Telephone interview by Debra Jean McKim
16 January 1999
Ft. Myers Beach, Florida
From: McKim, Debra Jean. Joseph Allard: His Contributions to Saxophone Pedagogy and Performance.
Published Doctor of Arts Dissertation, University of Colorado, 2000.
Used with permission of both Debra Jean McKim and Jack SnavelyMcKim: What were the circumstances of your study with Joe?
Copyright 2000, Debra Jean McKim
had graduated from college and been a member of the Army Band in
Washington, D.C., when a friend in the band acquainted me with Joe
Allard. After all my experience, the first lesson I had with Joe
completely changed my playing concepts. He was the major influence in
my playing and teaching from that point on, and has been the most
influential teacher I ever had. On two occasions I went with him and
his wife to their cottage in Windham, New Hampshire and stayed for a
week at a time with them.
DM: How long did you study with him?
I was in the Army band for two years, from `51 to `53, and it would
have been in 1953 that I went to New York and had my first lesson with
him I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, so it was only about 200 miles
to New York. My lessons were never on a regular basis, other than when
I went to their cottage with them, but I would take a lesson whenever I
could get to New York. It must have covered a time span of over ten
years. I remember one time when I had gone there specifically for a
lesson and he had to schedule me at 10:00 on a Saturday night. When I
left there was another student waiting for a lesson. This was after
11:00 at night. He worked very hard.
DM: Where did you study with Joe?
had his studio right across from Radio City Music Hall on the second
floor above Whelans Drug Store. He rented it to Daniel Bonade who also
taught there for a time. Joe and Bonade played a radio show together,
probably the Band of America show; he played second clarinet and Bonade
played first. He told me that he would ask Bonade how he was able to do
something on the clarinet, and Bonade wouldn't tell him. Joe was
exceptionally bright, so he would analyze and study what Bonade was
doing and learned some of Bonade's techniques in that manner.
DM: You mentioned that you visited with the Allards at their cottage. What were the circumstances of those visits?
a lesson he invited me to go along with them to continue my study. Joe
at that time was an active golfer and might be gone for the entire day.
I'd stay there and practice, and use their beautiful lake, and we'd
have a lesson at any time of the day or night.
DM: What aspects of what Joe taught you do you utilize in your own playing and teaching?
was very analytical and would study what you were doing physically and
then make pertinent suggestions from a physical standpoint. I never
played a note of written music for him, it was all concepts. He would
make suggestions and experiment, points for you to try, to learn, and
to achieve results. What he essentially did for me was to free up my
playing. I had heard and gotten into this mindset that the better
player you are, the harder the reed you use. He had me use softer
reeds, and free up the whole production of sound, letting the reed do
more of the work.
In my own teaching I have basically adapted
what he did for me. When I get a new student, the first thing I do is
to listen to them and analyze what could be done to improve their total
production. I have been able to build and improve tones in clarinet and
saxophone players very successfully. With university students I would
spend as many weeks as necessary to build the tonal quality through
embouchure and breath concepts. There was a major improvement in the
way the students sounded after one semester of study or less. This was
accomplished through the inspiration of Joe Allard and the application
of his principles: focusing the sound, centering the tone, freeing up
the reed, combined with correct use of the breath.
particular attention to the use of your lips, the way you held the
reed, what relationship the lips had to the vibrating reed. For
instance, his upper lip would come down in an unusual way, sealing the
opening. This point applied to me when he taught me a lip control that
allowed air to escape while I was playing. When I asked him about the
escaping air he said that it would work out, and I feel that my upper
lip eventually did what his did, sealing the leak and yet adding
freeness. He was very creative and would always invent a study to help
you or the next student with this or that problem. He was like a doctor
in a way; there was no problem that he didn't seem to have a solution
for or a study to suggest.
DM: So it was tailored specifically to you, to your problems?
JS: Yes, definitely.
DM: But did he use the same concepts with most of his students?
to get the most for the least effort - that was the goal for everyone.
He wanted that reed to vibrate, and much of what he did was to allow
the reed to do the job. He obviously had set patterns in his teaching.
I'm certain that many of the lessons he gave me he had given many times
before. I studied occasionally with him when I lived in Milwaukee, and
since my study was spread over time, I got a duplicate lesson on
several occasions. We talked about diaphragm breathing at least two
different times, years apart.
DM: Can you elaborate on his method of teaching breathing?
What Joe Allard taught me very strongly and definitely was the expand
and hold method. Breathing is in two parts - the inhalation and the
exhalation; the first thing he had you learn was the inhalation. He put
his fist in my stomach around the belt line and asked me to inhale. He
put a rather strong pressure with his fist and wanted the air to push
the fist out, not the stomach muscles. After studying with him, I
believe there are many who teach diaphragm breathing incorrectly. You
can move your stomach muscles in and out, but it's not diaphragm
breathing. I have seen some teachers ask students to get that
contraction and expansion of the midriff, but it is voluntary movement
of muscles rather than being related to breathing. Adding voluntary
stomach muscular contractions is not diaphragmatic breathing. When you
have the expansion of the diaphragm area (the spare tire so to speak),
from the air pushing it out against the fist pressure, you have the
concept of proper inhalation. If you place your hands around the
midriff on the sides with your thumbs in the back around the lowest n1,
and you're doing it properly, you can feel the expansion all around and
in the back too. If control of the lion is not correctly learned it is
very difficult to exhale properly.
