by Erik Franklin
As we have travelled the country giving concerts and clinics, we have met several heavy-hitters in the clarinet world. One of the first awesome people we met was Rose Sperrazza. Rose is the clarinet professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble. We admire her work as a teacher and ensemble director. We asked her a few questions, and her answers are below.
If you are anywhere near Chicago, check out the Chicago Clarinet Symposium on May 12-13. There will be some awesome clarinet-ing happening there, with John Yeh, Mike Lowenstern, Jorge Montilla, and the CCE!
What's the History of the CCE?
The ensemble’s inaugural concert took place at Northeastern Illinois University in the winter of 2007. Once I found ensemble members and guest artists, I was nervous we wouldn’t have an audience. Well, the hall was packed and people were standing in the aisles so I know that CCE was just beginning. That concert featured John Bruce Yeh and Larry Combs as our soloists. It was quite a beginning!
Did you think it would become this when you first started?
I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that Chicago had a huge community of clarinetists and it seemed natural that a clarinet ensemble should be formed. The mission has always been to place a strong emphasis on mentoring. Most of our events incorporate students and developing young professionals who sit side by side with seasoned freelancers and pros
You have been a HUGE inspiration to Novacane, and we owe CCE a lot. We also notice a lot of NEIU students and community members in the group - what do you think the biggest benefit is for them?
Likewise! I will never forget the first time I heard Novacane perform (and win) – in the ensemble competition at NEIU. All of you are beautiful players but more importantly, you are beautiful people. That comes through in your playing and everything else that you do – you music camps, your teaching, your videos. I am constantly telling my students to listen to Novacane – listen and watch what they do. It’s fantastic that they have such great role models that are also their contemporaries.
What challenges do you face as the director?
Without a doubt it’s funding. Our members donate their time but we do pay all of our guest artists and need to find funds for music, conductors, facility expenses, etc. The university helps with some of those challenges, and so does Vandoren, Inc. They have supported the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble since 2008. We wouldn’t have made it without them.
What do you find rewarding about the group?
It’s been most rewarding to watch the younger players come to life when they share the stage with a world-class player. My studio at Northeastern , of course, is very involved in the ensemble and it has made a positive and noticeable difference in their playing. It is also important for younger generations to have an opportunity to hear the “clarinet legends” in a live performance. Players like Charlene Zimmerman, Larry Combs, John Yeh, and Lawrie Bloom are true rock stars in Chicago to the up and coming, younger generations of clarinetists in Chicago. A large part of the ensemble’s success and energy is due ot the generosity and spirit of our guest artists. They are the best possible models and inspiration for the present generation.
Are there any mistakes that you learned from that you think others could learn from as well?
In the beginning, I didn’t ask for help as much as I should have. Part of that was just not having enough trust, or being willing to give up some of the control. But I realized that in order to be a truly collaborative organization, there needed to be more involvement from members. My students have helped me so much. My husband, David Tuttle, has helped enormously from the onset in more ways than I can tell. What’s amazing about asking people for help, is that you find out how much talent is out there. I have a student now who is a fantastic dancer and choreographer. Just giving him the freedom and resources to create, to realize his vision, has expanded the CCE’s programming to include clarinet ensemble with dancers and color guard. I have learned that people have particular gifts and are usually excited to share them. The exciting thing for me is that it has also taught me something about teaching clarinet. Allowing students, when they are ready, to have ownership over some aspects of applied clarinet gets them more motivated. Things like allowing them to plan a studio class, or assigning the graduate students to work with the undergraduates, or asking them to develop an off-campus recital are all great ways to let students shine as they learn some of the auxiliary sills necessary to be a successful musician.
What's your most memorable concert with the group?
One concert doesn’t not stand out among so many wonderful performances and artists.
Last time Novacane was with CCE, Diana Haskell and John Bruce Yeh were there. John seems to play a lot with the group - do they ever seem to make comparisons between the clarinet ensemble and their orchestra gigs?
John Yeh has helped to make the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble a success. His generosity is overwhelming; his enthusiasm and musicianship infectious. Whenever he conducts the ensemble, there is so much more energy in the room because we all love John so much. It’s one thing to be a world class clarinet player, but quite another to give of yourself musically and personally so willingly. That is John. He’s been a gift to the ensemble that we just keep unwrapping over and over.