The agony stick: the clarinet

I had a pain in my right thumb that lasted one-and-a-half years.  The pain took a long leisurely trip through my body. The pain traveled from my thumb, to my shoulders, to my neck.

I got the pain from playing the clarinet too much. I drove to Cincinnati from Cleveland to see a specialist for clarinet pain.

Then I did Alexander Technique, and every other technique short of amputation.

At KlezKamp — the New York klezmer music conference — I met a clarinetist who wore a neck strap.  He said, “The pain eventually goes away.”  This became my mantra.

The clarinet is the agony stick, not just because it can be painful to play, but because it’s difficult to play too.  The fingerings are harder than the sax, and a clarinet has the “break,” the challenging leap from A to B in the middle register.  The clarinet squeaks easily, for sure.  And the clarinet’s register key raises the note a twelfth, not an octave.  This is odd physics.  The  sound from a clarinet typically doesn’t come out the bell, like on a sax.  The sound comes out the finger holes.

I asked a sax player in a big band if he played clarinet.  He said, “I have a clarinet.”

About the Author
Bert Stratton is a musician and landlord in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. Byliner chose his essay "The Landlord's Tale" as one of the best magazine articles of 2012. He blogs at "Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate."