Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Time to dance, Trish, it’s the Clarinet Polka!

Author: Pat Scasny- IMC Representative, Retired Green Bay Public School Instrumental Music Teacher

While I was growing up, many Saturday nights were spent at a relative’s wedding reception.  The highlight of the reception was the dance that followed the usual chicken and ham dinner.  Unlike many of the wedding dances today, they always featured a live band.  Since I am of Czechoslovakian heritage, the bands were always polka bands.  There was one piece that I always looked forward to hearing, usually featuring a man with a black, tube-like instrument.  I marveled at how rapidly his fingers flew over the silver keys producing a multitude of sounds ranging from low, dark tones to the high shrill tones.  It was a fun piece to listen and dance to.  I can still hear my dad saying, “Time to dance, Trish, it’s the Clarinet Polka!”

The clarinet is a woodwind instrument played with a single reed.  The modern clarinet developed from a Baroque instrument called the chalumeau.  This instrument was similar to a recorder but with a single-reed mouthpiece and a cylindrical bore.  It had a limited range of only one and a half octaves.  German instrument maker, Johann Chrisoph Denner, is credited with modifying the chalumeau by adding a register key, thus increasing the playing range of the instrument. This instrument played well in the middle register producing a loud shrill sound.  It was for this reason that it was given the name clarinetto, meaning little trumpet.

The clarinet family is the largest woodwind family with more than a dozen types.  The most common is the Bb soprano clarinet which is the primary beginning instrument.   The other more common members of the clarinet family found in orchestras, bands and other ensembles are the Eb Soprano, the smallest and highest, A soprano, Eb Alto, Bb Bass and the very low and more rare, Contra-Alto and Contra-Bass clarinets
Here are just a few interesting bits of trivia concerning the clarinet:

  • Excluding the saxophone, the clarinet is the most recent addition to the woodwind family and was the last woodwind to be included in the symphony orchestra.
  • Julia Roberts played the clarinet in bands when she was in school.
  • Steven Spielberg can be seen playing the clarinet in an orchestra early on in his movie “Jaws.”
  • One of the most popular symphonic clarinet solos is the one in George Gershwin’s  “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Whether you are interested in playing the “Clarinet Polka,” some New Orleans Jazz or a Mozart Clarinet Concerto, you can find an instrument that will fit your style at the Instrumental Music Company, 2908 Ontario Rd. Green Bay, WI, 54311.

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