Hawaii, Humidity, and Hiking with James Moffitt

by Jenny Maclay


James Moffitt has held the position of Associate Principal and Bass Clarinet with the Honolulu Symphony since 1981, serving four different seasons during that time as Acting Principal Clarinet. He joined Chamber Music Hawai'i's Spring Wind Quintet in 1986 and from 1997-99 served as Acting Assistant Principal Clarinet with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Having performed with the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra since 1996, he has also performed, toured and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Winds. A former member of the Alabama Symphony, he has also performed with the Colorado Symphony, the Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Aspen Chamber Symphony.



Jenny Maclay:  You are currently the Associate Principal and Bass Clarinetist of the Honolulu Symphony. What are the challenges of each position? 

Jim Moffitt:  Both positions are solo positions. Maintaining different equipment such as reeds and mouthpieces is a challenge.  In the orchestra, each position commonly works with different instruments. Principal Clarinet often works closely with the upper winds and strings and the Bass Clarinet with low strings and winds.


How did you become involved with the bass clarinet? 

JM:  I became involved with the bass clarinet in college. I was curious about it and began to fool around with it. I really enjoyed it and became more and more serious about it.


What are your favorite bass clarinet orchestral passages? 

JM:  It's hard to say what my favorite passages are. There are so many and I really enjoy whatever I'm performing at the time. I've always had fun playing the “Pillage” movement from Prokofiev's Prodigal Son.


In addition to the Honolulu Symphony, you have also played in the Alabama Symphony, Colorado Symphony, and have recorded and toured with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What musical differences have you noticed in these different regions? 

JM:  I'm not sure there are regional differences, but each orchestra is different. Different musicians, conductor, performing venue and traditions all affect how an orchestra sounds.


How does the Hawaiian climate and temperature affect clarinet equipment and reeds? 

JM:  Compared to the altitude in places like Aspen, Santa Fe or the indoor dry heat in Midwest winters, I have found the stable humidity and climate in Hawaii much easier on equipment than other climates. Mold and mildew can be an issue, especially if you live in a rainy area of the Islands.  I leave my case open after a rehearsal or concert if at all possible, to allow a chance for the condensation to dry out as much as possible. At Aspen and Santa Fe we frequently kept our reeds in sealed plastic bags or containers to keep in the moisture. If I do that in Hawaii, mold will soon begin to grow.


How did you begin playing the clarinet? 

JM:  I had an older friend that I really looked up to who played the clarinet. He said that I should play it too. So when a band was started in my grade school and they asked us what instrument we wanted to play, I chose the clarinet.


Who are your musical inspirations? 

JM:  I have been inspired by many musicians over many years. It's very difficult to single anyone out.


In addition to clarinet, what other hobbies do you enjoy? 

JM:  I love swimming and have done many open ocean races. I'm a baseball fan and, in my younger years, I played softball and basketball frequently with friends. Now I enjoy hiking with friends.



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