We’ve done the warm up, the song, and the game, and it’s the moment the children have been waiting for. Everyone is persuaded to sit down; the clarinets are handed out with instructions NOT TO OPEN THEM YET. The inventory numbers on the clarinets are recorded against the children’s names, and we are ready to begin.
I hold up my clarinet, to show them what it looks like, and how the reed is fitted.
We discuss the fragility of the reeds, and pass one sacrificial reed around the class; the shredded and splintered remains are returned to me in due course. Hopefully it died for a good cause.
We all place our thumbs in our mouths, thumbnail cushioned by the lower lip from the bottom teeth, top teeth pressing (gently) onto the fleshy part, and make “what’s up doc” remarks like Bugs Bunny, so that all those who have given me their full attention know which part of the mouth piece goes where. I do the “Bugs Bunny” thing with my clarinet so they can see how it goes in the mouth. Time for the children to have a go.
Thirty Lyons C clarinets all come rattling out of their corrugated plastic tubes.
These clarinets are ready assembled, so we check that the head joints are the right way round (I know they were at the end of last term when we went through the whole batch), attach the reeds, check that the head joints are still the right way round – several have mysteriously (but predictably) swivelled round, rendering the keys inaccessible unless one’s fingers are double, nay, treble jointed at the very least.
Now, all together, like Bugs Bunny…… ear splitting squeaks and squawks rend the air, and the class teacher looks completely appalled. This was not what they had expected at all…. In the midst of the clamour, half a dozen children are demanding attention;
“Miss, my clarinet’s broken – it doesn’t make any noise”. “Well, put more in your mouth and blow harder”. Their eyes start to bulge, their cheeks inflate like bullfrogs, and their clarinet starts “working” all right, emitting ear-splitting shrieks worthy of any vampire movie.
The next important lesson is to teach them to stop; once order has been restored (allow several minutes for this, on the first day), they learn the hand signals for play (open hand held high) and STOP (closed hand). Nice and clear. Unambiguous. Time to encourage the competitive spirit; let’s see who is quickest to start and stop; now, who would like to have a go at giving the signals? (Why should I have all the fun?)
Okay, let’s go for a bit of “listen and copy”. I play four notes, they play lots of notes. Stop signal, explain the rules of “LISTEN and COPY” again. I play four notes, they play approximately four notes. We are getting there. A few more goes of this, and the lesson is nearly over. It is time to show the children how to put the instruments away, and take the opportunity, which will inevitably present itself, to remind them how fragile the reeds are.
Yup – there’s always one;
“Miss, my reed’s busted”
”Here’s a new reed and they cost two pounds a time, so please look after it, no-no-no don’t touch the thin part, yes, they do break easily, here’s another new reed for you but please be careful of the, no-no-no, phew, that was a near thing, nearly a fourth reed on your very first day.”
Cool down time – play some relaxing music and do left hand finger exercises ready for next week (“the other left hand, Anna”)
The children and their clarinets are herded out of the hall, I pack up, and trundle off with bags and baggage out through the door, down the corridor, into the lobby, sign out and zoom off to the next school. More clarinets ten miles down the road!