I start very close to my body and I push the clarinet out as I slide off the keys and lift the clarinet, you know. Never parallel to the floor, but I lift it because theatrically everyone is looking at you and the conductor gives you a gesture, so you kind of respond to that and you make it sing. But you don’t have to do that. Many of the jig clarinet players sit tight and hope it doesn’t squeak! I, on the other hand, I’ve done it so many times, now it’s not a problem; I just do it and it comes out. So I can be a little theatrical.

Pointing the chin?

HM: We talked about upper and lower lip. How do you form your chin?

JM: You never point your chin, never. Your chin should always be relaxed. So when you’re playing, if the lip is the cushion.

HM: You don’t have to worry about the chin? JM: Never, yes.

HM: I see, pointed chin, you don’t use

JM: That was the old French school.

HM: But isn’t it necessary to get a free vibration of the reed?

JM: In fact, the more flexibility you have, the more relaxation you have with your jaw, you wouldn’t have TMJ, you wouldn’t have any pain if you have your chin down, and pulling your teeth back, and pulling your lips, [Don’t tighten your lips like smiling, in this way you cannot create a cushion with your bottom lip. Prevent tensions by forming a pointed chin, which often connects with a pulling back or down of the lower jaw. This would create pressure on the larynx.] Just let your chin rest [in a natural] position.


JM: A wonderful example was Anthony Gigliotti, who kept saying – he’s a big guy – “expand your diaphragm, the air should come up.” Joe [Allard] used to talk about that also. He had you lay down on the floor, where you’re breathing properly and can maintain that same air inside the diaphragm, inside the lungs and let the air push up into your clarinet, but not forced. They’re [clarinetists] taking a shallow breath and (pushes with force), squeezing out the sound. With Joe it was very flow, the sound flowed from your lungs and diaphragm without any pressure on your lungs.


Exercise: the bridge, Yoga

Lie face up on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your arms at your side with your palms down. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. ... Hold your bridged position for a couple of seconds before easing back down. Breathe! [Transfer the breathing of this exercise to clarinet playing. Make sure that during exhalation the ribs remain stretched until the end of sound generation. Pay attention to Joseph Allard’s advice: “…and wait for this, until this is gone.” Means: while exhaling, your chest is relaxing and sinking in only when your diaphragm is relaxed again. Exercise showed by Joe Allard]

Good support gives freedom to play in all registers

JM: The larynx, the glottis, and all this mechanism were allowed to flow freely: you play high (sings high) your voice is high and when you play low your voice is low. This [the vocal apparatus] moved, depending on how you are playing. You played high, it would lift (sings high then low), you play low, it would drop. If the air was rightly supported, the voice box functioned into the clarinet, you didn’t have to pinch for a high G. When you have to play a high G3, and you basically sing a high G3, then it would come out.

Circular breathing

JM: With circular breathing we now can play long passages without being forced to cover. Or any fast things: we can play the Flight of the Bumblebee without ever taking the clarinet out of our mouth, but rather puffing out your cheeks and bringing some air in through your nose. When inhaling, the air column is constantly continuing flowing: by using the air in our mouth and pulling the cheeks together and then using the air from our lungs again. Circular breathing technique is very popular now with clarinet players, woodwind players all the time.

HM: It’s a good thing.

Articulation and staccato

Tongue position: never let the tongue fall back

HM: How would you describe the tongue position while playing?

JM: I think the tongue position is important, but the tongue can never fall back; the tongue floats behind the back two teeth, your [upper] molars. So your tongue is actually floating, like this unless you play louder, it moves slightly. As you tongue, the front of the tongue does this, [demonstrates the contact with the reed] but the back of the tongue doesn’t ever drop, because if it drops, it stops the voice box, the larynx from moving freely.
Keep the tongue flexible and pliant

HM: It makes a tension there (shows at his out base)

JM: Exactly, the tension in a yawn, that old fashion to yawn when you play, is wrong. Because yawning stretches the tongue down and it doesn’t allow anything to move, to stay flexible: that’s the word again, is to have the tongue flexible and pliant.

Articulation is pulling back the tongue from the reed

HM: Bonade wanted the students to have the tip of the tongue really near to the tip of the reed. This is not a natural position; the tongue has to be bit stretched forward.

JM: And [the tongue has] a big surface and it’s touching the reed in different places. If it’s a passage that requires you to have a tenuto or sustained [non legato] playing, the tongue moves back slightly from the tip and if you have sforzando [short, accented notes], you have to put [the tongue] at the tip [of the reed], and just pull it away. But the tongue always pulls away from the reed, it doesn’t slap the reed. The tongue’s work is to release the vibration of the reed.

