Teaching Clarinet at the Birthplace of Music Education

by Dr. Julianne Kirk-Doyle

Date Posted: August 31, 2017

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Coming from the birthplace of music education, what makes the Crane School of Music program special?

Crane School of Music Mission statement:

“The Crane School of Music is a community of musician-educators committed to fostering a vital musical society. Thriving programs in performance, composition, music business, and the academic disciplines of music history and theory enrich our long-standing heritage of leadership in music education. Our undergraduate programs are designed to provide a strong and comprehensive foundation across all areas of study, whereas our graduate programs bring greater depth and focus within these areas. In keeping with SUNY Potsdam's mission as a student-centered institution, Crane students and faculty collaborate in pursuing a broad range of opportunities for artistic, personal, and professional growth. Blending proven traditional approaches and promising educational innovations in a uniquely supportive and cooperative learning community, the Crane School equips students with both the foundations and flexibility needed for the challenges of the 21st Century.”

When I first arrived at the Crane School of Music, I was very impressed by the level of performance required of all students to remain in the program. All students are held to the same standard of playing, there is no varying criteria pending major. Crane’s mission states that “Excellence in Performance is the foundation on which teaching is based.”

Our instrumental music education majors have the benefit of taking all of their instrument techniques and conducting courses with studio faculty. This is a unique opportunity Crane offers and many graduates feel this contact with a master teacher in each area gives them exceedingly honed skills to teach beginning students. Many faculty offer office hours for extra help and questions pertaining to teaching beginners. Our graduates are certified as K-12 Music Teachers.

Crane’s Music Business majors have the opportunity to attend the NAMM Convention each January and intern with major music distributors. We have a number of recent graduates who are employed with DANSR/Vandoren, D’Addario, Yamaha, Buffet and more.

Some of the courses offered to all majors include instrument repair, reed making, mouthpiece making, repertoire and pedagogy and excerpt study.

My colleague Dr. Raphael P. Sanders, Jr. and myself coordinate a clarinet summit every other year to bring master players/teachers to Potsdam to teach and perform for our students. Many major distributors also bring their products for our students to try so they can experience what is out there on all levels of equipment so they are aware of the options for their students.

We also have students who declare Bass Clarinet as their major instrument and once they have passed their initial barrier exam, we encourage the study of Bb clarinet as well so they are accomplished on both instruments. Our bass majors are very comfortable on all the low clarinets including Basset Horn, Alto Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet and Contra Bass Clarinet.

What is your method for preparing incoming freshman? Any special resources we should know about?

I encourage all incoming freshman to learn their scales in the full range of the instrument. Students often only learn major scales in limited octaves during high school but in college, we expect full range scales. For clarinet freshman, they need to learn E, F, F# and G scales in 3 octaves, the remainder in 2 octaves and learn harmonic and melodic minor scales. I also like them to be able to play a chromatic scale from Low E to High G with ease.

We spend a great deal of time in the freshman and sophomore years of study working out of the Kroepsch studies, Baermann Scales, Rose 26, 32 & 40 Etudes and JeanJean Vade Mecum.

My ultimate goal is by the end of the sophomore year, students are playing the instrument efficiently and with proper fundamentals of embouchure, air, tongue position, hand position and good posture. We work to eliminate any unwanted tension to prevent injuries in their later years of study and performing.

How do you explain air usage to your students?

Exhale before you inhale! Many players forget this simple part of breathing and get into trouble with stale air. We must consider how we are inhaling, whether we are relaxed or tense. For optimal air intake, I recommend using an “Oh” syllable vs. an “E” or what many students do, breath through their teeth which causes a tense inhale. The “Oh” allows for a very quick inhalation with little tension in the neck, shoulders, throat. Once we inhale, we can then set our “ee” or “ewe” vowel for playing. Players also need to consider how long they inhale based on what music they are playing. Inhalation in tempo is helpful, especially if you are leading a pianist or ensemble but at the same time, players have to remain relaxed. By using an “Oh” syllable, we are able to expand into our lower abdomen quickly and easily without tension. When exhaling, I encourage a “Shhhhh” or “Tsssss” Syllable to maintain the abdominal engagement or air support. Many students don’t completely understand how to “Breathe from the diaphragm” so these syllables sensitize the students to their air support.

I also urge students to plan every breath they are going to take and mark them in the music as they would any dynamic or accidental. Having a breathing plan is essential to performing successfully and not having any unwanted tension or injuries due to lack of air support or air planning.

What equipment do you play and/or recommend for your students?

Equipment is very individual and has a lot to do with how the students approaches the instrument. I recommend the Vandoren Mouthpieces M15, M30, M30D or BD5 as those are mouthpieces I have seen students have the most success.We pair with a 3.5 +/- reed strength pending on the student’s air control/capacity and maturity. I encourage students to strive for a 3.5-4 strength reed in any of the Vandoren reeds or equivalent. For ligatures, there are so many good products on the market so I encourage students to try them all when they have the opportunity. The majority of my students play the Vandoren Optimum, Vandoren M|O, Vandoren Leather, Bonade or Silverstein ligatures. I also encourage students to use a neckstrap and recommend the BG Elastic strap for flexibility and comfort. Personally, I play on either the M30D or BD5 mouthpieces with an Optimum or Gold M|O ligature, and 3.5+ strength reeds.

There are many fine instrument manufacturers and we are privileged to have the addition of Morrie Backun’s clarinets as a great option for all levels of player. I recently started playing on the Backun MoBa Clarinet and recently the Alpha clarinet which is a student instrument. All of the Backun clarinets are first rate and give the player confidence no matter what level of instrument. I recently performed a concerto with band on the Alpha for an outdoor concert, and paired with my Vandoren M30D, my colleagues in the ensemble were floored that it was a student line synthetic instrument.

What is your goal when your students walk out of Crane?

I want my students to be marketable when they leave Crane whether that be a performance major to gain admission to a graduate program with a good assistantship, an education major securing a teaching position or graduate school admission, or a business major securing a position in the field following internships. I have also had BA music majors go onto graduate programs in Music Theory and Music History with the goal of becoming collegiate instructors in those subjects.

I urge my students to explore anything they are interested in to make them more marketable whether it be in music or another major. Crane offers many minors and concentrations including Special Education, Jazz Studies, Music Business and Performer’s Certificate. One of my recent graduates has an undergraduate degree in Music Education with a concentration in Special Music Education, Jazz Studies minor and additionally passed the required juries and recitals to be awarded the Performer’s Certificate. This student has finished student teaching, and is going on to pursue graduate work with a full teaching assistantship at another institution.

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