Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, July 14, 2006


My third period class has ended, I've finished preparing for my afternoon classes, and I'm off to spend the remainder of my free fourth period having a bit of lunch and catching up on various things (such as blogging). It's my usual routine on Fridays. However, as I emerge from the English department office I'm immediately bathed in a wonderful sound. It's the students of the 10th grade music elective course. They are in recorder ensemble formation practicing Vivaldi's "Spring" in the lobby. It sounds great, and there's nothing for me to do but stop and enjoy it.

There must be between three and four dozen kids in the ensemble, and they have all manner of recorders: sopranos, altos, tenors, basses (but none of those monstrous great basses), and even a couple of tiny, little sopraninos. They are being accompanied by a girl on an electric piano set to sound like a harpsichord and another girl on a double bass. It's bloody hot and humid in the lobby, but they're are sounding really good this year. Usually the 10th grade music elective groups have a bad habit of, well, to put it frankly, stinking, but now they're playing together, balanced, and in tune. Add to that the pure, simple cheer of Vivaldi's "Spring", and you have a nice bit of musical entertainment for a sunny afternoon in the lobby.

However, just as I'm really starting to enjoy the performance, Mr. Ogawa stops it in the middle and starts lecturing the students. One of the parts has wandered a bit off tempo. Do it again, and this time do it right. As we used to say in the Oregon State music department, "Fix it! Fix it!"

As they say in Japanese, "Yarinaoshi!" (lit. a noun meaning "redoing")

Speaking of which...

The other day I finally asked Mr. Ogawa politely to give me some proper training on the clarinet. Judging from his reaction, I suspect he had always hoped I'd do so, but out of respect for my pride (and moodiness) he never said anything. The fact is that, though I've had a considerable amount of training and experience on the clarinet, I haven't been satisfied. For a long time now I've felt that perhaps I've been doing something not quite right. That feeling got even worse when I started playing principal with the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra. Somehow my tone response, control, and quality just didn't seem quite right. I tried changing reeds, which helped a little. I tried working on my embouchure (mouth formation), which helped a little more, but it still didn't seem right for some reason. Since the Kashima Philharmonic has just started rehearsing our first Beethoven symphony (5th...which is technically easy but musically very difficult) I figured it was a good idea to learn from the master.

The first thing he did was ask me if I had a box of new reeds. I did. Then he asked me if I had tried all the reeds out and selected the ones I considered suitable. I had. Then he asked me to give him the ones I had rejected. I did. He then took a couple of my rejects, went at them for a while with his reed-shaping tools, and then handed them back to me, saying, "These are your training reeds. Use them when you practice." He then told me to get my clarinet out and put one of the "training reeds" on it. I did just that. Then he told me to play one long tone.

Oh, boy. The training reed was really sensitive, meaning I overcompensated immediately.

Mssr. Maestro Ogawa shook his head and sighed. "No. Wrong. Totally wrong. Your embouchure, your way of blowing, your way of holding the instrument...all wrong."

I was shocked. "But that's the way I was taught to do it! That's the way I've been doing it for more than thirty years now!"

Mr. Ogawa nodded. "That's the way people usually do it if they don't know any better. It's still wrong. Go to any music conservatory in France, and they'd get mad if they saw that. Now try this..."

And so it began. I am trying to unlearn fifteen years worth of training and more than thirty years' worth of experience. This is going to take time. I have to say that I've noticed some difference. My tone quality and response have definitely improved a bit. However, my mouth muscles are being used in totally different ways, so they are cramping up like they did all the time back when I first started.

I'm happy to be doing it, too. You're never too old to learn...or relearn.


  • So I have to ask: did Mr. Wimmer (sp?) teach it wrong?

    By Blogger DewKid, at 3:31 AM  

  • I've never tried wind instruments so I can only try to imagine, me being brought up a piano playing child who once had a go on the violin.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:18 AM  

  • This is really interesting. I should try the same method with the Nay.

