Tip Tuesday, Lift Clarinet Academy, and Portuguese Clarinet: An Interview with Wesley Ferreira

Interview conducted by Michael King


When did you know that you wanted to become a musician, and what drew you to the clarinet?

Certainly, I think most professional musicians are able to point to a moment or period of time in their lives when they began to believe that they could make a livelihood being a musician. For me that was in the middle of my master’s degree. However, as I look back on my life, even from a very young age I always felt that I was a musician. My father was a saxophonist in our local Portuguese banda filarmonica in Canada and my mother was fond of singing in the home. Music has always been a part of my life. In my earliest memories I recall feeling a very strong connection to its rhythms, melody, harmony, the various timbres of instruments, and the way it brings people together. I idolized my father and very much wanted to play music with him in the banda. When I was 8 years old he began to teach me. I wanted to play the trumpet, but he brought home a clarinet. I think it was his favorite instrument (he first started on the clarinet) and so I didn’t have much of a choice! Very quickly I took to the clarinet and have not looked back. 

Can you tell us a little bit about how your Portuguese heritage has influenced your musical career?  

I grew up in the tightly-knit Portuguese community in Canada. The son of Portuguese immigrants, I first learned music and honed my skills playing in bands filarmonicas. These concert bands, with their distinctive repertoire and traditions, have contributed to the vibrant musical life of cities, towns, and villages in Portugal for over a hundred years, and across the globe in communities where large gatherings of Portuguese populations have settled. Growing up I was heavily involved in the music of my community both in religious and secular contexts, taking on important leadership roles prior to my formal musical training at university.

I pay homage to my heritage with the release of my newest album this summer -Arrival. Despite the wealth of folk music traditions in Portugal, it is uncommon to find works featuring the clarinet that use Portuguese folk music elements. In the interest of expanding this type of repertoire I have commissioned new works for clarinet & piano, and clarinet & guitar from some of the most well-known Portuguese composers of today. Folk music often expresses the cultural identity of a country or region in a way than words cannot. I was brought up in a household where my family background was a point of pride and where the distinct Portuguese language and folk music was ever-present. The connection that I feel to my heritage is an important part of my identity. Arrival is an album of music that expresses my deep appreciation of the Portuguese musical history and culture.

"Arrival is an album of music that expresses my deep appreciation of the Portuguese musical history and culture." - Welsey Ferreira

What does a daily practice routine look like for you?

I begin with a warm up consisting of long tones, voicing exercises, scales increasing from slow to fast tempos, and articulation exercises. From there I move on to repertoire for concerts that I am preparing for. One thing that I am conscious of is to never simply practice upcoming repertoire “on” the clarinet, but to use this material to improve “how” I play on the clarinet. This is a much more powerful mindset.  

On Facebook you do a weekly Tip Tuesday, can you explain why you started that and what you hope readers will gain from it?

Social media is a way to build, maintain, and foster a sense of community that spans large distances. Much has been written about the negative aspects of social media, but I aim to use social media for the forces of good. I hope that my postings always reflect this. I began a weekly Tip Tuesday post on Facebook three years ago. I alternate between clarinet-specific tips and general musicianship tips. In my position as a clarinet professor I found that I was regularly sharing insights with my students and I thought that it would be worthwhile to share them with the public. My tips are purposely shorter pieces of advice so that they are easier to digest on social media. New tips come to me regularly as I teach, perform, observe, listen to music, etc. I am always thinking about my craft as a clarinetist, teacher, and artist. I hope to continue these and eventually turn these into a book. 

With that in mind can you tell us a little bit about your teaching philosophy?

My aim is to instill very solid fundamentals on the clarinet, and to nurture in student’s musical curiosity, contextual understanding, as well as artistic creativity and courage so that they become successfully independent of me. I believe that student-oriented teaching promotes learning that is both purposeful and enduring. I teach them to function efficiently in the practice room and to be fearless performers on stage. I also focus on non-musical aspects of personal growth and development including how to seek opportunities to advance in one’s chosen career. Additionally, I believe that a teacher must provide a context for music in society. I put a special focus on the artistic power of music to connect with people on an emotional level. I do all of this so students aspire to value the place of arts in society and to use their individual abilities and musicianship to make a difference in their communities, and indeed, to the art form. 

"I put a special focus on the artistic power of music to connect with people on an emotional level." - Wesley Ferreira

What is the Lift Clarinet Academy?

The Lift Clarinet Academy is a one-week clarinet program that I teach and perform at as well as host each June at Colorado State University. Together with co-director clarinetist Jana Starling, we welcome college-level students from across the country and around the world.

What sets the program apart is that it is pedagogically focused. We want participants to arrive with a goal and leave with a sense of achievement. Our focus is on the individual musical, technical, and artistic goals of each participant through critical planning and communication prior to the academy. We then create a unique curriculum for each participant including multiple clinics covering a variety of topics. The academy program also includes daily lessons and other activities such as performance masterclasses, participant solo and chamber music performances, a faculty recital, and social gatherings that allow students and faculty to mingle and take in some of the beautiful Colorado landscape. I am very pleased with the success of the Lift Clarinet Academy and especially the response that we receive from students and their professors each year. In addition to myself and Starling, we also bring in a rotating guest artist to contribute uniquely to each year’s program offerings. Deborah Bish, Diane Barger, Julie DeRoche, Robert Spring, Kimberly Cole Luevano, and Wonkak Kim have all served on the faculty of the academy.

A few years back you released a program called Air Revelation can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yes, the Air Revelation - Breath Support Training Program Musicians is a program that I created for wind players to improve breathing, breath support, and breath control. It’s a comprehensive program that I have been using in my teaching for years with remarkable results. I am happy to share it with everyone. It uses a breathing device called an incentive spirometer, by far the most versatile breathing device available, as an aid to improve playing through the synthesis of sight, hearing, and feel. Additionally, my instructional videos and exercises cover all aspects of using air to improve tone, articulation, release tension, and better understand musical phrasing. After all, air is the most important aspect of playing the clarinet!  Since 2016, Air Revelation has been used by musicians worldwide. I would encourage everyone to visit the website to discover the program for themselves: www.airrevelation.com

What is your Vandoren setup?

I perform on the BD5 Black Diamond mouthpiece, gold M|O ligature, and 4 strength traditional reeds. This combination provides me with optimal tone, depth of colors, technical stability, and great flexibility.   

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