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Author Topic: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s  (Read 5045 times)

Offline Lisa

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Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« on: February 05, 2017, 09:21:43 AM »
Hi everyone,
I have a bass clarinet now, loaned to me, so i'm going to hold off and not just jump at the first bass that's in my meager price range. 
But, i've actually wanted an alto for a while now.  I always liked the sound of an alto.  I played one in marching band for a season, but remember very little about it, other than it was a one piece resonite or plastic model.
My main question is, open vs closed hole.
I think I have large hands for being 5 '4".  My pinky finger tip to thumb tip, if I have my hand spread wide, is about 9.5 inches across, and my middle finger is 3.5 inches long.
I was wondering with that size of hand, if i could play an open hole alto, if i could cover the holes okay.
I was also wondering if there is an advantage to having an open hole instead of plateau, besides less pads to leak and have to replace :)
I assuming one could shade the tone holes, bend the notes a little bit, that maybe an open hole might be more fun for jazz.  Rhapsody in Blue, for example must be played on an open hole.
Also, who makes open holes?  Bundy for sure, and I saw a LeBrec, any other models to watch for? 
Of course, i'd prefer a better model, and i'd prefer a two piece, but it's not a huge deal to me, just easier to carry and store a smaller case.  I love the vito Bb sop I just got, so i'm not so sure anymore about student vs intermediate vs pro.  I'll never be a pro, i'm not sure i could tell the difference, except in build quality, better keys, not pot metal, that kind of thing.  Maybe a tough old bundy isn't such a bad thing!
Anyhow, I'd like to hear any thoughts about the red headed step child of the clarinet world, the poor, neglected alto. 
Thanks, Lisa
Lisa  Upper Michigan

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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2017, 12:22:31 PM »
I'm 5'6" with below-average hand size, and open holes work fine.  It is a bit of a stretch and is annoying and cramp-inducing to get used to at first, but I pretty quickly got used to it.

Open holes are relatively rare compared to closed, but there's really not that big of a difference between the two.  It's kind of like the arguments surrounding open and closed hole flutes. Everybody has their own opinion.

I think that open holes might have more sound projection since the air can go directly out instead of being blocked on the way by a plateau key.

As for makers, the only modern one I know to make open holes is Selmer USA and Bundy (same thing, different badge).

Back in the old days, I've seen wooden Conn open holes, and a handful of assorted stencils.

You might have to wait a LONG time for a decent wooden open hole to come up, as they're about as rare as finding a plateau keyed soprano.
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Offline andybeals

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2017, 03:01:58 PM »
Well, you may wish to speak with your band director - he may very well make a face and tell you to play bass rather than alto.  Frankly, if there's only you on bass, then you're needed on bass on most pieces.  I once had a director who made a face when I said "alto clarinet" to him.

My current A.D. is a woodwind player (English Horn) and a composer and wistfully wished out loud that he had an alto clarinet to play the solo on Russian Christmas Music and by the start of the next season, I had one, and was on the path that I'm on.

The Bundy alto can sound decent.  However, it is a toy, tone-wise and projection-wise, when compared to a good wooden alto, open keys or not. 
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2017, 03:02:29 PM »
My thoughts on the poor neglected alto are that maybe these clarinets are making a comeback. Maybe I'm wrong and that's OK. I have "watched" many Bundys and Vitos sell for good coin. I'm referring to ones in mostly playable condition without crushed or bent bells or necks.

How hard is to write music for an Eb clarinet? 

After an exercise in patience, I did find a nice older Bundy in great shape with a Noblet hard rubber mouthpiece and a spare neck. It's seems to be 'reed sensitive' though. I like the sound of altos. They can be lyrical in the upper range and still be able "pop" out the low tones nicely - at least for this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay3fukiGX-o
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Offline andybeals

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2017, 03:09:44 PM »
On the Bundy, as well as on the Noblet and the LeBlanc (both grenadilla), I prefer a J. D. Hite mouthpiece - cheap at $75 and it brings out a great sound.  Relatively speaking, the Yamaha's usefulness is as something to keep a mouthpiece cap in its proper shape.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2017, 04:33:24 PM »

How hard is to write music for an Eb clarinet? 


Apparently, hard enough that in college band it was either play the bari sax part or get a piece custom-written for me...
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2017, 05:46:31 PM »
  Rhapsody in Blue, for example must be played on an open hole.

Did someone say Rhapsody in Blue? Got 3 minutes? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0u5xn6o-mM



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Offline Lisa

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2017, 07:04:34 PM »
Dave, thanks for the covering the hand size issue, it sounds like an open hole would work for me.  And that is a drag that ato parts weren't available, and you had to use other parts.  I always thought alto was pretty sounding.  No one goes around telling tenor sax players they aren't really needed, i don't get why alto clarinet is so neglected, i just don't get it. 
Andy, LOL!  He did make a face when i mentioned i liked alto, like I had garlic breath when i said it.  I would be getting an alto for my own enjoyment, or perhaps if i ever get good enough, to jam with some friends on the side.  I've heard a lot of good things about Hite.
Air, i agree, altos are getting popular again, and going like hot cakes on the auction side, basses are too, but altos aren't sitting around collecting dust, that's for sure, and that link was cool, they are awesome!
I think i'm going to keep my eyes open for a nice, open hole alto.  I don't feel the need to be on the lookout for a bass so much, since i have this one at my disposal.  As Dave mentioned, nice, wooden altos are a rarer beast.  I see good basses all the time.
Thank you all for your comments, i'm enjoying this thread very much.  It's like having an alto clarinet support group.  Maybe we should have tee shirts made up that say, I like alto clarinets, and i'm not ashamed to admit it!  Lisa
Lisa  Upper Michigan

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Offline andybeals

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2017, 07:54:01 PM »

How hard is to write music for an Eb clarinet? 


