Robert Spring, Clarinet Virtuoso

Robert Spring, Clarinet Virtuoso

Robert Spring, Clarinet Virtuoso

I had a nice chance to chat with Robert Spring while he was here working with the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. It was after a concert that I played with him in the orchestra. (I sub as second clarinet occasionally with Pro Musica, whose schedule is tailored nicely to fit around the Columbus Symphony schedule. Plus I enjoy a chance to work with Bob Spring.)

Bob Spring is already somewhat of a legend in the clarinet world. His album "Dragon's Tongue", a CD of virtuoso clarinet music with wind band, is a must have for any music library. He teaches at Arizona State University. You can read his full bio on the Pro Musica website HERE.

What he is most well known for is his ability to double tongue, circular breath and play just about any technique on the clarinet. However, if anyone thinks he is so good just because he's talented, take note. He does a 1.5 hour warm up every single day, of challenging scales and long-tones.

Like a rock star "groupie" I asked him to play Flight of the Bumblebee. He complied. I got to see his circular breathing and fingers close up. (remember, I'm working on these techniques, so I'm always looking for how the pros do it.) He manages to take huge circular breaths, puffing his whole mouth up. I usually keep it to small breaths so I don't have to puff so much and lose the embouchure.

I also observed how he moves his hand/fingers while playing so fast. His hands are not big, and he moves quite a bit to get around the instrument. Despite all that hand and finger motion, he never interferes with his Primary Control; his neck back stay free. (students take note!)

He has played on the same Pyne mouthpiece for decades. From experience, I know that the mouthpiece is critical when attempting high level techniques such as double tonguing and circular breathing. He also plays on pretty hard reeds 4.5. In short he's an amazing athlete on the clarinet: strong, fast and versatile.

Bob showed me what he was working on, preparing for an upcoming solo performance. Click the thumbnails for larger views. The piece is called SubtrainS and Strata'sfearS for solo Bb clarinet by Eric P Mandat, written for Robert Spring.

I don't know if you can see the detail in the weak photo my phone camera took, but there are custom fingerings above almost every note!! And he plays them with ease. Though the piece was written for Spring in 1995 it sounds fresh and new as ever. (I've never heard it, until he played a bit, and I'm intrigued to hear the whole piece now.)

I'm not much of a clarinet geek, but I really enjoyed hearing, watching and chatting with such an amazing player close up.

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6 comments for “Robert Spring, Clarinet Virtuoso

  1. David
    March 20, 2010 at

    Just watched Bob on youtube, Great palyer, Looking forward to my warm up's everytime now!!!!!!

  2. Tim
    November 17, 2009 at

    I agree completely with Julia. Bob is most definitely an amazing musician and clarinet magician. As part of my masters study in Oregon, I played in a band accompanying Bob for several of the same pieces that can be found on Dragon's Tongue. He was kind enough to get together with us clarinetists for clarinet choir reading, dinner, and a long chat. (Not to mention big margaritas!) Good times…

    • November 17, 2009 at

      Isn't it nice when someone so accomplished doesn't let it go to his head!!

  3. October 30, 2009 at

    I'd love to link my next blog post to yours here. Bob is an amazing musician, as well as a very interesting and fun individual! I enjoy working with him, and I'm glad you were able to play with us earlier this month. Thanks!

    • October 30, 2009 at

      Thanks for the link Julia. Glad you like this post.

    • Janet Chen
      October 30, 2009 at


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