How to Master the Clarinet Family with John Bruce Yeh


John Bruce Yeh, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Hi, My name is John Bruce Yeh - you can call me John! I play the clarinet in Chicago and I play in the Chicago Symphony since I joined in 1977. So that makes 40 years for me in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and it’s gone by in a flash. For the entire time, almost the entire time, I’ve been lucky to have Vandoren as my mouthpiece, my reeds, as my ligature, and if they made a clarinet, I’d probably play Vandoren clarinets, but, I play Yamaha clarinets.

I just love this new BD5 mouthpiece. It’s the cat’s meow. Plus, the optimum ligature and the Traditional cut reed. Big, solid, projecting sound. Both at soft and loud dynamics. Full resonance. That’s what it’s all about.


So I also play the Eb clarinet. I’ve been trying various different mouthpieces: this is the one I’ve always played on in the orchestra. The B44 Vandoren. Recently, they have an M30 which I’ve been using in the orchestra and I hear there’s going to be a BD5 Eb mouthpiece coming out. I’m very anxious to try that. But, I’ve made a lot of recordings on the Eb and I’ve always used the B44. I’ve always used the Traditional cut and they work great. I’ve been playing some chamber music as you'll hear on the Eb - Jim Stevenson’s Sonata, that has one movement specifically for Eb clarinet. 

I love my Vandoren mouthpieces. I depend on them and my Vandoren reeds. These ligatures are great. The Optimum: it’s like getting 3 ligatures in one with the different plates. I’m indebted to Vandoren and they help me do what I need to do.


I also play the bass clarinet. I didn’t bring it with me, but I think it’s very important to be as versatile as possible when you’re a musician. If you’re a clarinetist, play all the different members of the clarinet family. I started out in the Chicago Symphony as the solo bass clarinet player. I was so delighted to find out about the B50 mouthpiece that my very good friend, colleague, and former student, Michael Lowenstern turned me onto it. I think there’s a video of him demonstrating the mouthpiece. I picked it up and put it on and I played my first concert with Maestro Muti. We did the Manfred Symphony of Tchaikovsky. There’s a very big bass clarinet part. Maestro sat me in the middle between the first bassoon and the first clarinet. I was sitting right there because I have a lot to play with the bassoons and the clarinets. That was the debut, in the Chicago Symphony, of the B50 Vandoren bass clarinet mouthpiece. I was very happy with that.

Switch between the Bb clarinet, the Eb clarinet, the bass clarinet. If you have really good equipment, that is stable and colorful, then you can do it really easily. You have to get used to switching, making sure your embouchure is just right, but I think it’s really helpful to have reliable, excellent equipment like Vandoren. I wouldn’t be able to do it with as much ease and as much comfort without the help of this amazing line of mouthpieces, ligatures, and reeds. It’s all here.

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