I want to thank Melody for this collection of information about clarinet mutes:
Hi Phil!When I first joined the Hutchinson (Kansas) Community Orchestra, it was back in the days when there were only a few good adult musicians in it, and various high school students. I didn't own an A clarinet, and neither did the two ladies that played in the group. What they did for pieces written for A clarinet was AWFUL. They each had a thin rope that they suspended inside the bore of the clarinet, which “sort of” lowers the pitch about a half step on some notes. As I recall, the rope was about the thickness of an Ethernet cable and made of woven cotton, probably with a core of other material, like (but somewhat thicker than) old fashioned Venetian blind cord. The cord was suspended starting from below the barrel with two thin wires that formed a cross. (The wires might have been made from straight pins or a paper clip.) The length would be about enough to go down to the low E tone hole. The result is that the Bflat clarinet will have some notes that sound a half step lower, and it makes the response very stuffy indeed. I DON'T recommend this. If you don't have an A clarinet, transpose the music!
… Still haven't found the passage I read about [Reginald] Kell,
but have found other references to the practice of muting a clarinet. Even saw a blog
site from some kid who recently attended a concert, and claimed the guy playing
clarinet used a mute, and made a regular old Bb soprano clarinet sound like a bass
clarinet with it.
Here's a sampling of credible sources:
Jazz in Print (1856-1929)An Anthology of Early Readings by Karl Koenig page 388
Refers to the practice of wrapping the clarinet in a leather bag to mute certain
Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Nat Hentoff and Albert J McCarthy
page 161 (My favorite!) Bud Jacobsen produced a ludicrous tone by inserting modified
Kazoo heads in his clarinet.
Music & Letters: Vol 55 JSTOR Project Muse, Oxford Journals, 1974 "For the most part,
these are phrases when the ordinary clarinet can play an octave below the received
version. A mute is prescribed at the end. According to the note, it should be a cork
large enough to close the bell."
Contemporary Aspects of Clarinet Performance, Evans Publications, 1077 page 22 Talked
about higher pitches and playing harmonics with a cork mute.
Several references to Larry Shields, although one wonders if it was more for melodic
or comedic effect: Jazz Makers: Vanguards of Sound, Alyn Shipton, pg 42; Jazz: A
History of the New York Scene Leonard Kunstadt 1962 (called it a "tiny paint can
mute.") Plus many, many others that were more blog in nature and seemed much less
… I also read a piece
about 19th century clarinetists tying a washer to a string and suspending it inside
the clarinet. The musician won the prize of one guinea for his innovation. That was
a lot of cash back then, wasn't it?
Anyway, thanks again for all you did for me.