I learned the clarinet at primary school and continued to play in the band at high school. I wasn’t particularly talented, but I enjoyed being part of a band and making music. When I started working as a teen, I decided to save up and upgrade my plastic-y student instrument to a nice wooden one. My increasing enjoyment for playing the clarinet may of had something to do with the handsome boy who played the saxophone next to me in the church band. Later, that boy became my husband… but that’s another story.
This instrument is laced with memories for me. I remember the day I purchased it clearly. I would have been sixteen at the time, and I had saved up carefully and diligently. I stood in a pokey shop with my mother. After looking at a few different clarinets, the assistant brought out a wooden LeBlanc instrument. First, I noticed the case. The instruments I had seen previously came in the usual black case, but this one was brown; it was different. The case was lined with a deep, deep orange lining.
I held the instrument, and I knew it was the one for me. The sound it made was mellow and round. The keys bounced lightly under my fingers. It felt right in my hands. But it wasn’t perfect. The bell (the base) had a small mended crack (you can see it in the last picture below). It didn’t affect the sound or the playability of the instrument but it had obviously been dropped at some point. The flaw endeared the clarinet to me even more, and I left the small woodwind shop happily with a brown case in one hand. It belonged to me.
I enjoyed my purchase for many years. Then I married. And moved. And had babies. And moved. And had more babies. My clarinet sat in a cupboard quietly. I didn’t play it anymore. Life is like that sometimes: there are seasons, ebbs and flows. But then, all of a sudden (so it seemed) I had a daughter in late primary school who was interested in playing the clarinet. After a decade sitting quietly in one cupboard or another, I pulled out the wooden clarinet in a brown case. I can’t tell you how GOOD it felt, and what a joy it was, to pass it on to my daughter like that. But that is not the end of this story.
You see, the instrument needed a service. It hadn’t been played in a very long while. I found myself back at the same shop where I purchased the instrument — I was trying to work it out — about 15 years or so previously.
A slim man came out from a small room filled with different instruments, to greet me.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Hello! I have a LeBlanc clarinet that needs a service. It hasn’t had one in a long time.” I explained.
He opened the case and paused for a moment.
Then, he looked up at me and said, rather nonchalantly, “This used to be my clarinet.”
“How can you know!?” I said incredulously. “I’ve had this clarinet well over a decade! Since I was a teen!”
“I just know. Yes, that timing is right. See that crack there?” he said pointing to the bell, “I did that.”
He told me he played this instrument all over Europe.
I told him I was passing it on to my daughter.
And so the story of the clarinet in the brown case goes.
I wonder what other connections and experiences it will foster.