HM: It pulls away from the reed. And what you are showing now: it’s a downward motion of the tip of the tongue, moving backwards and forwards,

JM: Exactly, it’s a downwards, and not an upwards motion. You release so, the breath is there, and you go “ta ta” [When you are slightly touching the reed with the tongue, and the air has been dammed up a little moment behind the tongue, the tongue liberates the touching point and the reed starts to vibrate more intensively by an accent].

HM: For learning this technique of articulation, do you stay on the reed and let it vibrate even when the tongue is still in contact with the reed?

JM: No, the tongue is not against the reed unless you’re ready to use it. If you don’t need your tongue, the tongue is no more near the reed… It’s only near the reed when you’re getting ready for passages that have articulation, where you have to do soft tongue, hard tongue, slap tongue, the different requirements of the music.

Use the articulation as it is required by the musical context

There are many different techniques of the use of the tongue: rapid staccato, even double tonguing, or [starting a tone by] not using the tongue. Sometimes it is what’s called the breath attack: sometimes it’s just the puff of air, like in my part in the show here: it says “sub tongue,” and that’s our way of playing without the tongue, without a lot of breath you support the sound and then it just appears: it’s a whisper sound, no tongue.

How the tongue touches the reed

HM: The size of the surface of the tongue touching the reed can be bigger or smaller?

JM: It changes all the time! It changes from note to note. What the music wants, what the conductor wants.

HM: Just technically: to play the low notes, I think the tongue has to be more down on the reed than playing high notes. And on the bass clarinet even more.

JM: Well, the bass clarinet is much bigger. You have more positions on the reed on the bass and fewer on the E-flat clarinet. But I think the position on the tongue depends on the passage in music. You don’t use your tongue against the reed for everything the same way. If it’s a staccato, you will be close to the tip, if it’s a legato passage you will be far away from the tip. And it’s never going to be right on the tip [between the opening of the mouthpiece and the reed].

HM: The tongue is releasing the vibration of the reed in a downward movement

JM: Release: The air is (ready) behind it (the reed)… release: “ta, ta”

HM: And a mistake can be to use too much force…

JM: Yes. Force, slapping, pressure, tension, all those are words you never want to think about by clarinet playing. [remark hm: Joe Allard and “The inner game of tennis”]

Anchor technique

HM: The anchor technique, is completely different…

JM: Anchor tonguing is putting the tongue very behind your [bottom] front teeth and then pushing against the reed. There are some fine players, Steve Hartmann, I think he used to do that, I don’t think he still does, but I remember him showing me how he did it. Anchor tonguing has fallen out of favor, so has double lip fallen out of favor with most contemporary clarinet players. But other things have come in, which we never had years ago, which was, as I said the double and triple tongue so as circular breathing.

Fast staccato

HM: And what is the secret to have a fast staccato?

JM: Relaxation, this is my word again. The relaxation of the tongue. If your tongue is being held rigidly, or if it’s being squeezed, if you have your tongue in a tight position, it will be difficult to use it. And the syllable I usually use is “teee, teee, ta, tee, tee, tee”…. but also, “la, la.” You change the syllable sound in your head, by just moving the tongue in a slightly different position. But if you pull it away from the reed, you get, right, if it’s a legato passage “la, la, laa” And you can use that: ka and da-ga da-ga da-ga

HM: Double tongue

Double tonguing

HM: When you teach double tonguing: to have on upper register also good results. I think it’s quite difficult.

JM: Not, it is! And there are four or five different techniques of double tonguing. I only teach the one I know. There is a guy here, in our orchestra, who can double a triple tongue, and he uses a completely different technique. He’s doing a throat thing: he’s closing and opening his throat it very fast [changing with the tongue attack on the reed, like: “ta-gha-ta-gha.” I don’t know how to do that. I’m not promoting it.

Use the back or the center of the tongue

I’m just saying the way I’m doing this: (shows) and you get “ka, ka,” as short as “ta, ta,” so the back of the tongue against the hard palate is the “ka,” and this should sound the same as “ta.” You’re going [to work]: ka, ka, ka. You have to close off the air column with the back of the tongue, or the center of the tongue like you close it up with your tip [of the tongue at the reed]. But the “ka” has to be as short as the ta. It usually comes as “ta-kaa-ta-kaa.”


HM: About voicing. When you have to sing in high registers, you have the same position…

JM: Joe Allard played harmonics (sings, begins with the 12th, then plays the basic), on open G, you get a D, a flat high D, the 12th (sings D - G). You get it by changing your vocal cords, your larynx. And your larynx moves as you need the high note. You don’t make it move. Playing that note, it just goes (sings “C#3, F#1”, C3 natural, F1 natural); it jumps to the 12th. So you’re playing an F and do the overtone in high C, but very flat. If you use the register key, that’s in tune. That’s why we have registered keys. [Joe Allard also uses different embouchure lines for high and lower notes, in combination with the flexibility in the larynx.]

