Vandoren Artist Profile: David Tuttle

Date Posted: February 19, 2018

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Interview conducted by Rebecca Scholldorf

Vandoren: When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

David Tuttle: There was never any doubt in my mind from elementary school that I wanted to pursue music. At the time I was playing saxophone and there was nothing else that I really enjoyed doing as much as practicing my saxophone. So, when I met my most important teacher, early on in high school, he understood me and realized that I was going to pursue classical music and he insisted that I keep studying clarinet. When I got to Northwestern, I was a saxophone major with Fred Hemke, but then I switched to clarinet because Mozart and Brahms and Mahler didn’t write a lot of saxophone parts. But, right from the very start, all through high school there was nothing I wanted to just didn’t occur to me to do anything else. I guess I could have been a movie star, you know, gone on to become Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise, but I didn’t want to.

When did you make the switch from saxophone to clarinet?

DT: The official switch was in college but up until that point, because I had such a good teacher in high school, I was practicing saxophone three to four hours a day and I became really attached to the instrument. When I got to Northwestern I had been practicing a lot of clarinet but that’s when, mid-way through my freshman year, I realized I did not want to spend the rest of my life playing with computers and contemporary music. Not that I have anything against it, but my love for Brahms and Mahler and Beethoven and Bach was too much! So, I just decided. Then I came back as a sophomore clarinet major. However, everybody at Northwestern was playing better clarinet than I, but nobody wanted to play bass clarinet. So, that sophomore year I played bass clarinet in the wind ensemble and the orchestra because nobody else wanted to do it. That’s how the bass clarinet and I got together.

Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?

DT: My teacher in high school is number one, Edward Yadzinski, who really got me on the track to practicing the basic stuff: long tones, chromatic scales, fingering exercises, excerpts for a couple hours every day, and that was it. Fred Hemke was very important as a saxophone teacher because he was such a charismatic person and a motivator. He was not happy when I switched, but he was still very influential. My other teacher was Jerry Stowell from the Chicago Symphony who was also a wonderful teacher.

When Jerry Stowell passed away my graduate year at Northwestern, I studied bass clarinet with the bass clarinetist in the Chicago Symphony, George Weber. We got along great and he was the one who asked me if I would be interested in playing extra with the Chicago Symphony on the Rite of Spring, the second bass clarinet part, which I did! That’s what started playing extra with the Chicago Symphony. I went to Europe with them, I remember playing the second bass clarinet, third clarinet part with them on the Rite of Spring. I did a lot of playing. Then when he went into the hospital I played for several months and then, unfortunately, when he passed away, I played for nearly a full season.

Right around that time I auditioned several times, the first time John Yeh got the job which was *laughs* really, you know, what are you going to do? A once in a lifetime talent and my dear friend, John Yeh. The next real audition was when Lawrie Bloom got it, who certainly a superb player. Since then John has had me play extra a couple times a year and it’s been marvelous; an honor and a privilege. So, that’s how it happened; that’s why I’m here today.

My infatuation with mouthpieces has been for 30 years. The research and my history of Chicago mouthpieces and the makers. I think I inherited that from my father who was a natural salesman and collector. First the buying and selling of instruments and mouthpieces, then came the fascination with the history.

That’s one of the great things about researching mouthpieces is that you realize a mouthpiece is not an end but is a means to an end, and that it doesn’t always end in the same place. It’s your concepts and ideas. For me, after all the years of playing and mouthpiece study, the Vandoren M30 is my favorite mouthpiece! And that’s that! - Dave Tuttle

Can I ask a brief overview or history?

DT: The history of Chicago mouthpiece makers is reflective of the history of American clarinet sound production. I once tried to call Lyon and Healy and they told me you can’t call the owners because their lawyers will tell you not to call anymore; they don’t want to be bothered. That was a very old firm in Chicago, and apparently they brought a man in from Germany named Bauer to work on their woodwinds and mouthpieces. He was the person who trained the Kaspars on repair and mouthpieces. Later they went into business with Arthur Goldbeck, and then for themselves. Kaspar mouthpieces began to spread over America, eventually into the hands of players like Robert Marcellus, Clark Brody, and the Cleveland and Chicago Orchestras. A huge amount of that sound production and tone results from the Chicago mouthpiece makers over more than half a century.

What was the defining factor? What made it different from what was coming over from France and Germany?

DT: It’s not easy to compartmentalize because everybody has their own sound. The American sound is a combination, a mixture, of the French and the German. The French are noted for a lighter sound and almost impossibly fast technique, and of course the Germans say, “You’re all technique and no sound.” The German’s is astonishingly beautiful, at it’s best a rich, deep, dark sound, and of course the French say, “you’re all sound and no technique.” *laughs* In America, the two schools met, everybody talks about Daniel Bonade, the great player and teacher and how influential he was on so many students. Bonade was a little more towards the German side in his approach, whereas players like Ralph McLane and Harold Wright were more towards a lighter, French style.

Those two styles have coexisted beautifully in America, even to this day where there are some players who really do combine both schools. Players like Morales and I would say Anthony McGill, who I had the honor of teaching for the first four years of his career, and he is now principal in the New York Philharmonic. Yeah, he was in Chicago and I taught him at the Merit Music Program for the first four years and he’s more of, I would say, a German sound. A lot of this has come together now to where I don’t think a lot of people play with the traditional French sound. Then there were players like Rudolph Jettel, Leopold Wlach, and of course Karl Leister who were famous players with a dark German sound. I think a lot of American players have married those two and have brought it together, although there are differences in sound.

Of course, the critics would say that American orchestral playing has now become homogenized and that what we lack is personalities. You know, I sort of figure you could have said that a lot of times through the years. Everybody is their own player, and they all approach it differently. If Ricardo sounds a little bit like Harold Wright, and if Anthony sounds a little bit like Robert Marcellus, they are all great players. That’s one of the great things about researching mouthpieces is that you realize a mouthpiece is not an end but is a means to an end, and that it doesn’t always end in the same place. It’s your concepts and ideas. For me, after all the years of playing and mouthpiece study, the Vandoren M30 is my favorite mouthpiece! And that’s that!

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