Episode 11 – Raissa Fahlman on switching to the Reform Boehm System

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In this episode of the Clarineat.com podcast, host Sean Perrin speaks with guest Raissa Fahlman who shares her experience with switching to the reform Boehm clarinet.

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Wurlitzer Clarinets

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Connect with Raissa Fahlman

Website: www.raissafahlmanmusic.com

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Wurlitzer Clarinets

Dvorak Keyboard Layout

Giveaway

Prize 1: Comment on the  below if you are interested in switching to the reform Boehm system. Raissa will select one listener for a Skype call of up to 30 minutes.

*All prizes include free worldwide shipping where applicable. Please see here for more information.

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20 replies on “Episode 11 – Raissa Fahlman on switching to the Reform Boehm System

  • Zheng Li

    I am a player who has changed from Boehm system to Oehler system recently. I heard so many people complaining that Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinets have some very serious intonation problems but I am not sure if it has been solved or not. Could you share some information? Also, I noticed that Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinets require special mouthpieces which are not the standard mouthpieces for German system clarinets. Is the true?

    Reply
    • Sean Perrin

      Hi Zheng,

      I’m sorry but even after the interview I don’t really know enough to comment about this. Raissa was saying she thought tuning seemed improved but perhaps people have different experiences?

      I’m sorry I can’t be of more help!

      Reply
    • Raissa

      Hi Zheng!

      Sorry for not replying sooner!

      It is not true that you need special mouthpieces to play the Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinets. As far as I know any standard German mouthpiece will fit on a Reform Boehm or German clarinet. There are a variety of options, and facings, but the bore sizes are the same and you can of course use standard German mouthpieces. That is what I play on: a Viotto G3. That said, however, there are many options, and of course every musician must find their own personal setup! I would suggest that the best setup to maximize the possibilities of the RB bore is to use a German mouthpiece. I don’t believe that it is true that you cannot use a German mouthpiece on a Reform Boehm clarinet- at least this is not the case in my opinion/experience. As I said, I play on a German mouthpiece.

      There are, however, lots of different options. Some people play on adapted mouthpieces that are made to play on a RB clarinet but with a French facing, to allow the player to use French reeds. I tried these mouthpieces but didn’t like them as much as the German ones.

      There are also people who ask if it is possible to continue to use their French mouthpiece on the RB clarinets. It IS possible to use a French mouthpiece, but you need a special barrel that is designed to be used with a French mouthpiece on a German (RB) bore. THESE mouthpieces are notoriously out of tune, and I would only ever recommend using them in order to first try out a set of RB clarinets with your existing French mouthpiece. This is not a good long term solution in my opinion. The adapted barrels create horrible intonation problems!

      As far as intonation goes, No clarinet is ever perfectly in tune, so certain notes will always require a bit of adjusting. However, I would say that the Wurlitzer Reform Boehms (soloist model) that I play are actually much better for intonation than my Buffet R-13’s were. At first I had intonation problems (everything was too sharp, which was the opposite of what I expected, since I was at the same time switching from thinking and voicing in A=440 to 442- I thought if anything I would be flat, but that was not the case.) However, these intonation issues were more related to adapting my embouchure than the instruments themselves.

      I do understand why people switching to a reform boehm system have difficulties with intonation though, and it has far more to do with the *embouchure* of the clarinetist than the intonation of the instruments.

      Let me explain:

      If you try to play a RB clarinet with a French embouchure, the intonation can be quite horrendous. This was my biggest struggle as I was learning the new system. It wasn’t until l was able to relax and adopt a German embouchure (which is very much different than the French way of playing) that the instruments reached their fullest potential, and the intonation problems vanished as well. For my experience at least, when I first switched to RB I found a lot of the intonation to be VERY sharp. But this was not the instrument’s problem- for when my teacher played them he had no problems with the intonation. I realized then that it was because my habits from the old French embouchure being too tight, and therefore pitching/voicing everything too high and preventing me from reaching a successful german embouchure (or proper sound/intonation). The RB clarinets are not built to be played with a French embouchure. I think this accounts for many of the intonation problems that you may have heard regarding these instruments. Of course, each instrument is different, and each clarinetist must learn to navigate the intonation nuances of his or her own instrument- but I think the assumption that all Wurlitzer RB clarinets have poor intonation is grossly inaccurate. Once I completely adjusted to a German embouchure and my new German mouthpiece, the intonation has been great!

      *as a side note, when I first got the clarinets they had a few notes that were consistently out of tune, so I sent them back to Wurlitzer and they retuned the throat tones for me- free of charge- and the instruments play beautifully in tune now!

      In conclusion, I do not believe that it is typical of Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinets to be “out of tune”. I would bet that this is in most cases an issue of embouchure of the clarinetist, rather than the instruments. I know many people who play these instruments; most Dutch clarinetists do, so when I did my masters almost everyone was playing these instruments, and I have never heard this generalization at all before now. I would certainly not let it deter you from trying the RB system.

      I hope this helps!!

      Please let me know if you have any more questions! 🙂

      Raissa

      Reply
      • Zheng

        Dear Raissa,

        Thank you very much for your informative reply and I like your performance you posted on Youtube. As a German (Oehler) clarinet player I agree with most of your points but one thing strange is that Wurlitzer makes some mouthpieces for RB only (other RB makers don’t), which makes me believe RB instruments (or Wurlitzer RB instruments) require special mouthpieces. Nevertheless, maybe German mouthpieces are still compatible just like Viennese mouthpieces can also be used on German instruments. Besides, I am very glad that you got one pair of great used RB instruments as sometimes old is better than new. In fact, the story I heard (I only heard) is that several key technicians at Wurlitzer left the workshop one decade ago and then they all begun to make instruments with their own brands (namely, L&K, Dietz and hüyng, so probably your 20 years old RBs were actually made by them). It is said after that, the quality of Wurlitzer instruments, particularly the RB, was going down dramatically, and that’s the same time people began to notice the intonation problems of their RB instruments. People on the other hand also told me that recently they did a lot of improvements (some design change is very obvious) thus it is much better.

        Well, this is just what I heard when I was in Germany for about one year.

        Two more questions that a lot of friends asked me. First, probably not a good one: do you think you will encounter some difficulties when you apply a position outside the Netherlands? As far as I know, it seems that’s the only place where RB is popular but I feel sad that now they also begin to accept French system players (e.g., Olivier Patey). Or maybe orchestras in North America just do not care? Second, do you play some contemporary classical music on your RBs? I wonder if it is easy to play the multiphonics and quarter tones on them?

        With Regards,
        Zheng
        P.S., Just read your thesis and as a Brahms fan, I enjoyed it!

        Reply
  • Rubén

    Hi Zheng,

    Reform Boehm clarinets must be played in a different way that you play a french clarinet. In fact, people who play a well tuned Reform Boehm clarinet like if it was a french clarinet, will have tuning problems.

    That said, it is true that Herbert Wurlitzer Reform Boehm clarinets have some serious tuning problems. I have the same tuning problems in both clarinets of my set (Bb and A), but in my Bb clarinet these problems are much more appreciable.

    Specifically these are the problems:

    1) Left hand C# and corresponding twelfth G# are too sharp.
    2) Eb (with 7 or 7bis key) is flat, but the corresponding twelfth Bb is too sharp.
    3) Left hand E is flat, but the corresponding twelfth is too sharp and erratic.
    4) Alto C is sharp and erratic.

    There are other little problems (throat Bb is flat, and B from third line of pentagram is a little flat too), but you can live with them.

    However, the problems described in the four previous points are too much to play comfortably. You can rise the pitch of flat notes biting a little, but you must to relax too much the embouchure and not move your clarinet in high notes to improve the intonation. You can just deal with these high notes in easy legato passages or sustain notes, both in mezzoforte or forte, helping with some fingerings sometimes. But if you have to play those problematic notes in intervals, arpeggios, staccato, articulated passages, etc. or in piano or pianissimi, you are in a big problem. It is impossible not to bit a little more when you have to play in piano or articulated/staccato passages, or fast passages in which you need extra support of your clarinet. And, if you bite a little more, the pitch of the mentioned high notes will rise incredibly. I am talking about imperceptible changes of your embouchure, that will be very appreciable in the pitch (in a french clarinet those micro-changes in your embouchure would be 100% inaudible).

    If you use a mouthpiece of other brand, the problems with tuning can even increase. So I recommend to play with Wurlitzer mouthpieces. Maybe if the clarinet is well tuned, you can use mouthpieces for other brands without problems.

    I don’t now if there is a solution for these tuning problems, and if these problems are present in all Reform Boehm clarinets from Wurlitzer. I have read that some clarinet players using Wurlitzer RB clarinets don’t have these problems. Maybe these problems didn’t exist in older series. Or perhaps these problems are more common in 185 Soloist model because the expanded mechanism.

    I have the clarinets since 2007 and I’ve never gone to the Wurlitzer workshop. But now that they need a complete overhaul, I will talk with them to see if it is possible to solve these tuning problems, or at least minimize them.

    I have tried other brands of Reform Boehm clarinets like Seggelke and Leitner&Kraus. Better in tuning and stadier pitch, but mechanism of Seggelke is less confortable, and both (Seggelke and L&K) sound more standard. H. Wurlitzer clarinets have a special timbre.

    I hope you find all this usefull.

    Reply
    • Zheng

      Hi Rubén,

      Thank you very much for such a detailed reply and in fact, as a previous Boehm clarinet player, I also considered to change into RB but due to the well documented tuning problems I eventually changed into Oehler system. Despite some initial difficulties, it is a pleasure to play them now.

      I feel sorry to hear you are suffering from the tuning problems but I do know a lot of friends whose new (bought within 10 years) Wurlitzer RB instruments have been dramatically improved by L&K or S&S but not Wurlitzer as their concept is timbre is the most important thing compared to intonation and that’s why they changed their design of their RB about one decade ago. I was also told that staff at L&K and S&S have dealt with such problems very frequently thus probably you can get some help from them. Nevertheless, I also recommend you might consider Oehler in the future. The transition actually is much easier than I thought.

      Reply
        • Zheng

          Hi Sean,

          I pretty have the some reasons as Raissa mentioned. The very first one is the sound. As a big fan of Berliner Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic, I am fascinated by their sound but at the same time find it is very difficult to produce the same sound on French system clarinets. Second, the music I love and play is largely German repertoire, such as Weber, Schumann and Brahms’s clarinet pieces and all major symphonies by German/Austrian composers, like Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler and Bruckner. One intriguing fact which always is in my mind is that these composers actually composed their music based on the sound of German clarinets. Third, I would say, in my opinion, German clarinets are slightly more suitable for contemporary classical music. This is because German clarinets can play multi-phonics and quarter/one-third tones mostly by special fingerings while French clarinet players have to do a large portion of these by changing embouchure. The reason for this is that there are more tone holes on German clarinets. As a consequence, it is very hard, if not impossible, to play some very fast passages on Boehm system.

          That said, I have to admit that the fingering on German/Oehler clarinets is more difficult than Boehm; The shortages of German clarinets are the more complex mechanics usually requires more service/repair and of course makes the professional German clarinets generally more expensive (well, now this is not very true as some recent top models of Boehm clarinets are unreasonably expensive).

          Some interesting comparisons exist in other woodwind instruments (bassoon, oboe) that also have more than one system but I guess it is a little out of topic 🙂

          Reply
    • Sean Perrin

      Thank you for your in-depth response. In the episode Raissa mentions she did send her instruments to Wurlitzer to be looked at. Perhaps this is how to ensure the best tuning? I’m sorry I can’t be of more help I play on a standard Buffet R13 Festival.

      Reply
    • Raissa

      Hi Ruben,

      Thank you for your reply!

      I am sorry to hear that you are having such intonation problems with your Wurlitzer clarinets. As I mentioned briefly in the podcast, when I bought my clarinets (used) they had some consistent intonation issues in the throat tones, which the previous owner had tried to fix himself by putting nail polish inside the tone holes (yikes!). Luckily this was easily removed by my repair tech when he did the overhaul, and then once I had them back to normal (nail polish free), I sat down and wrote down the notes that had consistently poor intonation (several were quite poor), and sent the clarinets back to Wurlitzer. They completely re-tuned all of these notes and sent the clarinets back to me with basically perfect intonation free of charge.

