Do You Need Room for Some Clarinet in Your Coffee?

November 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Clarinet, Composers, Trombone | 1 Comment
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I just happened upon this post at the Improbable Research blog about a recent UK study testing the link between flavor and different musical sounds. The research results, encapsulated in the improbable-sounding (is that where they got the blog name?) “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic responses in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes,” highlights the findings that even for people who are not synesthetic*, the different sounds of different instruments affect the perception of taste. To quote Martin Gardiner at Improbable Research:

For example, the piano was felt to be particularly appropriate for the taste of sugar — and quite unsuitable for brass instruments. Similarly, coffee was more woodwindy than brassy, and orange-flower was brassy rather than stringy. These newfound associations between flavours and individual instruments lead on to a new hypothesis — might similar matching effects occur with more complex sounds — and even perhaps with music in general?

The implications of this research could be felt — er, tasted — in restaurants near you. If experiments reveal that, say, low string sounds make tomato-based dishes taste more succulent, your next trip to the Olive Garden may find your family dinner conversation drowned out by an invasive, unwavering bass solo.

This may explain the existence of haggis, which may be the only food that tastes good while listening to bagpipes.

*Synesthesia is a condition in which a sensation normally felt in one sense is felt instead in another. A synesthete might, for example, hear colors, feel odors, or in this case, taste sounds. It is believed that a number of musicians were or are synesthetes, including Leonard Bernstein, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Billy Joel, Duke Ellingon, Tori Amos, and Eddie Van Halen.


Excuse Me, What’s That Instrument You’re Playing?

October 28, 2010 at 9:00 am | Posted in Clarinet, Humor | 1 Comment

Frequently after concerts, someone comes up to me and asks me what my instrument is. They do this because it’s fairly visible, sticking above my head, and because they don’t recall seeing anything like it before.  So, I thought I’d make my instrument the subject for my initial blog post. And, it will more than likely factor into many of my subsequent posts.

I play…the giant paperclip.

OK, so it’s not a giant paperclip, or any kind of paperclip, but it looks like one. You might also think it resembles something from under your kitchen sink. But I certainly try to make it sound better than anything you’d find under there.

It’s actually a contrabass clarinet, the largest and lowest active member of the clarinet family.
Many may not realize that clarinets have a family, but they do. It’s a fairly large family, especially if you include the long-lost cousins. The Indiana Wind Symphony uses several family members: the E-flat and B-flat sopranos, the alto, the bass, and the contrabass. The B-flat sopranos are the ones commonly referred to simply as “clarinets.” The rest require qualifiers. For example, if a conductor says “Let’s hear the clarinets starting at Measure 21,” I know he’s not looking for me to play. When he does refer to my instrument, he usually shortens its name to where it sounds as though I’m a Nicaraguan rebel, possibly even one who is lousy at camouflage. “The contra needs to blend in more.”

My contra—er, contrabass clarinet—is wound up like a paperclip for no other reason than the fact that it’s made of about 8 feet of tubing. If it was straightened out, I’d have to sit on top of a ladder to play it, although I guess it could be held horizontally, in which case it would stick through the two rows of musicians in front of me. Contras do come in other, less amusing shapes, but they’re all basically the same instrument.

However, not all band compositions include contrabass clarinet parts, so I occasionally end up playing a bass saxophone part, if there is one of those. When neither exists, I play bass clarinet.

Well, now that I’ve introduced my instrument (well, one of my instruments) through this post, I realize it’s likely that fewer people will be coming up to me after concerts to ask me what it is, which is unfortunate, because I enjoy the attention. It lets me know they noticed my instrument—maybe not what it sounds like, but at least what it looks like.

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