Selecting the Right Equipment: Advice from Eugene Mondie

National Symphony Orchestra


        Hello my name is Eugene Mondie and I’m a clarinetist with the National Symphony Orchestra.  Today I’d like to talk to you about picking equipment.  I think it’s important to remember the basics, that is to say why we do what we do and what we’re trying to accomplish.  We’re trying to serve the music and I think that’s important as we pick our equipment because it allows us to be objective.  I think it’s important to get out of the parameters of good and bad to what works and what doesn’t work.

        One of the reasons I’m a big supporter of Vandoren is because I think we get too fixated on a mouthpiece and think ‘that’s it, that’s the one’, but when I play my M13 Lyre I know in two years it’s not going to be the same in two years and I won’t be in the same position in two years – I think it’s important that we explore the different sizes of the instrument, the different aspects of the instrument, and also acknowledge that things change and things wear out.  The constant availability of this really great mouthpiece is why I play Vandoren.

        The reeds I think are clearly the best.  They have such quality and depth to them that allow me to do what I need to do.  Especially the way modern orchestras play, when we play as loud as we play, we really need a lot of strength and depth. Without it I don’t know how else we could do it.

         I think it’s also important that we not become attached to any one specific characteristic of the instrument – whether it be the sound, or the articulation, or the number on the facing – whatever it might be we should evaluate the mouthpiece on its own.  The same goes for reeds. There are a variety of different reeds and instead of thinking that only this reed will work, try out a variety of different reeds because I think it’s tough to know for sure what’s going to work.  I think there’re multiple possibilities with these relationships on the instrument.

        It’s important to remember that this is a system between the reed, mouthpiece, and clarinet, and that we’re basically affected by acoustics, climate, seasons, and temporal changes; that is to say things wear out.  Another important fact is that clarinetists are basically divided into two camps; you can believe it is a high-flow instrument or a low-flow instrument.  Knowing this allows you to have objectivity as well when you’re trying your equipment vs someone else’s equipment and realizing where they may be in either of those two camps.

        I would suggest when trying mouthpieces to avoid playing on them too long because as you play on them you begin to adapt your own physiology and the reed begins to shape to that particular mouthpiece as well.  So my advice is to try something very quickly and look for the basic characteristics rather than what is ideal.

         (Plays a few notes) Something as simple as that will tell you the sound, the response, and the depth you’re going to get.  This is also another reason I think we should try a variety of different mouthpieces.  This is one of the reasons I like Vandoren very much; they have a high quality mouthpiece that I can experiment with in my own playing.  Not only do I change but the weather changes, the season changes; this allows me to experiment and find what works best for me.

        I play a V•12 5+ with my M13 Lyre and the reason I do that is not because I sit there and totally rework the reed, but rather it has the characteristics that I’m looking for with a closed facing.  I want the depth and I want the volume of sound that I get with the V•12 5+. Whatever mouthpiece you’re playing on and whatever reed strength you’re using, it’s important to remember that you’re getting certain things… If you’re using an open facing then you’d obviously be using a much softer reed… It’s understanding those relationships that’s critical, rather than fixating on any particular strength or model.

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