This packed session brought together four of the greats: Stanley Drucker, Naomi Drucker, Larry Sobol and Larry Combs for an informal chat about their past experiences. A common thread uniting this discussion was surprisingly the theme of this year’s ClarinetFest, entrepreneurship. One often does not think of the need for these skills among those who held the most illustrious positions, but this conversation revealed the true demands of earning a living as a clarinetist. Stanley Drucker spoke of his early years in the New York Philharmonic when there was no work in the summer for the orchestra. So he played for some years for the band at the racetrack and the ice show at Madison Square Garden. Naomi Drucker entered the profession in an era where there were virtually no female orchestral musicians, so she founded the American Chamber Ensemble to play music of local (NY) composers and became an expert in grant writing and fundraising. She convinced her university (Hofstra) to support several concerts a year. Through this entrepreneurial spirit her group was able to exist for over 40 years; Mrs. Drucker has performed all the chamber repertoire that includes clarinet and has been a champion for many American composers.
Larry Combs played for three years as a member of the U.S. Army West Point Band. During this time he honed his skills, studying when he could with Leon Russianoff. Larry Sobol took an interesting path – he performed extensively across America and Europe as a soloist and chamber musician. He collaborated extensively with leading composers across the world, performing their music and simultaneously boosting their careers. He spoke fondly of Karel Husa – once he went to visit Husa in his home gain insight on one of his chamber pieces. Instead, he was treated to hours of listening and discussions of other composers while being served an unknown and powerful Czech drink. About 3am, Husa finally asked Sobol to play for him, Sobol laughingly recalled that he could not even feel his lips by this point! Sobol developed symbiotic relationships with composers that served to the advantage of both parties.
Even those artists of the previous generation, at the highest levels of our profession, had already considered entrepreneurial ways to further their careers. Today, there is no traditional path to greatness, making this year’s ClarinetFest 2014 especially relevant in teaching the necessary skills of entrepreneurship to the next generation.
–Notes by Melissa Bowles Snavely
Melissa Bowles Snavely holds degrees in performance and music education from The Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins, Shenandoah Conservatory, and James Madison University. She currently teaches and performs in the Washington DC area.