David Howard Visiting the Vandoren Studio in Los Angeles -Transcription
Bass Clarinet Playing
My name is David Howard and for the last 35 years I’ve been the bass clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Before that, I was the principal clarinetist of the New Haven Symphony and the New Jersey Symphony. I have been telling my students for many years that the most important thing they need is a sound in their ear, an ideal sound, something they strive for, something they try to find while they’re growing and making musical choices. I’ve been playing on Vandoren since I myself was a student, so I can’t even tell you for sure which came first: the sound in my ear or the sound of Vandoren. But the happy truth of it is those two things, the sound in my ear and the sound of Vandoren, have been completely intertwined throughout my career, and for that I am very grateful.
Bass clarinet playing
Throughout my career I’ve played every chair in the orchestra. I’ve played first clarinet, second clarinet, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, contra bass clarinet, and for fun I’ve also thrown in basset horn and, I’ll bet something that you’ve not played before, maybe a few of you have, the tarogato. The tarogato is a very interesting instrument I actually used a Vandoren reed when I played on the tarogato because it uses a soprano sax reed, so it’s a clean sweep for Vandoren.
I’ve always had a philosophy that the bass clarinet is first and foremost a bassclarinet, not a bass clarinet. So the sound that I’ve looked for is kind of a thick and rich, bass-heavy sound, and that’s informed my decision to play on the B40 mouthpiece, I’ve been playing on those for many, many years. I use the leather ligature that Vandoren makes and I use number 4 Blue Box reeds. And I guess I feel the same way about clarinet, since I’m a bass clarinet player I like to get a fat, bass-oriented sound even though it’s a soprano instrument. So I use the same basic equipment, I use a B40 mouthpiece, I use the leather ligature and on clarinet I use 3.5 Blue Box reeds.
In addition to my work in the Philharmonic I’ve had a steady diet of chamber music and new music, and I also have been on the faculty at the Thornton School of Music at USC for the last 30 years. I have to say I’ve learned as much from my students as I hope they’ve learned from me.
When I was in high school and then in college, I studied Russian and Russian Literature and in 1973, I went on a trip to the Soviet Union. When I did, my teacher at the time advised me that if I wanted to be a really good person, I would bring to the clarinetists of the Soviet Union, some fine reeds and mouthpieces because at the time they did not have access to those things. So I put in my little bag, some Vandoren reeds and Vandoren mouthpieces and you cannot imagine with what glee I was greeted. So I can say with all sincerity Vandoren, “Speaks Russian phrase."
There are so many things that go into forming our core musical values. When I was growing up, I grew up in Los Angeles, I was very fortunate to study with Mitchell Lurie, who was really a giant of clarinet playing, he was a gentle giant. He was an extraordinarily civil person with a bigger than life affect on people. From him I learned a lot about musical line and about general tone quality of the clarinet. After that, I studied with Leon Russianoff in New York and Leon was a captivating, vivacious fellow. He inspired a lot of us, and his specialty was virtuosity and technique. That was very important to me. But one of the most special opportunities I had was when I was an undergrad at Yale I got to study with two people who were not clarinet players, one was Robert Bloom, who was a great oboist. In fact, he was Toscanini’s oboist in the NBC Symphony and he was on the faculty at Yale and he was very generous to give me some lessons and I learned so much metadata about making music. I also had a chance to study with a great American soprano Phyllis Curtin, who was also on the faculty at Yale, and I learned a lot about breath support and the physical act of blowing and making things happen.
I think if I have anything to recommend to people who are learning the clarinet it’s to listen, listen, listen, listen. When I was a kid I wore out my records on my turntable, those that I could afford, and now that music is so easily accessible, recorded music, you have no excuse but to take everything in that you can. So I don’t care whether it’s Ella Fitzgerald singing a standard or maybe it’s Bud Herseth the great, great trumpet player from the Chicago Symphony playing a Mahler Symphony, or maybe it’s Jascha Heifetz playing a Korngold violin concerto. You can learn so much about spinning a musical line and it’s all a part of growing up in the musical world.
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