My First ClarinetFest®
by Riley Braase
In Summer of 2022 on a country road in the middle of Nevada, a bored small-town cop pulled over a suspicious looking car full of out-of-state twentysomethings. When the officer asked where we were heading, she was so surprised and fascinated to hear there was such a thing as an “International ClarinetFest” that instead of giving us a ticket she let us off with an awkward conversation and a warning to drive slower.
First she asked, “And what exactly do you do at ClarinetFest?” We replied with a detailed description of how we would be performing in concerts and competitions, watching concerts, workshops, and masterclasses, and trying out all kinds of instruments and equipment. The cop silently nodded for a moment before asking, “So. . . what kind of instrument is a clarinet?”
We explained that it’s the one Squidward plays. She understood.
Understanding shifted back to astonishment when it came up that everyone in the car was pursuing a graduate level degree in clarinet performance. She wanted to know, “So what do you hope to do with that?” That question sparked an increasingly friendly talk about performing, academia, private teaching, entrepreneurship, and the many other paths that clarinetists find in the world. At the 2022 Reno ClarinetFest®, I had the opportunity to meet and reconnect with people on every step of their clarinet journey from passionate amateurs to renowned professionals.
In particular, I connected with many great people through volunteering. I loved working the check in desk, where I was paired with a Reno native who had recently retired from a long career in the tech field but had majored in clarinet and had been gigging and teaching throughout his career. We connected through talking about the performances we were most excited to see like Doreen Ketchuns and Ricardo Morales, and debating the merits of cane versus synthetic reeds. I also greeted friends and acquaintances from my time at University of Missouri-Kansas City while at the desk. I was also briefly starstruck when I realized the person checking in was headlining performer YaoGuang Zhai. Another highlight of volunteering was hanging out backstage during the Jazz concert and listening to Felix Peikli while he warmed up by quietly improvising along to the USAF Jazz Band’s opener before his set.
Throughout the conference, I attended performances given by my peers, mentors, and heroes. I felt proud to be part of the Arizona State University (ASU) studio, which had nearly thirty alumni and students perform this year. My professor, Robert Spring, rocked out with Scott McAllister’s “Funkinetics” on the opening night concert, and later received a belated award for his 2021 Honorary ICA Membership. Another ASU shout-out goes to alumni Jeremy Ruth, whose production of Meyer Kupferman’s “Superclarinet, Who?” was one of the delightfully bizarre and artistically prepared performances I have ever seen. The surreal piece includes a life sized tin foil effigy, multiple costume changes, self-recorded dialogue and instrumentals, and Dr. Ruth had the gall to do it with a great clarinet sound and technique as well.
Five days of ClarinetFest® included too many excellent moments to list in a short blog post, but a few others stood out:
- Performing in the semi-finals of the Young Artist Competition and meeting other aspiring professional clarinetists
- Michael Lowenstern’s playful and instructive masterclass
- Jonathan Russell’s moving world premier of “On Sorrow” for bass clarinet and string quartet
- The “Finding your Feet” body mapping workshop with Jackie McIlwain and Shawn Copeland.
Before attending my first ClarinetFest®, my misadventure with the law (I wasn’t driving!) gave me a new appreciation for how amazing it is that so many people from around the world gather every year to geek out about the clarinet. After the conference, I left feeling reconnected to the clarinet community and to my own passion for making music.
I hope to see you at the Denver ClarinetFest® in 2023!
About the Author
Riley Braase is currently pursuing a DMA in clarinet performance at Arizona State University. He also holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory and the University of Idaho, and serves on the ICA Membership and Development Committee.