It is, of course, a reflection of ourselves. And as a result how we feel about ourselves and the world we inhabit will influence our sound.
There is a tendency to conceive of sound within a narrow prism of conceptual ideology that may or may not transfer into the sound we actually produce. For example, we may decide we like a ‘dark, focussed’, sound as it seems the right route to travel in terms of what is acceptable nowadays.
This conception can often be devoid of any sense of personal choice and is more about a conditioned cultural construct, which is inherently conservative regarding tone.
This is completely understandable if one wants to play in a particular organisational format such as an orchestra, where personal preference tends to be subsumed into a musical construct that is both prescribed (by conductor, section principal, orchestral tradition) and culturally embedded. The net result of aspiring to a prescription such as this is the absence of creative dialogue towards personal expression.
As teachers/players this is crucial as we can often operate from the external and forget about the internal context. We make interpretations and assumptions that don’t assist us to find our own voice. In other music art forms finding one’s voice is crucial.
We, however in the classical music world still tend towards rightness and a perception that favours blandness rather than a personal identification. Curiously it is quite different in the bass clarinet world, where so many approaches to sound abound !
In Madrid during this past Summer I played at the ICA festival/conference playing both contrabass clarinet and bass clarinet and was really struck by how bass clarinetists really embrace diversity, in contrast to our clarinetting brethren who seem to really want to sound like X.
Intriguingly to my ears X sounds beautiful but bland. My life is not as beautiful as this sound; it is complex, variable, engaging, vibrant, challenging etc so I want a sound that reflects this.
Something that is malleable, emotional and vibrant. The current standard clarinet tone that is deemed by many to be beautiful is often devoid of these characteristics. So let us be brave as clarinetists of the 21st century and embrace divergence encouraging our students and peers to take a more meaningful journey towards self-expression.