Clarinet students get some words of wisdom—and humor—from John Bruce Yeh

December 18, 2015

John Bruce Yeh, acting principal clarinetist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, visited the Interlochen Center for the Arts campus in November 2015 to work with students and perform.

Yeh, who joined the CSO in 1977 at the age of 19, gave a recital on Nov. 18 with pianist Nozomi Khudyev, and then joined Academy Band onstage Nov. 19. In between, he shared some words of advice with Interlochen’s clarinet students in the Fine Arts building.

As each student stood up to play something for Yeh, he spoke with them about their performances, breaking down tone production, technical aspects like reed positioning, and even offering some fun analogies to help students understand how the music should sound.

“Any time I play anything, I like to think about how it would sound if we sang it,” he told the group, and then asked one student to sing a few bars of what she’d been playing.

He later suggested that students learn the stories behind pieces they are playing, to better understand how it should sound. One student’s piece of music, for example, featured two peasants—one plodding and stoical, and one more light and frivolous—and Yeh noted that the music as played should reflect those personalities.

Yeh told another student to think of tone production like air hockey—the air must always be there in order for you to play. “What you want is air coming out of all the holes, so there’s a cushion of air any time you squeeze down (the keys),” he told the group. “I want you to realize that the air comes first, and then you squeeze it back in.”

He also spoke of the art of making music, and encouraged students to remember that it’s serious and beautiful—but that it is also very fun. This rang particularly true for IAA senior Sara Han, who was the first student to stand up and play a piece for Yeh in the master class.

“I learned so much—not only from the master class but also from the recital,” she said. “He was so free on stage, enjoying everything—the atmosphere, the music. A lot of times students like me get really nervous and forget about the music-making. Seeing him (having fun while playing) was refreshing. That’s just going to be in my head forever.”