Choosing the Clarinet

When it came time for my kids to join the band in elementary school, selecting an instrument prompted great angst.  As they ruminated on each possibility’s merits, they asked why I had decided on the clarinet.  How had I known that it was “the one”?

Well, I just knew.

But how did I know?

That stumped me.  I wasn’t sure.  There just had never been any question in my mind.

Not till after I got satellite radio about a year and a half ago did I realize why my choice might have been so clear.  One of the stations I listen to somewhat regularly is “Forties on 4,” which plays nothing but 1940s music.  Lots of big band stuff.  Like Artie Shaw.  Woody Herman.  Benny Goodman.

All clarinetists.

Although I was born well after the 1940s,  I guess the music from that era must still have been on my grandparents’ radios when I was young.  Heck, I can remember Guy Lombardo still playing New Year’s Eve on television through the evening of 1976-77.  (In the clip below, Lombardo’s final broadcast, the show starts out with “Baby Face,” a 1926 song that seems entirely fitting for the Royal Canadians.  But the second number is Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs.”  Which seems less so 🙂 )

Probably the main reason I knew all about the clarinet, however, was “The Lawrence Welk Show.”  I remember watching that mostly at my grandmother’s house.  She had color TV, and “Lawrence Welk”— with its elaborate sets and pouffy crinoline dresses, not to mention pouffy bouffant hairstyles—was a show that seemed made for color television.

So, okay, yes, Lawrence Welk was old school and kind of hokey.  But the show showcased individual singers and dancers and musicians every week, and that’s why I was so familiar with the clarinet and knew without question that it was the instrument for me.  When Henry Cuesta played his clarinet, I loved how its warm, woody lower range could sound so mellow while its higher notes could rage and wail out the wildest blues songs.

Speaking of Lawrence Welk, I cannot close out a post that mentions that show without giving a shout-out to my favorite performer, Jo Ann Castle.  Totally the happiest piano player ever!


About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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8 Responses to Choosing the Clarinet

  1. dray0308 says:

    Benny Goodman got me hooked on the clarinet when I was a kid. Great post!


  2. scissna says:

    I did the clarinet also…I’ve never thought much about why I picked it. Sorry to say, it wasn’t my thing – I only I switched to guitar. Sign of the times, I suppose. The big band sound was more of my father’s generation rather than grandfather’s. Folk music was my thing. BUT…I have great respect for anyone who can make beautiful music with a licorice stick!


  3. scissna says:

    I still have a guitar, but haven’t played it in sometime. One of my goals in retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We should form a folk group. I remember all heavy faves: “500 Miles” (If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone…), “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” “Erie Canal,” “John Henry”


  4. mworfolk says:

    I was a flute player, myself, but we always sat next to the clarinet section 🙂
    Lawrence Welk! I haven’t thought about him for ages. I used to watch him with my grandma when I was little. Fond memories.


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