      Of course, there are always going to be subtle intonation issues to navigate- and different setups can of course change this, but I certainly if you are having serious and consistent intonation issues, try to assess whether or not it is something that can be reasonably navigated, or whether your instruments would benefit from some re-tuning. Wurlitzer take great pride in their instruments, and will always honour their craftsmanship by fine tuning things that need to be fixed!

      So, what I am saying Ruben is that if you are finding consistent intonation problems with your Wurlitzer clarinet, consider making notes of the problems and sending your instruments back to Wurlitzer like I did! They worked absolute magic on my instruments, so I highly recommend this solution! I would definitely recommend this instead of trying to send them to another manufacturer such as L&K (who also make lovely instruments! I would just rather have my clarinets re-touched by the people who made them in the first place): Wurlitzer has been great to work with, and I found it amazing that I could send my instruments back (20+ years after they were purchased from Wurlitzer by another owner) and they just fixed my problems no questions asked. By the sounds of it, your clarinets could benefit from similar work! Life is too short to struggle with such issues when they are willing to fix them for you for free! I would look into it 🙂

      I hope this helps!

      Raissa

      Reply
  • Claude

    Great podcast! My favourite bits were Sean’s statements “why doesn’t every clarinet have this?”… Exactly, why don’t they???

    I had the misfortune of learning on a 7 ring system and so when it was time to upgrade, I found the traditional boehm extremely difficult and unnatural (especially the Eb/Bb). After much window shopping I ended up on a full boehm, but only because it was the only alternative I could afford. I was able to try a reform for about twenty minutes and I fell madly in love! However, it was a factor of three out of my budget…. Snif!

    The main problem is for those of us that play mostly contemporary/modern repertoire. There are many pitch combinations that are just impossible on the boehm… The full boehm is a bit better, but still struggles. Whereas I found the reform could do any pitch combination effortlessly!

    Reply
      • Claude

        Yes! Perhaps a podcast about the historical development of the clarinet and their mechanics would be a fantastic idea! I wonder who would know enough the subject…?

        Reply
        • Sean Perrin

          I have someone coming on soon to talk about the history of Reform Boehm, and someone (hopefully) over the summer who is an expert on the history and development of the instrument. Stay tuned! (And make sure to subscribe for a chance to win great giveaways!)

          Reply
  • Jeroen

    About the need of a RB mouthpiece I can mention that this was necessary for older Wurlitzer RB clarinets. During the years Wurlitzer experimented a lot with different designs of the RB clarinet bore. The use of the wider bored RB mouthpiece was needed both for sound and intonation. Somewhere from around 2004 this was not needed anymore and normal German mouthpieces should be used for better intonation. May be to fix the left hand wide twelfths that seems to be a problem in the RB clarinets during those years. After around 2008 it seems the intonation improved and the RB design was more like the German bore.

    As a semi pro I played several Wurlitzer RB clarinets (all bought 2nd hand):
    My first pair of Wurlitzers was from 2004. It did take some time to adjust my embouchure as Raissa said. But after a while it became obvious that they had the same intonation problems as Ruben mentions. I went to the Wurlitzer company and they solved it a bit but not completely. Left hand 12ths were still too large.
    Later I owned a pair from 1982. Very different sound but good intonation.
    Now I play on a pair from 1978. Again a different sound but very good intonation.

    My opinion is that Wurlitzer did make and again makes very good clarinets but that there are some instruments around that have some problems.

    Reply
  • sd.christophersen

    Absolutely loved this podcast, I had discovered the Reform Boehm clarinet when I had seen/heard a few orchestras in Europe (specifically Germany, Austria, and Netherlands) and absolutely fell in love with their sound, and the more I researched, I fell in love with the whole German philosophy of the clarinet, and I’ve been searching and trying hard to get my hands on one so I can make the switch.

    Thanks again,
    Steven

    Reply
    • Sean Perrin

      Thank you for listening, I’m glad you enjoyed the episode!

      These episode was one of the most popular. I should try to get a Reform Boehm manufacturer on the show at some point!

      Reply
    • Sean Perrin

      I’m not sure but this is a grear question. I know there’s at least one set around since I have tried and seen Raissa’s!

      Let me reach out to her and see if she knows. Thank you for listening!

      Reply

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