When I left school in the mid seventies, and wanted to become a clarinettist (that’s my first soul), my father told me to at least consider a trade with better prospects than music.
(My grandfather referred to my aspirations as “cheerful poverty”).
Because I enjoyed most school subjects, but lacked a real plan B, I took a career test. Very much to my surprise, the conclusion was inevitable: I was advised to study industrial design.
I really did not see that coming. I had always been a poor draftsman and all my artistic energy was focused at playing the clarinet. Of course I had my share of building with Meccano and Lego as a kid, like all my friends, but I don’t remember anything special was achieved.
I was trained as a clarinettist and clarinet teacher (teaching is my second soul, for playing and teaching the clarinet require completely different mind sets) in the late seventies and eighties, at the Rotterdam Conservatory. My teacher was Herman Wester, who not only taught me to use my ears, but also to make clarinet reeds. May be the reed making was the eye-opener towards designing beautiful useful things (which is, as you can imagine by now, my third soul). As a poor student I made a few tables and cupboards for my room, mostly with my father’s tools, trying to design them with a minimum of the cheapest wood available. At the same time I wanted my designs not to look cheap, because a cupboard is not just a thing to put things in.
I still look at my old creations with pleasure, though my woodworking skills seem to have somehow improved over the decades.
I managed to make a living for my family by playing and teaching the clarinet for about 30 years. Sadly enough, art and education in arts nowadays is by some Dutch political parties considered to be a left-wing hobby. Therefore the support of music schools by the local authorities was diminished rapidly since the year 2000, and I at last followed my father’s advice and studied to become a German teacher.
So now my three souls: musician, teacher and woodworker/designer (which is more of a hobby, since I am self-educated) are competing for priority, which makes life not easy, but not dull at the same time. I know, the competition is not as fundamental as the battle between rationality and irrationality that Faust experiences. But still within each of my three souls a mild form of Faust´s problem is present, namely between knowledge and taste, ratio and feelings, goal and shape.
In making music (or art in general) the shape is the content.
In theory everything you do with the mere sound and the emotional impact you try to achieve with a musical phrase can be/ought to be related to what you know about music, your own and your instrument’s possibilities, your own and your audience’s emotions. I think this will apply to every musician, regardless his or her abilities. Even if you don’t think at all about your performance, and just obey the composer’s instructions regarding pitch, rhythm, volume etc., there will be signs that your emotions seem to have found a shortcut to avoid the brain, or that you still made your own decisions, although you didn’t think you did.
In teaching -even if you teach yourself, which is I think the core business of studying on your instrument- there is the primary battle between what you know is possible on your (pupil’s) instrument, with your (pupil’s) capacities, what you know about the piece and composer etc. on the one hand, and your (pupil’s) feelings and desires regarding the sounding output, on the other hand. You have to make choices between wishes and possibilities, e.g. where to take a breath, how to “sell” the audience that you’re breathing in a perpetual motion, or interrupting a slur because you’re not able enough to play a certain interval as easy as you would want to play it. Basically these are the same type of decisions, like when you tell your pupil that an e-flat is the same as a d-sharp, which is not true. Or, as Terry Prachett put it: “Teaching is lying to children”.
Or, as the Dutch poet Willem Elschot put it in his poem Het Huwelijk (Marriage) in which a man contemplates about killing his wife:
“But he did not kill her, because in-between dream and act
there are hindering laws and practical issues,....”
In designing, the same decisions are to be made. What is the purpose of the item vs. how do I want it to look like? Which material will I use vs. what is possible with the material for me? What would I like to make vs. what is within my personal limits regarding ability, time management, costs?
In one of my first projects in the 80’s, a bookcase for my sheet music and records, the choices made were based on function, an extremely low budget, and the available space in my room, but still I wanted to make something special, I wanted to have something to look at. The result was a set of three narrow wooden racks, only kept together by dozens of dowels and an external “skeleton” of three wooden “ropes with knots”.......
....which I still take some pride in. So many ideas, so little money.....
And now, after a few more years and projects, I present to you a series of stands for woodwind instruments, nót consisting of the cheapest materials available.
On the contrary, I chose African Blackwood, wild olive and snake wood and the other precious woods only because of the properties and the looks.
A beautiful and extremely flat African Black Wood reed box for single reeds (and later for double reeds) may follow, that is, I know how it looks like in my head and I think all technical problems are solved, in my head. (Working title: Blackbox).
An equally clever, small, and simple yet beautiful system for safe storing and transporting larger quantities of single reeds (up to twenty reeds), that I use for my own reed production, could be launched in the future. (Working title: Flat Screen)
Also a new concept for a stand for bassoon, bass clarinet, basset horn and heckelphon is developed . Keywords: stable, small, very light (< 500grams) , transportable inside the instrument case, and of course, a beauty. Not made of wood, but mainly of carbon reinforced tubes.
Stands for saxophones will follow.
An elegant and easy to work with device to ease right hand/arm/thumb problems while carrying your oboe, English horn or clarinet, will be available in the coming year. Easy to mount and adjust on the instrument without drilling new holes, a better solution than a neck-strap. The prototype is being used already by a very good friend and collegue. Working title: deny gravity with DEGRAV!.
The above text was written in 2014. Since then a lot of developments have occured, most of these generated by questions from musicians. The "black box" reed case still only exists in my head, but now, Februari 2020 WoodWindDesign has covered pretty much all wood and brass winds as well as tablet and microphone with ultra light carbon stands., and a lot of musicians are using my products, as well as showing off with them. Lots of positive reviews too.
The company name WoodWindDesign does not seem appropriate any more, since wood is no longer the material I work most with (I do love wood still very much,though) and woodwinds are not the only group that I serve now with carbon stands. Still, I will stick to WoodWindDesign
Plans for the near future are: stands for bass saxophone, tuba, strings, keyboard. Some of these are taking shape in my head already.
Have fun browsing through my designs, do not hesitate to contact me when you are missing a product that I could supply you with.
Gijs van Leeuwen