Passing on the Flame

Several years ago, a special student gave me an incredibly thoughtful and meaningful gift when she graduated- my clarinet family tree. As someone who is already enormously sentimental, the family tree struck a deep chord. The tree reflected my most recent teacher, his teacher, and my previous teachers and their teachers, along with a photo of my student and of me. Each time I walk into my office and see those photos hangin from the tree, I think about the words my teacher and mentor, Kalmen Opperman, said about the importance of having reverence for and passing on the traditions of our pedagogy, our school of clarinet playing, calling it “passing on the flame”. 

I really like the idea of a flame, one that never dies, being handed from one generation of musicians to the next. A brilliant light that shines the way for others, connecting us all with colorful threads of knowledge and skills that stretch across the generations.  I have been blessed to have had wonderful teachers, each steeped in traditions from legendary clarinetists that came before them. I take the responsibility of passing on those traditions to my own students quite seriously. I have been given a gift of pedagogy, a concept of sound and style, history, stories, and personal experiences-  the torch- and it is up to me and all of my fellow students who studied with these great performers and pedagogues to carefully hand the torch to the next generation. An awesome responsibility to transfer the knowledge accurately and not break the connection. 

It is deeply moving and humbling to me when I actually begin to think about my own small part in this passing on of the flame to the many, many students I have taught in my thirty years of teaching. I didn’t always get it right, but I always tried my best to share the information – and, perhaps just as importantly- the respect for those who came before us. That reverence and respect for our musical forefathers makes all the difference. It makes us think carefully before we speak. It makes us hold our heads a little higher, work harder, play with more confidence. It makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves in a profession in which we spend countless hours by ourselves practicing or working with students one on one in lessons. I am grateful to be the keeper of this particular flame- truly a gift that keeps on giving and giving. 

Thank you to my student, Michelle Seth, and to my amazing clarinet teachers, Kalmen Opperman, James Gillespie, Ronald Monsen, Frank Kowalsky, Fred Ormand, and Vance Jennings…and to all of my students, past and present. 

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