    I have a bunch of old Nays, some of them were my very first. They sound very flat and dry. Looking at Mr. Ogawa’s technique, I think it’ll definitely help if I dig them out and play few notes on them, I might discover what I’m missing in my current style.

    I love the Clarinet. Never tried it, but I tried the Saxophone. A friend of mine used to play it. He gave me the reed, and told me to ‘try to get the sound out of this’. It took me few times to get the sound from it, and when I did, he hooked it to the Sax. It is really hard to get the air to really flow thru the entire Sax, and to hold the notes for very long. Obviously it was my first - and only time - to play the Sax, but the first thing I noticed, with comparison to the nay, is that you don’t need to blow out as much air in the Nay to make it sound loud.

    You're right, there is nothing wrong with relearning. :)

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 9:22 PM  

  • Dewkid
    I don't think he taught it wrong so much as he taught it incomplete. Considering what Mr. Ogawa has been saying recently, it seems I was trained correctly up to a certain point, but then I was moved along too quickly, so I wound up developing bad habits that never got fixed. Recall from my "Tagged for 29" post that, when I first started clarinet at age 10, Mr. Wimmer moved me from basic training to actually playing with the band after only two weeks. Later, when I took private lessons from him in my junior high days, he was quick to get me working on high-level solos for competition. Consequently, I didn't get that finer level of basic training.

    Mr. Ogawa says that's usually the way it works. Most clarinet teachers tend not to concentrate enough on the basics since there's not enough time in most cases. In fact, Mr. Ogawa himself doesn't give that sort of thorough training to all the clarinet players in our school band, only the ones in solo positions. He himself only received such training as a graduate student at an elite conservatory in Paris, so it's hard to blame Mr. Wimmer.

    Piano is what I first started on (as a small child), but I didn't stick with it (unfortunately...since I play keyboards with a rock band!). I'm also trying to learn violin right now. Still, I'm happy to hear you had any kind of musical experience!

    Welcome! I've been hoping to hear from you after all I've heard from Tooners (and read/listened to on your site)!

    Saxophone is my #2 instrument. It and clarinet are alike in many ways, but they're more different than you might think. The way of blowing is quite different, and that might be part of what is screwing me up in both directions. My sax blowing technique has always been too clarinet-like, and now I'm told my clarinet blowing technique is too sax-like! I've found an unhappy medium, and I need to change it!

    I know absolutely nothing about the Nay, and I'm very much interested in learning more. I've always loved any and all kinds of music, and I've always had a special appreciation for traditional (dare I say "ethnic"?) music and musical instruments from all over the world. I'd be eager to hear more about it. Is it a single-reed or double-reed instrument? Is the reed exposed or covered?

    I live, therefore I learn! :-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:22 PM  

  • The Nay is actually neither single nor double reed. It’s one hollow piece all together, and is played to the side sort of like the Flute, but not as high up. Each Nay in a set (7 in a set) translates to the notes on the piano. This note would be the base note on that particular piece, and therefore you build the scales based on that note. It’s very common in an orchestra to see the Nay player switches back and forth between the pieces.

    I hear from tooners that we share similar music intellect. I would love to hear some of your recordings. I think I mentioned that to you before on a previous post, so you have no excuse now ☺

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 12:42 AM  

  • Having actually played the bass clarinet, I actually have some idea how hard it is to play at all. Compared to brass instruments, its tough, especially when you trade three valves for, I don't know, fifteen or twenty?

    By Blogger Pa've, at 5:31 AM  

  • Wow. Must be a challenge to "reprogram" your embrasure.

    Reeds are usually made from bamboo - yum.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:57 AM  

  • All this talk of music makes me want to learn something... anything. I've tried learning the piano but not having one, it was difficult - especially when working full-time. Didn't apply myself, but would love to learn to play.

    I love the violin and would love to learn to play it, altho I'm assuming it's quite difficult.

    By Blogger tooners, at 3:39 PM  

  • I'm always fascinated listening to musicians speak about their instruments!

