Sometimes when my reasonably fine life gets to be too much, I pull out my clarinet from its beaten case with the sides all sliced and peeling from when it faced various indignities on long ago band trips.
I open the metal clasps on the side and look into that velvet-lined interior to find the five pieces that make up my black wooden instrument. I feel the corks as I slide them together with the reed soaking already in my mouth (I’m always hoping it’s the right reed — the one that lets the tones flow out easily instead of one of those others that have me straining for each note).
I start with the bell, then the two middle pieces, building it from bottom to the top, sliding the bridge carefully together. Then I push together the barrel and the mouthpiece, pulling the barrel up to give it a slightly deeper tone as if trying to tune with a partner or band not in the little office room where I play. After all this, I’ll run through the chromatic scale, fiddle with the keys and maybe pass through my memorized “Sound of Silence.”
If my lip feels strong, I’ll play through old books, looking for fun things. But most of the time and especially if I’m playing to soothe some nameless hurt that came over me before I cracked open the peeling case, I’ll go back to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K 622 Adagio.
I’ll play it long and slow with its climbing and then falling sixteenth and thirty second notes and trills. It’s in a book I used for contest but not a piece I ever played when I was in competition. No music teacher ever corrected me on it, and I think this is much of why I love it. I have no idea how badly I’m doing it. I don’t want to have any idea.
Somehow, when I play, I feel close to the man who wrote it shortly before his death — that crazy genius who died 10 years younger than I am now over 300 years ago. The sounds soothe me in a way that hangs in the air long after I pull the pieces of my well-loved clarinet back apart to let it lie once again in the velvet lining. Thank you, Mozart. Here’s what I hear in my head when I play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcIyTiKwDvU