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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I did a quick search of the site before I posted this question but anything with alto in it is doomed to bring up the wrong posts.

Alto clarinet? Why do I not hear people playing alto? Bb soprano and bass clarinet are clearly the two most popular, especially in jazz but why no alto clarinet? It has such a good range. I've never played one so it may be that they are not fun to play but I don't know. Can anyone enlighten me about this absence, please?
 

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And there's this oldie:

Dear Abby:

I have a problem. I have two sisters. One sister plays the alto clarinet and my other sister is a prostitute. My mother died from insanity when I was three years old. My brother was just sentenced to death in the electric chair and my father sells narcotics. Recently I met a girl who was just released from prison where she served time for smothering her illegitimate child to death. Abby, I love this girl very much and want to marry her. My problem is this: should I tell her about my sister who plays the alto clarinet?
But don't let that stop you. I know that some of the musicians in Perry Robinson's circle include alto clarinet in their arsenal.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for this. Milandro, thanks for the searching tip. Shotgun, yes, it is an oldie and it had a rerun on the Clarinet BB recently. In this context, however, I'm sorta asking why this is a joke. Is there an Eric Dolphy of the alto clarinet? You know what I mean, someone who has stamped their personality on an instrument and, in the same process, made those recordings a yardstick for a particular style of music in the way that Dolphy's bass clarinet recordings worked in jazz.
 

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I think the prejudice emerged in classical circles; it's like all those viola jokes. I believe that at one time you could buy open-holed altos which could be difficult to play because of the long span of the fingers. This might have reinforced the idea that they were difficult to play. As far as I know, there is no Eric Dolphy of the alto 鈥 yet.
 

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There also isn't much great music written for alto clarinet. I can't think of any orchestral pieces that call for it (a fact which may, by itself, explain much of the bias), and no substantial solo work (although it could play any viola or, say, french horn solo pieces). It's generally given a part in military band or wind ensembles, but never seems to get parts that feature it prominently at all. I've only heard it referred to with derision as being a terrible instrument -- but maybe it just hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, or has been relegated to players who weren't at the top of their game.

Perhaps it's time we all support alto clarinet as the black sheep of the clarinet family and try to get it to move out of mom's basement and live a productive life?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I have to admit to not thinkng of alto clarinet in a classical sense. It's pretty clear that it doesn't have much of a predetermined role in orchestral music. But it strikes me (and the qualification remains that I've never played one) as an ideal instrument for a jazz ensemble due to its range. But in jazz there is even less use than in classical music. This provokes two questions for me: 1) why does this seemingly well apportioned instrument not have a natural home in anyone's music making making and 2) why do I care? I'm only really interested in answers to the first question. In the fifty or so years that I have been consciously listening to music I've heard people record with some pretty bizarre set ups. They go to a lot of trouble to make distinctive sounds. They even made synthesizers to make weird sounds. But no one, to my limited knowledge, has said, 'I've got an alto clarinet in the shed, I think I'll do an album of Bing Crosby covers with that.' And it seems like I'll never know why.
 

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They are a blast to play! I played alto in clarinet choir in grad school and really enjoyed it. It is hard to find decent mouthpieces etc. I think Charlie Bay used to make one that used alto sax reeds. I got an old alto clarinet about a year ago and need to get it into playing condition. Then.......I am gonna' work up an bunch of Jr. Walker stuff up on it!!!!
 

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Well there was no Eric Dolphy of bass clarinet before Eric Dolphy..

I like alto clarinet, myself, not that I'm expert, nor even competent really. I think you need the right mp but personally I found that applies to bass clarinet too (perhaps more so).
 

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Too many mediocre alto clarinet players on too many mediocre alto clarinets. And too many (at least marginally) better sax players on a wealth of less mediocre instruments. Maybe that's why the instrument is not all that popular.

But listen to this - in the right hands...
 

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Excellent video! Alto clarinet kind of falls in the orphan category of C Melody saxes, oboes d'amore and bass trumpets. There really isn't enough good solo/chamber repertoire to justify buying one, but like the video shows, it's a means to great music. Basset horn gets all the respect, but modern bassets are pretty much alto clarinets, anyway. Orchestras sometimes end up using an alto clarinet (with a paper towel core in the bell for the low concert F) to play the basset repertoire (Mozart Requiem, Der Rosenkavalier Suite, etc.). Top mouthpiece makers are starting to produce good mouthpieces for alto. Next time I get some money, I'm shopping for an alto!
 

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Next time I get some money, I'm shopping for an alto!
Bundies are cheap, and despite what people have to say re open-holed altos, it's not all that difficult to play, at least if you're used to a standard Bb soprano clarinet.
Add some $$$ for a Fobes Nova mouthpiece (or have, as I did, a Bundy Signature HR piece refaced by David Spiegelthal) and you're in business...
 

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Alto clarinet is not only difficult to play well but it has so many idiosyncrasies that unless you dedicate yourself 100% to it, it's not very pleasant. I know many long time clarinetists (including myself) that won't have anything to do with it at all. The tone is not really an "individual tone". When people hear it they think it's either a soprano or maybe a bass.....no wait......a soprano.....or was that a bass? So players just go for either a bass clarinet or a soprano.

There are no decent mouthpieces or decent alto clarinets out there because there is no need for them. If there was a demand, there would be many mouthpieces and alto clarinets to be had. No one wants to hassle with the Alto Clarinet. I salute anyone that can play alto half decently.
 

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What Bebopalot said. There's just no selection of decent moderately priced alto sticks availible like there is for saxes. The only model I know of that has the automatic double register mechanism is the Buffet and that's some big bucks. And there's very little selection for mouthpieces availible. I was thinking about getting an alto stick a few years ago. I tried out a Leblanc that was supposed to be a pro model but it had a single vent register key system. The chalumeau played well and was alot of fun. The clarion was stuffy and unresponsive. So I sent it back to WW/BW. If I ever came across an alto with the double vent system and it was selling for a good price (like a steal) I'd take a look at it.
 

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I played alto for years in HS and College. I love it to death, but understand everything it has going against it. It's true that really good ones are hard to come by, but I've played good Leblancs, and even half-decent Bundys, but the school-owned Buffet was by far the most pleasant to play. They're also ridiculously difficult to play in tune; my college wind ensemble director had a rule of always requiring 3 alto clarinets so they could come to a consensus on pitch!

It seems like a vicious cycle; no good instruments/players>no demand>no decent parts written for them>no respect>no good instruments/players... There are a *few* good alto parts out there, look for good wind ensemble music, not just bog standard concert band stuff. The really proper way to write for alto clarinet is as the "missing" 4th clarinet part. It has enough agility to get around like a Bb, but has the range to go where 3rds can't.

As far as classical literature goes, the (modern) basset horn (in F) sounds a whole lot better (vagaries of bore, etc. I guess) and, therefore, the orchestral literature calls for *that*.

I always meant to do a good harmony clarinet book 脿 la the Rubank Advanced books. Maybe some day...
 
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