11. June 2009 · Comments Off on The Fear of Silence · Categories: Links

In the middle of today’s performance of a Mozart clarinet quintet, the music stopped. Clarinetist Todd Palmer was having a problem with his reed. That’s rare but not unheard of. Reeds are after all fragile little pieces of wood that can inexplicably split, sometimes right in your mouth (I had this happen once while learning clarinet rudiments in college). Charles Wadsworth, sitting in the front row and watching the performance, asked if he needed to change his reed. Palmer’s only response was that all this was embarrassing and that the audience would get their money back (he was joking). He finally got the reed working again and the concert proceeded beautifully. The whole episode probably lasted a minute. Yet the moment had some interesting implications (interesting to me, anyway).

I’ve never had this happen at a crucial moment, but that fear does lurk. When I was soloing a few weeks back I had put a headband on in order to keep my hair from getting in my reed, but my hair is now long enough it can make it’s way there anyway. For a short while I had to take great care that I didn’t blow that one thin strand of hair that had managed to get into my mouth into my reed. That would have meant silence for sure. In very dry weather reeds can even dry out quickly and give us the silent treatment. And today, after teaching two students, I looked at the reed I had been playing on all day — and used for last week — and there was a huge crack in it. How that happened, I haven’t a clue, but eventually that would mean a horrible pitch problem, an ugly sound, or silence.

The article about the ReedSilence™ is about more than that; it’s about our expectation of perfection in this recording age. I do wonder if that expectation is as high as I place it most of the time. Live music is live. Stuff happens. But it’s still, I think, incredibly more exciting than a recording.

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