In around 2006 I found myself at the Frankfurt Musik Messe, a music show for everything from violins to DJ equipment. These sorts of shows are always a good place to see what’s new in the world of clarinet. I came across the Leblanc stand where they had a new prototype instrument. I tried it and instantly fell in love - I needed that Clarinet. I got talking to some of the people that worked for Leblanc, owned by the American company Conn-Selmer, and they graciously agreed to send me an instrument to try when it was ready.
I became a Leblanc Artist and began to work alongside the team at Conn-Selmer. At the same time, discussions were being had about working on a new intermediate Clarinet and after some months they unexpectedly asked if I would help them design it. It was something I’d never considered being part of my musical life but I relished the challenge!
I said yes straight away and we got to work. Our brief was quite straightforward: to make a high quality, affordable clarinet. We used new technology and new manufacturing methods to achieve our goal. To begin with, the production team in Elkhart, Indiana (USA) would send me a prototype instrument for feedback. Back then, I didn't have engineering knowledge so my feedback would instead be in musical terms. For example, I may say that I wanted a darker sound or to adjust the pitch of a particular note. It was then the challenge of the engineering team to translate my musical approach into numbers and quantifiable changes.
We were in development for almost two years before the instrument finally launched: the Leblanc Bliss Clarinet.
Nothing really prepared me for walking into the exhibit hall at the Midwest Clinic and seeing all of the clarinets and banners with my name on them. It was a very humbling moment. Hundreds of people at the factory had put in months of hard work and to see the result was something quite special.
After around eight very successful years of the Bliss Clarinet, we decided to work on a new intermediate clarinet: the Serenade. Our approach with the Serenade was to analyse previous Leblanc instruments and combine the most successful attributes into one new instrument. In the USA, the Normandy and Noblet were popular so we decided to focus our attention on those instruments to begin with, continuing to the Bliss and the Sonata. This wealth of data combined with incredibly valuable feedback from clarinet players lead us to create the Serenade.
People ask me quite a lot.. ”So what is the Serenade?” Think of all of the best bits of the Normandy, Noblet, Sonata and a Bliss…That’s what we think the Serenade is. Leblanc clarinets have always been known for being easy to play, having a great scale and a nice clear, dark tone. Essentially we wanted people that remembered Leblanc to pick up the new instrument and have it feel like home. Similarly, we wanted people that had never played a Leblanc before to pick up the instrument and feel at home very quickly.
In late 2017 I was thrilled to accept the role of Market Development Manager for clarinets at Conn-Selmer. Having been working with the team for more than ten years already, I was pleased to extend my role and have the opportunity to get out there and meet students and teachers alike.
If I look back to 2006, I could have never imagined where my journey with Leblanc and Conn-Selmer would take me. I’ve learnt a huge amount and it has enriched my musical life no end. I don’t know exactly where the next 10 years will take us, but I do know that I can’t wait!