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Blog Category: clarinets

Remembering a great clarinet player

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It seems like ages ago now that I was asked to write a biography on my fellow clarinettist and friend Georgina Dobree for the online edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It has been published this month at www.oxforddnb.com. The stuff of biography is by its nature the achievements of a lifetime but somehow you cannot convey the friendship and the laughter and the kindness of a person in such a formal setting. As well as being a terrific clarinettist, editor and publisher, Georgina was known by people in the clarinet world for her parties. Whenever there was a visiting clarinettist or bassett horn player in London there would inevitably be a party in her home to which all the clarinet fraternity would be invited too. Georgina in the 50’s and 60’s at the Darmstadt Festival intriduced more ground breaking contemporary music with composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Oliver Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez than most players will do in a lifetime. She was meticulous in researching editing and performing early music as well as commissioning new works. She died in 1998 having greatly enriched the clarinet repertoire and having been a wonderful supporter of music and players alike.

Geraldine Allen

Time for Music

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I have just realised that it is just about a year since I wrote my last blog. Last year was taken over not just by the normal hurly burly of too much time working and not enough time relaxing but also by deciding to do something about our quality of life and actually move out of London! It was not the fact that we did not like London we loved it but work seemed to fill up all the gaps. We also of course chose to move at exactly the wrong time in the housing market! In the end we saw a house in Nofolk which we not only loved as a building but realised its potential for making music. We at last have the space to house a grand piano and there is also plenty of room to rehearse and so I am looking forward to a lot more music making. We have not moved house for 20 years and I do not want to do it again for another 20 but it does at least make you go through all of your music and recordings some of which have been sitting on the shelf for years without being moved. One of the first things that I played in concert at the Royal Academy of Music was the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. All of the concerts were recorded on reel to reel in those days and I thought I had kept them all but sadly they have not appeared yet! We have borrowed a tape recorder so that we can transfer them to cds but the recordings I have left are all post Academy. Probably a good job but I would have been interested to hear them. Sadly my performing career ended before I made any commercial recordings but we have a super version of the Mozart on tutti.co.uk played by Janet Hilton. OK we are gradually sorting ourselves out and so hopefully it will not be another year before I post another blog! Oh dear it looks like it is snowing again.

Geraldine Allen

Is playing music fun?

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I was having dinner with friends yesterday and was asked what I did for fun. That is inbetween running an events business and two websites for musicians. Well I do belong to a health club at a vast expense which it was my new years resolution to visit at least once a week and which I have managed to do about 3 times in the last 6 weeks! Do you still play your clarinet someone asked. Well yes but not as often as I would like to and not as seriously as I would like to and actually I would not class playing the clarinet as fun anyway. Now that I am no longer professional (following a road accident some time ago) I can no longer spend the time practising on a regular basis which is what I would need to do in order to bring my playing to the standard which would enable me to fluently and effectively express the music that I want to play. My friend also plays the clarinet and said that after she gained a distinction in her grade 8 at school she decided not to study to become a professional clarinettist for the very reason that it would no longer be fun! She was therefore glad that she is doing what she is now doing which, as it happens, is a very important and well paid job. I would whole heartedly support her in that. You should only become a professional musician if you have no other choice, as a means of earning a living it can be a disaster and any musician reading this will know that!

Playing is exhilerating and liberating and creative and challenging and I love it to bits because it is, or was fundamentally the way that I expressed myself. I went on to be a professional performer in the same way as I continued to breathe, it was not a choice, it was just what I had to do. When I had an accident which gave me a whip lash injury which meant that I could no longer hold the instrument for more than 20 minutes without being in a huge amount of pain what I missed was not fun, what I had lost was my voice. Sometimes, just sometimes I get a glimmer of that back when I play but mainly now I get the chance to hear it in the playing of others particularly in the groups that I coach. I also get a little of it back in the work that I am still writing for tutti.co.uk about wind playing. It is aimed particularly at adult players and I should have completed it in August had not our whole lives been disrupted by builders and I really do intend to finish it soon after the next event and after – oh well, hopefully in the summer at the very latest – I will keep you posted! Until then – have fun!

Geraldine Allen

passionately successful weekend

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Cambridge Clarinets was terrific! It’s hard to convey the benefits of this annual event but I can safely say that all those who take part value it for the musical content, the human interaction and the opportunity to take time out to simply be and to see ourselves in the context of a much bigger picture. Yes, it all sounds rather navel-gazing, but that would be a completely wrong impression. Everyone is there for the others and without each and every one it would not have the same impact. The surroundings are tranquil (except when we are playing – but even then there are moments of the deepest stillness within all the activity) and the food is sensational – literally! so much so that we are thinking of putting together a recipe book of 14 years’ worth of inspirational eating! The music was inspirational too – 3 out of the 5 works were by contemporary British composers, one by a twentieth century composer and the last one a new arrangement , so ‘live’ was very much the order of the day. Geraldine gave some really good sessions on technique and ‘how to play better’ in all sorts of ways. She recommended a set of tone studies which were enthusiastically received so here they are if you are interested: Time for Tone

We have 10 coming for dinner this evening so this will have to be a short post. Actually we have 4 dinners in the next 6 days, so if it weren’t for music, food would be the abiding passion in this house, not forgetting drink as well.

