RHONDA, THE REJECTED REED
A STORY FOR MUSICIANS OF ALL AGES
by Charles McKelvy
The principal clarinetist arrived at orchestra hall long before the concert, and, as was his custom, he immediately began fussing with his reeds.
Those who play clarinets, or clarinetists, are forever fussing with their reeds, and our principal clarinetist for one of the top five orchestras in the world was no exception.
So he opened his red reed case, the one he used for concerts, and selected the next designated reed. That was his time-honored system, you see, and it worked like this:
- He would play each reed in turn, and
- If a reed didn’t hold up to muster,
- He retired it from active service.
Sort of a three-strikes and you’re out kind of arrangement.
You baseball fans will appreciate that, and you law-and-order types will see it as simply: three strikes, and it’s lock ‘em up and throw away the key.
But in the case of our consummate concert clarinetist, the offending reed didn’t end up in the hoosegow.
Our friend in the first chair had a more diabolical punishment for whatever sliver of cane reed that failed to provide 100 percent satisfaction:
The old Joan of Arc solution.
Meaning he pitched bad (his word, not mine) reeds into the fireplace as kindling.
Not a kindly solution, but kindling they became if they didn’t pass muster. Better to burn the thing than let it continue taking space in the reed case.
So, with all that in mind, our concerned clarinetist affixed the reed of the day to his mouthpiece and tightened his monogrammed ligature around the little work of human hands.
He had an uneasy feeling as he lifted his gorgeous instrument to his mouth, remembering, as he did, less than perfect practice performances by this particular reed.
He nonetheless proceeded to play a G scale, but stopped before he crossed the bridge and grimaced.
“Now I remember you,” he said to the bad reed. “Of course, the red dot should have been a give-away.”
Our hard-working woodwind player color-coded his reeds on their butt ends, you see: green for good and red for bad.
This bad little reed had earned a single red dot, meaning: “Probation.”
“Could be trouble.”
And then some.
And then all those words and more came to his mind as he unfastened the offending reed from his mouthpiece and unceremoniously plopped her (more about that later) in the pocket of his suit coat. “I’ll deal with you later,” he hissed. “And tonight’s a good night for a fire, and you’ll help start it. Trust me. You’ll burn tonight, my pretty.”
But that thought slipped away as the crabby clarinetist took the next reed in line, one he had marked with four green dots for reliability and dulcet tone. He was satisfied at once with the green monster’s measured tones, and said: “No fireplace for you, my friend.”
Indeed, the green monster pitched a complete, concert-level game.
And we’re speaking of a concert demanding the most of the woodwinds, particularly the principal clarinetist. He performed so well that the conductor had him take a bow during the prolonged standing ovation that resulted from the symphony’s bravura performance of Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88.
Our star of classical music never gave another thought to the rejected reed in his suit coat pocket.
A rejected reed, we should note, named Rhonda.
That’s right: Rhonda, the rejected reed.
Just as the title promised:
RHONDA, THE REJECTED REED
Now, you probably didn’t know that clarinet reeds have names, and personalities, and feelings to be hurt.
But now you do, because Rhonda was indeed a sentient reed, fashioned as she was from organic material, and she was feeling positively negative about the cruel rejection she had suffered before the concert.
So picture poor Rhonda, the rejected reed, all alone in the wooly darkness of that suit coat pocket listening to her sister reed, the ever-resonant Rosalinda, perform perfectly for the principal clarinetist of the great, world-class orchestra in a major urban center somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
Or, was it the Southern Hemisphere?
Hmmm, not exactly sure here.
But let us continue our musical journey by noting what Rhonda, the rejected reed, said in her reedy little voice while the boss, who fired her, basked in the adulation of the packed house: “I was born of bad cane. It’s not my fault that I’m rough and fuzzy and slightly off-center. Work with me, and I’ll work with you. I promise. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty please.”
But our principal was pretty pooped after he and the resonant Rosalinda hit the proverbial ball out of the park, and when he dragged himself home to the cozy cottage he shared with his wife, a cellist for a rival orchestra, why he hung up his suit coat without remembering to remove poor little Rhonda and throw her in the fireplace.
Indeed, they didn’t have a fire in the fireplace at their cozy little cottage that night, because the wife had made plans to have dinner with friends, and one thing led to another, and, in no time flat, the principal clarinetist heard his wife say: “Let me take that suit to the cleaners. It’s looking mighty rumpled. You don’t want to lose your chair over a rumpled suit, do you?”
“No, I certainly do not.”
So he bid his wife take the rumpled suit to the cleaners, and, as was her custom, Shirley the intake lady at the cleaners went through all the pockets before submitting the garments to the rigors of dry cleaning and pressing.
And that was how Shirley surely discovered Rhonda, the rejected reed, in the principal’s suit coat pocket.
Rhonda, the rejected reed, saw this as her one and only chance, so she piped right up and said: “If you spare me and give me to a deserving student of the clarinet, I will do great things for her. I promise.”
Fortunately for Rhonda, Shirley the intake lady believed in magic, and so she was able to hear Rhonda loudly and clearly, despite the reedy quality of her little voice, and so she slipped Rhonda into the pocket of her smock, and when her shift was done and she could go home, she gave Rhonda to her daughter Jennifer and said: “I got a magic reed for you today. Put it on your licorice stick and give it a try.”
Little Jennifer, all of 10 years old, put Rhonda on her Buffet Crampon RC Bb Clarinet and played a G scale.
The roof lifted off the house, and cats a hundred miles away no longer had fleas.
The sound was that golden.
Little Jennifer looked at even littler Rhonda and said: “You and I are going places together.”
And they did.
Ultimately to the first chair of the great, world-class orchestra in a major urban center, somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
Or was it in the Southern Hemisphere?
I don’t know, but I do know the moral of this story:
NEVER REJECT A REED BEFORE HER TIME.