How Brass Players form Sounds

This is the title of a scientific book that be published in 1982 in The Netherlands by Bohn, Scheltema and Holkema (Kluwer). The book is divided into two separate but complimentary units. The first is titled ‘A Further Explanation of the Mouthpiece’ by Mouthpiece specialist Henk Rensink and the second ‘The Interdependence of the player, the Mouthpiece and the Instrument’ by physical therapist Hans Boschma. Henk Rensink’s contribution to this book, an examination of the technical aspects of the mouthpiece, is the result of years of practical and theoretical investigation. A technical engineer, teacher and conductor, Henk Rensink compared modern mouthpieces with those of the past, tested these mouthpieces with a wide range of brass players and compared the results to the details of their manufacture models of mouthpieces and the catalogue entries of the best-known manufacturers.

The results are compiled in a logical and clear fashion in this book. The following subjects in Rensink’s section may be of interest to brass players, teachers and conductors:

  • a survey of the historical and technical development of the mouthpiece,
  • the relationship between the player and the acoustical and practical function of the mouthpiece,
  • the latest developments in experimental research,
  • Practical criteria and guidelines for systematically testing and determining the player qualities and effectiveness of a mouthpiece.

Rensink provides the reader with a clear picture of how, by choosing the right mouthpiece, the player can improve his performance. Every player will profit from this exposition, which emphasizes the practical side of testing mouthpieces. Conductors, music teachers and even woodwind players and singers will find useful information in these pages. These are a clear need for information in this field, and we are convinced that a broad readership will be interested in what this book has to offer. Music especially to the ears of those interested in wind instruments. In 1993, Henk Rensink opened a mouthpiece atelier in the Netherlands where he adapts mouthpieces according to the specific desires of the brass and wood players who come to him. His widely known atelier whose motto is professional competency and witch has become an indispensable stop for many musicians around the world.

Boschma treats the physical activities that a brass player has to perform when playing. By profession a physical therapist, Boschma shows the relationship between the relevant human physical structures and the instrument. The formation of sound at its starting point, the lungs, is first described. This is followed by a systematic consideration of the larynx, the vocal chords, the tongue bone, the palate, the teeth and various muscle groups. The lip-flaps play a central role in this study. These are the components, that, taken together with their tension and diameter in combination with the stream of air exhaled and the mouthpiece, determine the sound that is eventually heard.

Included in a foreword are lengthing critiques of the book by three well-known Dutch musicians. These are Freddy Grin, for years now a cornet and trumpet player with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and a prominent music teacher. Henk van Lijnschooten, formerly a conductor of the internationally famous Royal Dutch Marine Bans and a music teacher and composer of many acclaimed works of music. And Frits Smienk, clarinet player with the Noordelijke Philharmonisch Orchestra and also well-known in Holland as the presenter of a radio program called ‘Brass Band Magazine’.



Setting the standard in technical progress
© Henk Rensink, mouthpiece specialist

To many clarinet and saxophone players, the Vandoren brand name is immediately associated with reeds and mouthpieces. The year 2005 marked the company centennial, though in actual fact Vandoren was not the first Paris-based mouthpiece manufacturer. Henri Selmer, following the footsteps of Adolph Sax, had already founded his clarinet reeds and mouthpiece factory as early as 1885. That left Robert Van Doren undeterred in establishing production and sales facilities for clarinet mouthpieces. A clarinet player himself, it is not known which make he used to play or take as a starting point for his first prototypes.

Vandoren was officially established as a reed factory by Eugène Van Doren in the same year that his son Robert was born. Eugène (1873-1940) initially produced his own reeds at home. This drew attention from other musicians and so it became a source of income besides his work as a clarinet player for the Paris Opera. He then devised a mechanical production method, thus enabling him to produce reeds on a larger scale. In turn, this necessitated a larger facility and 1905 saw a change of venue from his home 14 rue André del Sartre to a retail outlet with workshop at rue Lepic 51. The Vandoren Company was created. Advertisement of the 1910’s and 1920’s, depicts the workshop where clarinet and saxophone reeds are recommended, as well as double reeds for oboe and bassoon.

The move to rue Lepic
Eugéne’s son Robert proved to be not lacking in ambition. On completion of his studies at the Paris Conservatory he launched a career as a musician and made a successful tour of the United States in 1928. The aspect that really distinguished Robert was his outstanding tone. The American musicians started buying Vandoren reeds as well. As the enterprise gathered more and more momentum and soon Robert was occupied fulltime with the company. He took the helm in 1935 he moved across the street to the current rue Lepic 56 address, next door to the former abode of Theo and Vincent van Gogh (number 54) and close to the Montmartre quarter. It is also around 1935 that the 5RV mouthpiece was designed.

The dawn of mouthpiece production
Robert wanted to expand the business and initiated production and sales of a self-developed clarinet mouthpiece that carries his initials as a model name, the 5RV. It turned out to be an instant success that perpetuates to this day. The 1937 catalogue offered two versions: the 36 Franc ‘Ebonite’ and the 50 Franc ‘Ebonite Extra Supérieure’. Inevitably the line was augmented with mouthpieces for saxophone shortly after. A 1938 product brochure, that still carries the name of M. Eug. Van Doren, displayed the full range of ‘Diamond’ ebonite saxophone mouthpieces. The advent of dance and jazz music genres in the late twenties and thirties of the 20th century led to the introduction of other mouthpiece shapes, each with its own sound adaptation.

Third generation
1940 saw the passing of founder Eugène Van Doren. Five years later, Robert’s son Bernard was born. A promise for the future! Like many European companies of the era, Vandoren also had representation in the United States of America. French/American firm Leblanc advertised in 1951 from the US with the Vandoren Perfecta line of mouthpieces. Large quantities made the journey across the ocean. But the increase in work required an increase in manpower and brainpower. In 1967 the third generation entered the company: the technically gifted Bernard Van Doren. Following in the footsteps of his father, he developed as early as 1968 a new clarinet mouthpiece, a new classic that derived its model designation from Bernard’s Christian name initial, the B45. To this day the B45 has maintained its popularity with many a clarinet player. Bernard didn’t stop there. He went on to implement numerous significant improvements in the production process. Realising all too well that the creation of one auspicious prototype doesn’t automatically guarantee perfect production models, Bernard moved the centre of gravity more and more towards mechanical production, thus ensuring a superior degree of precision and consistency. On top of that Bernard came up with several innovative mouthpieces for saxophone. The colour catalogue of 1968 featured a complete range of classical and jazz mouthpieces, including the tenor ‘soul’ 77 and 99, made with red ebonite.

Expansion through a host of novelties
With Bernard at the bridle, mouthpiece production multiplied tenfold to 250,000 pieces a year! Making quality products is one thing. Getting sufficient exposure, however, is equally important. In 1978 Vandoren participated in the Frankfurt Music Fair for the first time to demonstrate the products to the world. Some new mouthpieces weren’t in production long, others became industry standards. Among the latter were clarinet mouthpieces like the 11.6 model, the V5 series sax mouthpieces and the Meyer-based Java (Jazz-Vandoren) editions. In 1987 the A27 and T27 saxophone mouthpieces were introduced, followed by Jumbo Java for alto and tenor, fashioned after Dukoff example. The robust baffle made it the most forceful mouthpiece in the line-up. In 1988 the short-beaked Profile 88 models were introduced in the clarinet range. These facilitated the positioning of the mouthpiece in the mouth to be adjusted to the musician’s personal preference. In order to cater for clarinet players favouring German models, Vandoren added mouthpieces with German facing in 1989 (VD2, VD3 and VD4). And the B45 was complemented with the introduction of the B45 Lyre with a slightly larger tip opening. Vandoren’s first metal mouthpiece was released in 1994; the Otto Link-inspired V16 tenorsax model, made of die-cast bell bronze on account of the specific material properties. The old sixties Meyer models were the inspiration for the V16 ebonite saxophone mouthpieces. As a mouthpiece manufacturer Vandoren successfully managed to break away definitively from the somewhat one sided ‘strictly classical’ stigma with these V16 eye catchers.

From metropolis to hamlet
The production facilities were moved from urban Paris to the rural south of France in 1990 for several reasons. By then the company had grown to 150 employees, 120 of which were involved in the reed and mouthpiece production process. Not just the machinery had to be moved, but the indispensable craftsmen with their wealth of experience as well. Vandoren settled in Bormes les Mimosas (Var), in the vicinity of the reed plantations on the French Riviera.
The vacated factory spaces in Paris are by now in use as offices, showroom, testing cabins and sales department. Robert Van Doren passed away in 1996. He left the Vandoren company in able hands. After his passing the tradition of innovative design carried on unabated with the 2000 introduction of the M15 Profile 88 clarinet mouthpiece, later the A5, A6, A7, A8 and A9 alto sax V16 mouthpieces, based on legendary models from the Fifties. And after a similar vintage concept, 2003 saw the introduction of the Classical Optimum series for soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and more recently, Baritone saxophone. During the next few years, at the request of jazz musicians, the V16 jazz series extended with the soprano (S6, S7 and S8) mouthpieces and with the Tenor (T7, T8, T9 and T10) mouthpieces.

The 100th birthday of Vandoren was celebrated in 2005 with the limited edition of a luxurious Photo album. And a special “Vandoren magazine’ was released with a Cd-Rom containing these 100 pictures. Technical development caught in a static medium, but with progress written all over it.
It is a testimony to a company that, in its passion for innovation, has demonstrated that it’s able to supply musicians with excellent reeds and mouthpieces now and in the future. Musicians shouldn’t be hindered by shortcomings like there were in the past. We can rest assured that in the future the fourth generation Vandoren will be ready to take over in the same pioneering spirit as displayed by a century of family tradition.