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A Stomping Musical Art Adventure

Fiddle camp group on stage outdoors

Not too long ago, I was struggling with my clarinet. It was not making the music I wanted it to make. Every time I practiced at home or played in the community band I belong to, it would make sounds that I did not like.

I've been playing for a while and getting my instrument to cooperate was not this difficult in the past. I began to envy people with expensive instruments even though I knew I was not in a position to spend thousands of dollars on a new horn. I'm also very emotionally attached to the middle of the road clarinet my parents got me decades ago. My Selmer Signet is not a top of the line Buffet, but it's better than my first plastic Bundy and I have loved my wooden Selmer with its silver-plated keys for a long time.

As I tried to decide what to do, I remembered that I had a bass clarinet-playing friend named Katie who is REALLY into music and instruments. She even finds used instruments on occasion, so I asked her to be on the lookout for me. She said she would and then started asking me intelligent questions about what it was that wasn't working for me on my own horn. I gave it some thought and described my problems the best I could.

After that, Katie surprised me and invited me over to test out instruments and see what might work better. We picked a day and I tried new mouthpieces and ligatures—much less expensive than replacing my entire horn. I even noticed that I didn't struggle with a few of the keys like I did on my Selmer. This led us to discover that there was a pad that wasn't fully closing and that the cork wasn't seated correctly after I had some work done last summer. These were things I could fix on my horn without a high price tag.

I also got to try several clarinets in three different keys: B flat, C, and an extra small E flat. (The E flat was so tiny I could hardly play it without breaking up laughing. It was like playing a toy!)

Here are a few clarinet types in case you didn't know about them like I didn't.

Various clarinet types from the bass clarinet to a deep G clarinet

By Dietz Klarinettenbau , bearbeitet von / edited by Gisbert König - This file was derived from: Dietz 9 Klarinetten.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0,

This was all good stuff but it led to something even BETTER because the fiddle group came to her house just after my instrument testing. Katie had a C clarinet that I could play without having to transpose the fiddle music into another key. I felt very unsure about playing with them and was thoroughly lost in the first piece we played. But they were very accepting and this helped me to catch on well enough by the second song.

Playing with them was glorious and easily some of the most fun I've ever had with music. We played tunes with colorful names like "Swallowtail Jig," "Whiskey Before Breakfast," and "Cluck Old Hen."

The fiddlers often play by ear without written music and even sometimes stomp while they play. They repeat the same phrases and songs over and over until they feel done. Sometimes they speed it up. Sometimes they slow it down. They play a piece until they've gotten it right enough to their own ears.

Most of all, they are an incredibly open and welcoming group.

I was happy I figured a few things out about my clarinet, but I have to say that finding those musicians made me extra glad that I didn't rush to replace the instrument. It was such a better move to reach out to Katie and I ended up making even more wonderful connections because I did. My effort to fix my instrument took me on a musical art adventure.

Here's a link to the Pierce County Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association in case you'd like to learn more.

And here is Leah Brass and the Chicken Dance in case you'd like to hear what these fiddling folks sound like. (You do. You really do want to hear. I promise. And this one even has an adorable kid dancing in a chicken outfit with real pizzazz.)

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