It was not love at first sight for Alicia Maloney when she saw Marion High School’s contrabass clarinet.
“It looks like a big clarinet,” she scoffed.
It was love at first sound. When she heard the sound the instrument produced, she knew she wanted to play it.
“It’s so deep and low and moving,” she said. “It can play sad moving parts of songs and the powerful climax of songs.”
A contrabass clarinet is a unique instrument that presents a unique set of challenges, even though Maloney said it is easier to play than clarinet or flute.
It stands 5-feet tall; equipped with a stand it rises above Maloney’s 5-foot-4. Thus, the keys are more spread along the neck of the wooden frame, causing the player to stretch their fingers.
The reed and mouth piece are wider than a clarinet. It requires Maloney to position and use her mouth muscles differently to play it.
“If you clamp down, it gets a strangled sound,” she said.
With the incredible size of the woodwind, more air is required to push notes through the neck and out the bell on the floor.
The instrument also requires a subtlety. While clarinet can be more about precision, with a rapid number of notes in a measure, the sound of contrabass notes, drawn out for effect, is more important, Maloney said.
Only playing contrabass clarinet three years, Maloney has a connection with the instrument mirroring accomplished musicians.
She loves the way the contrabass clarinet can sound at times like a brass instrument and on higher notes like a tenor saxophone.
She loves that it can add richness to music. Notes on the lowest register create a vibration that add feel to music, Maloney said. She loves that she can feel the same vibration in her toes as it swells from the ground as she plays.
“It just feels like me when I play,” she said. “You can play whatever you feel and it feels like its coming from you.”
A sophomore at MHS, Maloney advanced to the Kansas Music Educators Association State Honor Band this past winter. Standing between her and that goal were hours of practice, a nerve racking audition, and six other contrabass clarinet hopefuls vying for one position.
She played “Allegro Spiritoso” a piece featuring a bevy of 16th notes and a difficult tempo for a bass instrument. She impressed the judges and herself.
“Going from stumbling through the whole thing to having it almost perfect — that’s a good feeling,” she said.
Even with the accomplishment at KMEA, Maloney is looking to develop her ability. She is planning on picking up difficult pieces this summer and slowly culturing them to perfection.
With the bond between musician and instrument firmly established, Maloney’s goals reach toward playing in college, maybe earning a scholarship. The limit is only as far as Maloney is willing to go.
“I thought going to KMEA was a real good experience for me,” Maloney said. “It really pushes me to see what I can do.”