Legato fingers

JM: I think what Bonade did, and what Joe taught us: he had this flexibility of fingers, so the fingers actually extend slightly first and then come down. If you have time to do that, for a legato, certainly do that! It’s a kind of squeezing a tennis ball idea. So you’re squeezing the keys instead of slapping. It was that slap technique that was very Germanic at one time: click, click, you heard the keys, like a typewriter. I think Bonade and Joe and a lot of players of the French school believed in this, just squeezing the keys as if they had a tennis ball, instead of slapping.

HM: Legato fingers

JM: Legato fingers, exactly

Thumb rest

HM: I changed my thumb rest to an upper position.

JM: Most clarinets have it way over here, so it’s stretching this joint [the first joint of the thumb]. But the natural hand position is like this, so that my thumb rest is below my first finger. So I just move it down from the French position, which is way out here; I move it closer to my first finger. It shouldn't bee too far, because it gets a cramp in your hand. The holes [for fixing the thumb rest] were here I think, at least 6mm, so I moved it way out, so that it’s now opposite my first finger.

HM: Are you playing a Buffet vintage?

JM: It’s just a Buffet. It’s an R 13

Neck strap?

HM: Do you use sometimes a neck strap?

JM: No, never. You don’t have to. If you get that tired, you can put it on your knee. I just think the neck strap is putting it out too far; it’s putting the clarinet at the wrong angle. You do have the opportunity to use one if your arm is tired or if you are injured.


HM: What kind of mouthpiece do you play?

JM: Oh, this one was made for me by Clark Fobes in San Francisco. If you could talk to him, it’s great to go up there.

HM: Also, for Bass Clarinet, I played one for a long time. It unfortunately broke down.

JM: He is a wonderful bass clarinet player and makes great bass clarinet mouthpieces. I use one here in the show. He made also E-flat mouthpiece for me.

Playing Légère reeds

HM: You think it is important to break in a new reed, or you take it from the box and just play it?

JM: Légère, French Canadian!

HM: You follow their development; they became better and better?

JM: Sure! They take suggestions from Larry Combs, from Steve Cohen, from me, there are a lot of players in the country.

HM: You worked with them?

JM: I’ve been working with Guy Légère for about nine years.

HM: And you worked on the consistence and also on the shape?

JM: Guy Légère is a scientist. He worked on the shape, the contour, and the delay. All Légère reeds are cut exactly the same. Guy went back to the drawing board [again and again] to reengineer the reeds. He’s got reeds which are much more consistent now. He has made a reed that is so perfect. If you try four reeds, 3 of them would be terrific and one of them might not be quite as good. It’s the same shape-proportion as a cane reed, but it functions much differently: it doesn’t get wet, it doesn’t absorb anything, and they can be sterilized, so you can go from student to student, by just steeping it in—or you can clean them at night with—soap and water and they are always fresh for the next day. Or you can leave them on the mouthpiece and just play it the next day. It’s not actually plastic, it’s a polymer that follows the same grains as wood, as cane. What it does, it imitates the cane qualities in a polymer form. You just put it on the clarinet and you play it. The position [on the mouthpiece] with synthetic reeds is important. It’s important to get them on exactly sideways and not too low, to get them in line exactly with the curvature of the mouthpiece. There is kind of one good position. If you get the exact position, and have exactly the right strength, it can last for a long time. I could play them here for months and I play every night! All my reeds are Légère.

HM: So, you don’t use any cane reed anymore?

JM: I haven’t used cane reeds for over 10 years. I’ve recorded, I have performed, I’ve been on stages as a soloist, all with these reeds: bass clarinet, Bb-clarinet, alto saxophone are all Légère.

HM: If you would let stand a bass clarinet, playing the Bb clarinet only for 10 minutes, during this time, the reed of the bass clarinet dries up.

JM: …and it doesn’t play. Légère doesn’t dry. This never ever needs to be wet. And if it is very cold or very hot, you haven’t to change the reed. The cane wilts, brittles, or cracks. So again, if we are talking about reeds, we could spend the whole hour discussing the pros and contras. “Buy the Légère reed and you’ll have the reed of the future. The reed of the past is cane.” Tires were wood, now they vulcanize rubber, and people would want to go back to wooden tires? I don’t think so. We had wooden mouthpieces, then we went to plastic then hard rubber, but no one plays on a wooden mouthpiece anymore. Why would we play wooden reeds?

HM: We play with classical clarinets in the opera of Zurich and, besides rubber, we also use wooden mouthpieces, specially stabilized.

