Interviews

UNIVERSITY SNAPSHOTS

A sneak peek at the studio of

 

Howard Klug, Indiana University

By Peggy Dees

Interview

PD: Discuss your early experiences and how they have shaped your career.

HK: I started clarinet in the fourth grade in a class of all clarinetists; then studied for many years with Bernard Stiner. My mother was a big motivator to both play the clarinet and to practice. She had played the instrument a bit as a teenager, so had a fondness for it. And I quite remember my first summer playing the clarinet when my mother made me practice two hours a day! That will do quite a bit for you [laughs]! Because of your success on the instrument, you get fired up with the recognition by peers, parents and teachers as to what you are capable of doing. Bernie Stiner was so enthusiastic about his students; I think that accounts for a lot. The way Bernie and Caryl made personal attachments to their students was the core of their success, I believe, and I try to incorporate this approach to working with my own students at Indiana.

 

PD: Who influenced you and how is this reflected in your teaching and playing?

HK: My list of clarinet teachers would run from Bernard Stiner to Robert Marcellus to Donald McGinnis, Robert Titus, Joseph Lord, Anthony Gigliotti, Ignatius Gennusa, Norman Heim and Mitchell Lurie, a who’s who of the clarinet world at different times in my life. I can still remember important things I learned from each of them. The biggest early influence would have been Robert Marcellus during my senior year of high school on the west side of Cleveland. His teaching was all about passing on the Bonade pedagogy. I remember a great deal of those years of lessons with Bob, and I suppose that this was my first experience with such a highly thought out, organized and repetitive way of working on the instrument.

My other clarinet teachers were probably less structured in their teaching. I remember Lurie’s easy professionalism, sort of laid back, non-threatening and a fun person to play for. His approach to teaching might have seemed more casual than other teachers, but he had a way of passing on so much information, and life’s experiences, in a very subtle way.

My master’s degree is in flute, and I also had quite a number of flute teachers along the way, too. Perhaps my most influential flute teacher was Bill Montgomery from the University of Maryland. He was the most highly structured teacher I ever experienced. From detailed markings in the music to motivation and career advice, Bill had his pedagogy clearly thought out. He was Mr. High Energy who was always “up” for your lessons, enthusiastic about your successes, capable of holding out the carrot a little further than you could reach, and highly detailed in the ways in which he explained the instrument. Bill was a complete musician who took great delight in providing you with all of the significant historical, stylistic and acoustic information about a piece of music and the instruments of the time. I must say that his manner of dedication and organization had a very strong impact on my burgeoning teaching career.

As a busy instrumental doubler in my twenties, I also worked with a couple of oboe teachers and saxophone teachers, too. Both the different acoustic properties and repertoire of these other instruments have had tremendous influences on my clarinet playing.

 

PD: Is doubling something you recommend to your students?

HK: Yes. First of all, as soon as the basic approach to clarinet is relatively stable, I encourage them to work on the other instruments (bass and E-flat) in the family. By the time the students get to graduate school, if they have dreams of being a university teacher, I encourage the DM students to choose career-enhancing subjects for their minors. Since most entry-level college teaching positions require us to do a multiplicity of things, some of these other valuable skills are things like saxophone, music theory, basic musicianship, woodwind methods, and perhaps a little conducting. These are the kinds of activities I encourage my doctoral students to pursue to improve their employment possibilities. None of my current students, however, are doing any of the wacky doublings (flute, oboe) that I used to do.

 

PD: You had mentioned briefly your lessons with Marcellus and Montgomery, their structure and method. Is that something you do in your own teaching?

HK: Yes, I try to give them all a clear, detailed structure of what and how I’m going to teach them. For the last three years I have been teaching all of my students (freshmen through doctoral level) with a combination of private and class lessons. Each student receives a thirty-minute private lesson, which is devoted exclusively to the interpretation of whatever they’re working on….solos, chamber music, orchestra excerpts. Each student is also in a three or four member group lesson for two hours a week. The students in each group are of similar abilities, rather than class level in school. In the group lessons (which I sometimes dub “clarinet boot camp”) we do long tones, intervals, scales, arpeggios, ear-training materials, rhythm work, etudes and transposition. These control and technique building materials are done in a sequential approach, going down the row of students. While one student is playing, the others are fingering along. I seldom have to say anything about their preparation as the fear of being under-prepared in front of their colleagues is usually sufficient motivation. These musical drills generally go on for an hour, followed by an hour of “mini performances” in which each class member stands up to play a movement of something they’re currently working on. At this point the other members of the class are asked to comment on the performance, which develops critical ears, communication skills and diplomacy. I must say that both the students and I love the environment of the group lessons. Somehow the two-hour class goes very quickly for everyone, we have fun doing our various group activities, AND the students seem to progress at a faster rate than with the traditional one-hour private lesson format.

