On Thursday afternoon, well-known clarinetists and pedagogues Larry Combs and Julie DeRoche presented a master class. The event began with Lisa Canning interviewing the pair about why they initially picked the clarinet, past experiences in the music industry, and their thoughts on general entrepreneurship. Both Combs and DeRoche stressed the importance of clarinetists having a wide variety of marketable skills. They also agreed that if you have reached the age of 20, for example, and you have not reached your ultimate career goal, this should not be viewed as a “failure.” They discussed the fact that there are many different ways to be successful and in the music world, and it is very rare for a person to have only one area of expertise.
After Canning’s interview, DeRoche began the masterclass with both she and Combs chiming in with ideas for the participants. She noted that this is often the format for clarinet studio classes where they teach together at DePaul University. As this particular class progressed, it appeared that Combs was first to offer musical suggestions about phrasing, note direction, and practical suggestions about performing with an orchestra. Meanwhile, DeRoche’s comments tended to focus more on physical aspects of playing, such as finger posture, embouchure, and articulation.
The first participant in the master class played a very prominent cadenza from Scheherezade by Rimsky-Korsakov. Combs began with comments about what is happening in the orchestra in and around this passage. He commented on this participant’s use of the side B-flat fingering and how it might be causing him some lack of evenness from note to note. DeRoche then echoed that comment about finger precision and emphasized the importance of embouchure stability at the beginnings of tongued notes.
The second participant played the exposition of the first movement of the Mozart Concerto. Combs complimented him on his control of the instrument and mentioned that since the original manuscript of this piece was lost, we can only guess what Mozart wanted in terms of articulations, for example. DeRoche commented on the importance of tongue position when articulating saying, “Where your tongue is when you’re slurring… that’s where you want to leave it when you’re tonguing.”
The final participant was only able to play the cadenza from the Copland Clarinet Concerto due to time restrictions. Both Combs and DeRoche were quite complimentary of her fine playing. Their main comments addressed the importance of the accents in the cadenza. Combs even played the “Charleston” on his clarinet to emphasize the importance of rhythmic vitality in the cadenza. As always, Combs and DeRoche communicated clearly and effectively leading excellent masterclasses.
–Notes by Timothy Phillips
Timothy Phillips serves as Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, and manages Clarinet Corner, weekly program on Troy University Public Radio.