JM: You can use a wooden mouthpiece; the point is they were just like reeds. And from month to month it might be a terrific mouthpiece and by the next month it’s roped into something that wouldn’t hold the reed. So, as I said, these reeds stay the same, or they wear out. They flex so many times, they vibrate, that you can’t use them. They do wear out. But it takes 10 times as much time to wear out a Légère reed than to wear out a cane reed. It lasts 10 times more and sounds better, consistently better, every day. I would suggest that you try when you get home. Try some Légère reeds.

HM: I use them for especially for contrabass clarinets. But on the Bb clarinet I have some problems with intonation playing in the orchestra at the opera: the upper register tends to be too low.

JM: Yes, you might have the reed too low. Move the reed up on the mouthpiece. As a matter of fact I told Guy to make it one way, to makes it easy for people, that none of the black should show. When the reed is pushed against the mouthpiece, you shouldn’t see any of the black line. So, make sure the reed is high enough, so it’s strong enough for you, so when you push against it with the air, it doesn’t flatten as you go higher.

HM: Ok, I’ll try

JM: Make sure the placement is right, not too high, but not showing any black.

Practice technique

HM: Just a question on practice technique: If you have a new piece to play, what is your secret to master it as quickly as possible?

JM: If it’s a well-known piece, you can certainly get some recording and try to emulate the way a great player has played the solo. Or if it’s a brand-new piece – which many of my music is now brand new, because it’s movie music or it’s a transcription of something that hasn’t been played before – I’ll look through the piece: what looks like some troublesome spots? Perhaps over the break, something very high, something very fast, I look through those and I go just over those spots, play over and over again, maybe 10 times. Then go back before that spot, run through it and go further. Then I keep stretching away from that difficult passage. So I don’t spend the whole time on the beginning of the piece, which is simple; I’ll spend most of my time on the difficult passages – that are difficult for me – maybe they are not difficult for everybody. I work on stuff with difficult fingerings, stuff awkward to play.

Do different patterns

And you might do different patterns: you might change the rhythms, change the speed, play too fast, play too slow, and then the tempo in between. So, lots of ways to play. Eddy Daniels, great clarinet player, was asking me one time, what I did with the Première Rhapsody, that spot at the end of the piece (bars 3 to 4 and 5 to 7 after #7). I said: “Well, Eddy, I like to play it in every key, transpose a half step, transpose to a 5th, and then come to the right key, it seems easier, because these were harder keys than the one Debussy used! So, you could try that.”

General posture - neck and shoulder

HM: What is important on the general posture: you play very relaxed – do you focus on certain parts of your body?

JM: I focus on the shoulder: it must be never pulled up; the arms are always relaxed, the neck is always relaxed, and what I do, you can do these kinds of things (shows) when you’re not playing, do the neck twists, neck circulations, you can do these, make sure your neck is not stiff.

HM: During the performances?

JM: Well, in the orchestra pit here, I do it in the rehearsal.

HM: You have no rests?

JM: No, I mean not many, you have rests in between the tunes. You have a little time to do a little stretching but it’s hard to do that on stage if you’re playing in a concert, because you cannot move around a lot; it’s awkward for the audience, to see you do exercises, so you can’t do that. But in a pit or when you practice, you can give yourself plenty of time to get the neck nice and relaxed. Your arms should be nice and relaxed. There are exercises that you do for hands, various hand stretches, those are important, you have to be careful what you tell the students in terms of finger exercises; they tend to overdo.

HM: Like Robert Schumann, he stretched too much his fingers…

JM: Exactly! He broke his hand.

HM: Did you do Alexander Technique, or special movements with your instrument?

JM: No, I think I’ve basically done it musically and I have gone to various therapists for other kind of things, physical therapy. You know, I hurt my arm, I saw a therapist to help, stretch that arm back. But if you don’t hurt yourself or you don’t do anything wrong, then you don’t need special Alexander, or lots of other techniques. If a person wants to do it, she should do it! It helps! If it helps your head to help your hands, do it! Do whatever you need to do; it will make your playing more comfortable and more relaxed.

Have fun!

And more fun! It should be fun! You should be playing clarinet every morning, every night, for fun! And also for profit! You should be able to make a living, and to be flexible enough to take any kind of work. If they call me to play a cartoon, if they call me to play a butterfly landing on a sink [for a commercial film] I make it sound like a butterfly landing on a sink. So I try to think what’s it’s kind of like and I try to make it up. And I like it! Then he says: “Do it again!” I say I cannot do it again; it was improvised (laughs). So, play it back and I’ll listen again and try to copy what I did! There are lots of ways...

HM: Thank you very, very much, that was a very nice interview!

JM: Thank you my friend! I’m glad we had a talk!


  1. Moses, John (2015). Always be flexible. Allegro, Volume 115, No. 7 July, 2015 [3]
  2. Clark, Stephen L. 1983. Leon Russianoff: clarinet pedagogue. [4]