 

PD: How would you describe the atmosphere of your studio and what do you do to achieve it?

HK: I hope that the environment in my studio is always challenging and fun. While I teach a subject (the clarinet) for sure, I always teach it through the individual. In terms of student motivation in a group lesson, the subtle peer expectations to play at a high level seem to almost eliminate any need from me to say anything in this area. Whether a student is prepared or unprepared is rather self-evident to everyone in the room, and self-correcting. Both my achievers and under achievers are leveled out by the group dynamics, which helps calm everyone down and not to get so anxious about playing for each other.

I think that students these days spend too much time on too little materials. Polish, polish, polish. That’s not how the world works, which is gobble, gobble, gobble. These days you have to be able to learn quickly and get on with it in a professional setting. Therefore, I focus the bulk of my teaching on giving my students an essential musical vocabulary: tone, tuning, technique, sight-reading and transposition skills. The better we are at the basics the easier it is to play the monuments of our literature. AND you cannot learn to play the clarinet while working on Mozart, Weber and Poulenc. Most students want to tackle these pieces without already having their “clarinet ducks” in a row. It really cuts to the fact that too many students want to avoid foundation drills that give them the essential command of the instrument. Why? Because it often isn’t fun. It’s my job to make it fun.

 

PD: What are the most important things for your students to learn and how do you facilitate that learning?

HK: I really like them to have good tones. I emphasize that a lot, and while you may not always see picture perfect embouchures from my students, I believe that all of their tones are quite matched and uniform. I’m less concerned with how the embouchure looks than how it sounds, so I do a great deal of aural teaching. The group lesson provides an interesting exercise in tone matching in that the students’ tones at the end of a two-hour lesson vs. at the beginning show a dramatic improvement. They unconsciously listen to each other, and me, and make subtle improvements quite without me saying anything.

Another important item to work on is reducing the tension that so often affects hands/arms, embouchure and tongue. Often this comes about because students are trying to make themselves play accurately, rather than just allowing it to happen. I try to get them to chill out and relax. Often things go together: students play forte, grab the clarinet tighter and squeeze the mouthpiece too hard. If you can get one part of the system to lighten up, say the hands, very often everything else will slack off a bit, too. Students commonly work too hard to play loud or fast. I have a hunch that the traditional method of “working things up the metronome” can be partially responsible for the incremental tension that creeps in as one plays faster. To avoid that, I’ve found some success with playing a passage very slow, over and over. In such an ultra-slow environment the hands relax completely and one plays the notes easily. Once this feeling becomes comfortable, then double or triple the speed, but keep the same feeling in the hands. Most students will then be able to glide through the thorny passage with ease. One should apply the slow hand feeling to the fast passage in order to ALLOW yourself to play fast, never MAKE yourself play fast.

 

PD: Has your teaching changed over the years? If so, how?

HK: I think of myself as a student of the instrument, too, and I’m continually working on my own clarinet playing; experimenting with embouchure, hand and posture revisions/rethinkings, in order to understand my own playing better and improve it if I can. This information, when successful (and some of it isn’t, to be sure!), is then passed on to my students. Sometimes I’ll have a former student of mine (from only four or five years ago) come back to IU to sit in on a class. Afterwards they’ll say, “how come you never told me that!?” I have to freely admit that I didn’t know it then, that I’ve learned some things since they were my student.

I believe there is a solid connection between a teacher’s skill on the instrument and what they’re able to have their students achieve. I don’t believe you can teach a thing or place that you haven’t visited yourself. Students are prone to copy what you sound like and how you play. As I often tell my IU Teaching Workshop attendees, “if you don’t like how your students sound, then YOU should go practice more!”

Lastly, I believe that I’ve gotten better at understanding my students; what drives them, their concerns, how they learn best. It is a far different time now, and learning environment, than it was thirty to forty years ago.

 

PD: Is there anything else that you would care to add about your teaching?

HK: I like to take my students to places they haven’t gone before; new literature, new ways of thinking about playing the instrument, improving their ears and sense of rhythm, developing an ability to play music in a swing style, giving them the tools they need to learn new music quickly. And I try to do this in a fast-paced environment of collegiality and humor, with lots of challenging games to whet their appetite and keep them mentally alert, and where I’m the big kid on the playground pushing the merry-go-round at a slightly faster speed than is comfortable.

As you look around my studio, you can hardly help noticing that it is cluttered! The walls are covered with pictures of present and past students, and those of guest artists and master class teachers. I consider my students to be a kind of extended family, and I insist that they be generous and supportive of one another’s activities. When one of them does a recital, ALL the others are expected to attend. AND they will go backstage afterwards to pass on congratulations. My students are young professionals in the making and they need to support their pals. Yes they are competitors of a type, but I expect them to be genuinely friendly and supportive of each other. They must be good “clarinet citizens.”