My best clarinet teacher

My personal experience with my best clarinet teacher Ralph Light from Indianapolis, Indiana.

In 1963 straight out of Oklahoma Lawton High School band I was the first chair clarinet player in the hand selected combination band of the ARMY & NAVY at the Navy School of music. I could play the clarinet and after I got out of the Army, I went to Indianapolis to visit my sister and spent all my money so had to get a job and began living in Indianapolis.
I started working at Musicians Supply in Indianapolis to supplement my income as a starving musician just doing odd jobs. Maurice Oldman started teaching me how to work on instruments after a bit.

One day I was in the shop by myself when an old guy came with his clarinet and said he was missing a pad and could I fix it for him. Of course, I took it back to the bench and just put in the missing pad. So, I played the clarinet to see if it was working and I heard from the front room “you can’t play the clarinet”. I gave it another toot and put in the case and brought it back to this old guy. He said his name was Ralph and if I wanted to learn how to play the clarinet give him a call and come to his place for a lesson, he gave me his phone number and left.

When Maurice came back, I told him about Ralph, and he said if Ralph had given me his number I should call and go to his place that he was a great clarinet player. On the advice of Maurice, I called Ralph, and he gave me his address and told me to come over after work.

It was winter in Indianapolis and about 20 degrees with show. I drove over to Ralph’s place and knocked on the front door. Ralph came to the door and invited me in. His wife was on the couch watching TV, we walked through the house and went out to his detached garage.

There was a small space heater in one corner next to a music stand. He told me to get out my clarinet and sit in the chair by the music stand. Of course, I did that. He put up Moto Perpetuo’ Op. 11 by Paganini and said play this. Now, I had heard it but never played it before. Well, I gave it a shot and barely got started when he said “stop you suck, now play it fast” I gave it another shot and again he said you suck and stop. I am starting to get tired of him telling me I suck, so I said then let me hear you play it. he put his clarinet together and played it, it was just great, smooth and I had never heard the clarinet play that fast and evenly. I said, “you’re right, teach me how to do that”. He let me play again the told me “To stick the clarinet where the sun don’t shine” I said let me buy you a beer, so we went to the local tavern and stayed until closing with Ralph talking about the clarinet. I came back the next day with the same results. “Stick the clarinet where the sun don’t shine” and of to the local tavern.

This went on for weeks with Ralph talking about the clarinet, how to play it and how it related to the organ. Now, I am 21 at this time and muck of what he said went over my head but a lot of it stuck. I never played more than a few measures then the sun don’t shine thing.

I came over to Ralph’s place trying to get all the information I could get from him. Hell, we rebuild a simi truck because Ralph wanted to toe trailer houses to different locations for people. Don’t know if he ever used it or not.

After many months of the same routine Ralph asked me if I want to play in a local orchestra with him much to my surprise since he never let me play more than a few notes. I said yes and was able to play alongside Ralph and continued to learn about the clarinet.

Again, I am 21 years old at this time and out of the Army I didn’t care if he had called me names, if he said I would never play the clarinet, all I wanted was to be able to play the clarinet like he could. He improved my playing so much despite his strange personality.