January 15, 1999

Stanford, Sage team up to preserve old music

Business Journal staff writer

Stan Stanford, chair of Portland State University's music department and clarinet teacher, started out collecting old phonographs but may end up using modern, digital recording technology to preserve an almost forgotten piece of his instrument's history.

Working with local early music preservationist Glenn Sage, Stanford recently produced and released a compact disc titled "The Acoustic Era Volume 1: Clarinet Recordings 1898-1918."

The disc is more than just a vanity project for Stanford, who has spent the past decade collecting old wind-up phonographs and recordings of clarinet players.

The technical limitations of recording around the turn of the century forced musicians to do things differently, Stanford said.

Because early recordings, particularly those made on brown wax cylinders, could only be a couple of minutes long, many top instrumentalists and most symphony orchestras refused to make recordings for fear of compromising their artistic integrity, he said.

Even John Philip Sousa avoided recording for a number of years.

"The repertoire players were playing for the most part was not the same as professional clarinet players play today," Stanford said.

Today clarinet players are judged by how well they play the classical repertoire, such as pieces by Mozart, Weber and Brahms.

But, at the turn of the century, a player couldn't do justice to a longer classical piece.

"They chose things they heard everyday and that were popular at that time," Stanford said. That meant performances of folk tunes and popular opera arias.

The performers tended to run toward military and small-town bands, but Stanford's disc does include a performance by Charles Draper, who is well-known today to clarinetists.

The performances have the spontaneity that only comes with live recording, Stanford said.

When Stanford decided to do something with his recordings an internet search led him to Sage.

The two decided not to doctor the sound too much in an effort to clean up the imperfections, preferring to preserve the unique feel of the medium.

Sage said efforts such as Stanford's are fun to work on, and they illustrate the value of the early recordings.

The music contained on wax cylinders and early disks often provides insight into later musical forms, Sage said.

The transition from ragtime to jazz is preserved on early recordings, for example.

"Some people try to pooh-pooh it as just country or hick stuff, but there's a lot of diversity," Sage said.

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