Cheers!

Sarah Rodgers

passionate preparations

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From 4.OOpm this afternoon is the annual Cambridge Clarinets weekend – a professional engagement which over some 14 years has grown into a tradition where 12 entusiastic clarinettists gather together to be coached by Geraldine and conducted by me. It is an occasion which has given us all so much over the years. Yes, the purpose of the weekend is to play as much as possible and we manage to get in around 20 hours and in the course of that to explore a fair bit of new music – we usually have a newly commissioned work or arrangement to tackle; but it is also a meeting of hearts and souls – we share a lot, debate endlessly, laugh copiously and sometimes shed a tear or two – all the stuff of humanity which is very heartening and, again, it happens because of the music. We see each other in this grouping, only on this one occasion each year, but when we meet, we just pick up where we left off – there is a flow, a continuum and no awkwardness. The theme this year is breathe, listen, feel and Geraldine and I have been preparing thoughts and ideas which embrace golden section, fibonacci, zen and other spiritual origins. Geraldine in particular has been writing her own approach to playing the clarinet and this is going to appear in instalments on tutti over the coming weeks. Cambridge Clarinets will be the test-bed for this and no doubt they will have a lot to say about it. There is plenty of clarinet music on tutti, so there will be lots of references to useful resources for musicians. Keep an eye out. Hope you have as passionate a weekend as we do – I’ll blog about it next week.

Sarah Rodgers

real music

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I went to a lunch yesterday, hosted by a classical music organisation, where the speaker was talking about real music. This was actually a clarinettist who has had a well known career in both the orchestral and solo field and has made many recordings. He was comparing classical music to other genres as being like the difference of experiencing Shakespeare or a TV soap. It was all related to what we are offering to the children of today. I also have the opportunity of going to many of the pop industry events where I listen to pop musicians talking just as passionately about their art but they do not seen to have the same problem about sharing the business with classical musicians. I suppose they are realistic enough to know that there is no competition, just music.

As a clarinettist, although my speciality was contemporary classical I also had a show “Players Worktime” which was based on 50’s rock and roll – a real passion of mine – where we featured songwriters such as Lieber and Stoller. It also included part of the Mozart clarinet quintet and our audiences enjoyed it all for what it was.

This was actually one of the main reasons that we created the tutti.co.uk web site. The internet has provided a wonderful opportunity for people to hear every kind of music. The pop side has been terrifically well represented and we wanted to make sure that there was a space for classical music as well, particularly contemporary classical. On the internet people just listen without having to put what they hear into a category – I do not like the word “classical” but it is one whole lot better than “real”.

I must get back to my filing – what a drag! We have recently taken on some terrific scores of piano music by the Russian composer and pianist Nicolai Kapustin. His writing is an explosive contemporary cross of classical and jazz – if you get the chance you must listen to his music.

File, Geraldine, file!

More next week.

Geraldine Allen

music and more

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Hello I am Geraldine Allen another member of the tutti.co.uk team, living in North London England. My background briefly is that I spent over 20 years working as a professional clarinettist until I had a road accident which stopped my playing career. After that I had to develop lots of different talents but it is amazing what the experience of being a professional musician enables you to do. This week has its normal variety of activities, I still do some teaching mainly to adult players , most of whom started playing in their youth and then have had to give it up for various reasons and have come back to it in later life, normally with abounding enthusiasm! One such person this week wanted the definitive answer to whether you should put the clarinet away between practice sessions or whether it is OK to leave it out on a clarinet peg. The most important element to this is to keep the bore of the instrument clean and dry. It is preferable to pull it through, ensuring that the joints are dry before putting it away. However, if you are practising for 3 or 4 hours a day as I was at the height of my career, then it is OK to dry it and put it on the peg. I would normally always put it away at the end of the day though. One of the pleasures of working on the tutti.co.uk site has been to distrubute performances of many of my clarinet colleagues who have a fascinating repertoire that I look forward to sharing with you over the coming days. Let’s start with Janet Hilton – head of the woodwind department and professor of clarinet at the Royal College of Music in London playing the music of Hoddinut, Harper and Machonchy with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Enjoy!

Geraldine Allen

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