Tonight I had the pleasure of performing a clarinet duet with my good buddy Francisco Brunner for the doctoral composition recital of our IU colleague, Chris Renk. In the second movement, I observed one measure of rest and resumed playing only to realized that my reed had literally dried out in the air within seconds of leaving my mouth. Consequently, my long-tone entrance was not the liquid-smooth-multi-overtoned-yet-scarcely-audible pianissimo B-natural that I had pleasantly imagined inside my head moments before. Instead, it was a thin, strident, and uncharacteristically resistant sound. (Think middle-schoolers learning upper register for the first time)
Naturally this sudden change in resistant shocked me, but I was able to recover decently enough to finish out the phrase with some dignity.
Humidity was low today in Bloomington. When I checked the weather report later it was listed at 50%. Now, this is nowhere near as bad as it could be (ideal humidity for clarinet reeds is about 73%), but it was accompanied by a temperature rise of about 10 degrees from the day before, which always makes reeds act a little funny (in unpredictable ways!).
Why I should have seen it coming...
The signs were all there.
1. I had two coachings and an etude jury this very day in which I warmed up before-hand with a decent playing reed only to play minutes later feeling like I had never gotten it wet.
2. Moments before taking the stage for the Renk duets I frantically changed the reed I had been using because it suddenly responded scratchily and horridly resistant to my soft open-G test notes.
Open G... No response... Red flag.
All this having happened, I should have been on the lookout for the aforementioned catastrophe, but my replacement reed had a nice easy response so I figured I was in the clear...
No reed is safe!
In dry weather, reeds are best in the first few seconds that you take them out of their case, but don't be fooled! They're time-bombs of dryness!
What to do?
If you know the weather is dry, keep your performance reed in water up until it's time to take the stage.
Keeping a reed from drying out while you're performing (like, the clarinet is physically in your face and you're blowing some serious sexy tunes) and can't do anything about it?
Well, grasshoppers, when I figure it out I'll let you know.
In the meantime, here's an awesome picture of Francisco and me playing Chris's duet!
Blogging about reeds? I must be MAD!
.Here are some tools and tips of the clarinet and reed trade for younger players to supplement the musical education received from band directors and music teachers. I've tailored these methods (used by professional clarinet players!) to be accessible and user-friendly for the beginner to intermediate clarinet reed-hater.