Once you had that expansion,
he would have you hold it, keeping the pressure with his fist as you
exhaled. You were asked to keep pushing with your stomach against his
fist as you exhaled. The pressure necessary to move the air would
properly come from the abdominal wall, below the belt. You would blow
from the hips, from the rectal area, a sort of squeeze in the lower
area, but keeping the pressure against the belt buckle.
you blow, you need something that's going to create the force or
pressure. He wanted the force or the squeeze of air to come from the
abdominal wall. At the end of a long per, when you are running out of
breath, then the midriffdoes collapse. This is a quick review of what
he taught nee, and what I feel were his conceptions of breathing.
a bit of a natural skeptic, and when I would learn something new I
would have to prove that he was right. After a lesson I would practice
and experiment with what he had given me, and found him to be correct
on every point. One example of this would be his concept of the
position of the tongue in the mouth. He taught me that the tongue
should be up against the upper molars in the back of the mouth. I
struggled with that but I learned to do it, and then later I learned
the easy way to teach and learn this position. First I teach it Joe's
way to a student, and then in the same lesson I will say, now I'm going
to teach you the easy way to learn this tongue position. The easy way
is to simply keep your tongue in the position of the syllable "TEE"
when you play. This correctly sets the tongue against the upper molars.
I teach thus to all students as it focuses the sound so well; it's not
at all subtle. When Joe Allard taught me that back in '53 or '54, it
was revolutionary. Now a lot of teachers seem to know about it and a
lot of players are playing with the "TEE" position. He also stated that
in discussing these points with Marcel Mule in French, that Mule played
with that "EE" position, and that it was a kind of French conception.
For a long time the typical French clarinet sound was rather thin, but
with a marvelous center, and that "EE" position with the tongue helped
create the center and focus.
Joe Allard explained to me that so
many of the misconceptions here are due to people that talk about
playing with an open throat, but don't realize that the throat can't
move. You can tense it, but it doesn't move, you cannot close it. What
we do have instead is a free-floating mechanism, and that's the tongue.
It's really the placement of the tongue that makes an open or closed
throat. When the tongue is held in the "EE" position we have an open
throat. Contradictory to that are some players on saxophone who try to
play with an "AH" position. Joe Allard didn't want that. When you say
and play with an "AH", you're shoving the tongue back and get a sort of
gagging feeling in the throat.
One of the most valuable lessons
I ever had with Joe was when he taught me that you never hear yourself
the way you actually sound. He explained that the sound vibrates
thorough the mouthpiece, through the teeth, through the bones, to
the inner ear, so that what you bear is not what the audience hears. If
you try to achieve the sound that you want the audience to hear, the
sound will tend to be small, not carry, and probably sound very dull to
the audience. He mentioned the need to have the edge, or buzz, in the
saxophone sound. This in turn is what makes the sound carry and sound
good to the listener. I think I learned this from him in my very first
lesson, which improved my tone and carrying power and made me a much
happier player. This is one of several immediate changes that he made
in my first lesson. I had been playing lead alto in a dance band, using
hard reeds and working my tail off with these very hard reeds, but they
couldn't hear me. When I changed to his conception, a softer reed plus
freeing it up and supporting with the breath, all of a sudden you would
hear me more than anything. It wasn't a case of being loud; it was a
case of projection and the tone carrying. There are many techniques I
have used to prove this. For example, one of the things I tell students
is to take their instrument into the bathroom or kitchen and play,
listening to the sound. Then play in the back yard and listen to the
sound. The impression is that it doesn't sound as good, but obviously
the tone is the same; the listener just hears it differently.
of Joe's embouchure conceptions was that he wanted a frown. He pointed
out that the way a reed is built, the heaviest part, or heart, is in
the center, with the edges being the thinnest area. The lip should hold
the reed in the thick heart area and free up the edges. He emphasized
freeing the edges of the reed so that they would vibrate more, by
frowning and taking the pressure off of them. He had exercises to help
pull the lips down to take pressure off of the reed sides and retain
the pressure in the heart area. This is the opposite of the circular
concept that has been attributed to Marcel Mule. Joe said that he
discussed this issue with Mule in French, and that Mule was often
misquoted due to the language difference. Some liken the embouchure to
a rubber bard around the mouthpiece. Joe did not agree with this and
took a rubber band in one of my lessons and put it around a mouthpiece
and reed to show me how it placed the pressure in the wrong areas, and
actually curved the reed edges upward. He pointed out that it would not
make sense to use an embouchure that would put pressure on the thinnest
part of the reed, the edges.
conversation he had with Mule, do you know when and where that took
place? I assumed that he had little association with any of the other
master teachers of his generation.
I can only surmise - Mule soloed with the Boston Symphony and would
have been in that part of the country. I'm not certain when that was,
but it was at least `55 or later that Joe told me about this
conversation. I would guess that his conversation with him was a
one-time thing, unless Joe was previously in France, but I have never
heard anything regarding this.
DM: What do you consider to be Joe Allard's greatest contribution in terms of teaching?
made you think, and he made you listen, and he made you analyze. Thus
answer may be somewhat surprising as many of his students think it is
what he asked you to do, but it is more that he made you aware of what
you were doing. He was a very intelligent man, and the way he presented
his ideas, and they way I accepted them was in a thinking analytical
manner. With most teachers and students, it's "do this" and "do that",
but with Joe, he made you think about what you were doing and listen to