    Afraid I'm about the least musically inclined person on the planet. I've tried, but the part of my brain required for that is very under developed, even missing! I just have no "feel" for it. All the lessons & time in the world could not help me!

    I think that's why I'm fascinated with musicians. You're like a different "breed". ;)

    By Blogger Chris in MB, at 4:01 PM  

  • The violin is also another instrument that’s close to my heart. I also tried playing it once, but nothing ever materialized.

    I love the violin solo in John Williams’ Schindler’s List. It’s one of my absolute favorites.

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 10:23 PM  

  • Alfanan
    Oops, sorry. I guess that shows how much I know about the Nay! That's interesting that they come in a 7-key set!

    The Irish tinwhistle (among my repertoire) also comes in a variety of keys, and pro players usually have a whole bunch. I have them in four different keys. When the Kashima Philharmonic (amateur) Orchestra played a suite from the movie Titanic a few years ago I adapted an oboe solo to play on tinwhistle (like it is in the original version). I had to switch from a C type to a D type midcourse, so I know exactly what you're talking about!

    People have been telling me to put some of my music online, as you have done, but to be honest I'm not really sure how to do that! I have hosting available for images, but audio files?

    What?!? I knew you played trumpet and then switched to bass guitar, but I never heard about bass clarinet! When did you play that?

    It's never too late to try! I might recommend something a bit easier than violin to start on, though...

    Chris in Manitoba
    Some of us are occasionally treated as a different breed, too! ;-)

    Music tends to be something that is easy for some and difficult for others...kind of like math (*blush*).

    Alfanan again,
    I'm trying to learn violin now, but I just can't find time to put in some good practicing, so I'm not progressing very fast.

    You know, I never did see Schindler's List. (*blush again*) Maybe it's time to get off my duff and do so. I'm curious to hear that solo.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:16 AM  

  • There are media hosting sites. I have just joined and uploaded a few of my mp3s! Check it out!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:19 AM  

  • i've tried twice to learn piano, but haven't been successful at all. it's hard not having a piano or even a keyboard to practice on though. but it's definitely on my life's to do list. i'd also like to learn to play guitar and drums, and then perhaps something more classical, but we'll see.

    By Blogger mae mae, at 1:29 PM  

  • you know, i've heard the book "piano for dummies" is actually a good way to learn the piano. maybe i'll try it - i'm such a perfectionist though and have little patience w/ myself. but maybe i'll try.

    By Blogger tooners, at 3:35 PM  

  • Moody… I was actually going to suggest the same as Olivia’s. will allow you to host mp3 files. also give you the same option. However, if you think you may end up having more tracks online than just 3 or 4, I highly suggest that you sign up with a hosting company and establish a new blog using WordPress. It will give you great options to track who’s listening to your music, as well as detailed statistics on your blogs visitors. is sort of limited in allowing you to put media files and stream them directly (because it requires high bandwidth).

    I would be happy to help you setting up a new ‘audio’ blog. Just tell me when you’re ready ☺ You’ll just need to get a domain name, a reliable hosting company, and you’re in business.

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 8:15 PM  

  • Moody, I was allowed to briefly experiment with the bass clarinet as a part of Mr. Noye's enthusiasm for people learning to play other instruments. In short, all of the members of our band were given a week to learn how to play an instrument not our own. I don't know if you remember David Top, who was an acomplished musician, but anyway, I decided I would like to try the bass clarinet, and so for a week, David tried to teach me how to play it.

    I have little memory of how well I did, and I probably never thought to mention it because at the time I was playing all sorts of different instruments, finally settling on the bass guitar.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 5:18 AM  

  • Wow! That is one complicated piece of instrument. I played the recorder (like all school kids) in elementary school. Now I play none. Like Chris, I can just listen (and read) when musicians talk about instruments. They say it's never too late to pick up an instrument but that's my bigest excuse so far.

    By Blogger agus, at 12:20 PM  

  • Just think Agus... the sooner you pick up an instrument, the sooner you'll be better at it :)

    By Blogger Alfanan, at 7:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home