Apparently, hard enough that in college band it was either play the bari sax part or get a piece custom-written for me...

Just play the Eefer part.    ;)

At the LGBA conferences I've been to, there's a guy who has a talent for causing new parts to appear for the odder instruments: alto and contra clarinets, ophicleide, contra bassoon, etc.  He's an unsung hero. 
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Offline mechanic

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2017, 07:56:56 PM »
Lisa, funny you should mention your band directors reaction to the alto.   Last summer my son was in the areas summer youth band.  They get kids and directors from a number of local middle and high schools together for a week and a half of practice and then a concert.  He brought up the alto and asked for a part and one director actually told him he'd be better off just throwing it away.

This year, he's playing the Bb in marching, pep, and regular school band, tenor sax in jazz band, and contra-alto in a woodwind choir.  For freshman, kids that didn't make jazz band and "non-traditional" jazz instruments, the band director started what he called the "lab band" to help teach those kids jazz.  In high school directors eyes, clarinets are not traditional jazz instruments.  My son, being the smart-ass that he is, walked into the lab bands first practice and broke out the alto clarinet.  The director looked at him and laughed because he knew he'd been beat.  Granted, he's playing alto sax parts, but since he's better than the freshman alto sax player, he's got lead on most of the music they're working on.  Be patient, and sooner or later the alto you want will appear somewhere on the internet and eventually a band director will slip up and you'll get to play it.

For what it's worth, he agrees wholeheartedly with andybeals assessment of the Yamaha 4c alto mouthpiece.
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Offline andybeals

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2017, 08:04:34 PM »
You're doing something right, mechanic!
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Offline mechanic

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2017, 08:22:19 PM »
You're doing something right, mechanic!

Thanks Andy.  The kids got more musical ability in his pinkie than I have in my whole body.  For fun, he also plays guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, some piano and occasionally goes back to the recorder and tin whistle.  I'm mostly working to keep him in playable instruments and come up with something he can't play.  One of these days I'll get some bagpipes and really challenge him.
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Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2017, 11:01:19 AM »

How hard is to write music for an Eb clarinet? 


Apparently, hard enough that in college band it was either play the bari sax part or get a piece custom-written for me...

Just play the Eefer part.    ;)

At the LGBA conferences I've been to, there's a guy who has a talent for causing new parts to appear for the odder instruments: alto and contra clarinets, ophicleide, contra bassoon, etc.  He's an unsung hero.
By chance is this guy named Adam Gilberti?  He's the guy who would always custom write me contra alto parts. Every now and then he would lug in his Heckel contrabassoon or Tubax or something fun and play with the orchestra. He probably owns a million dollars worth of the largest, craziest instruments ever made.
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Offline Lisa

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2017, 04:56:16 PM »
I've discussed this a bit with Dave, but want to take a little poll.  Is not having the low Eb, and only having an E, a huge deal?  I'm most likely going to be playing for my own pleasure, as the band director's eyes crossed when I said alto clarinet, but was wondering what everyone else thinks.
I'm looking at a wooden low E, or a plastic bundy low Eb.  I'm sure the bundy would be very serviceable.  I suspect the wood one would be better toned and sound nicer, but no Eb.  The low Eb's are quite a bit more expensive than the E's.  is it really for a reason, or because people think they need them?  I'm afraid I'd outgrow the bundy being resonite, but i might outgrow the wooden one with no Eb, and it would be harder to sell.  But, what if the lack of the Eb didn't bother me, and I ended up with a lovely wooden instrument at a reasonable cost?  An open hole, wooden Conn on that evil site right now.  Maybe Wooden Conn's aren't all that great, I don't know....
Dave said I could simply play a different note to replace the Eb.  He's trying very hard to hold my hand on this, giving me a lot of support, and pros and cons.  I'm quite sure per our convo's that I want an open hole instrument, but i'm still wishy washy about getting a possibly higher quality wood E Conn, vs plastic Eb Bundy.  Would I miss something I didn't have in the first place?
Has anyone gone this route before, and have some words of wisdom about buying a higher quality wooden instrument, but minus a key that many feel is very important?
I think I think too much, and worry too much, and ramble too much.
Oh well, anyone wanting to chime in, feel free!  Lisa
Lisa  Upper Michigan

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Offline Windsong

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Re: Alto clarinet open vs closed, plus ?'s
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2017, 06:07:48 PM »
Substituting low Eb shouldn't be that hard to do.
I have recently taken up playing ancient saxes again, equipped with 4 less keys than new ones, and since I play mostly improv by ear it's not a big deal to me.  I either change register,  or play a complementary note.  I suspect you could do the same thing.  I'd certainly take the wooden Conn over a resonite Bundy, if you're looking to make a long term purchase, and you are not planning on marching with it, or doing outside concerts in the colder months.  Since you live up north where it gets VERY cold, outdoor playability might be a true consideration for you.  The two horns you are considering might be very similar depending upon dates of manufacture, as Conn was part of Selmer for a time, and of course, so was Bundy.
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