Charlene Zimmerman, Clarinet
Hometown: Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Joined Lyric Orchestra in 1992
Education: Northwestern University
Why did you choose your instrument?
I didn’t actually choose the clarinet! My dad took me to our school on the night when all the shiny new instruments were laid out for viewing, and when we returned home he asked me which one I liked the best. When I told him I wanted the violin he sat me down and explained that I would play the clarinet instead. You see, my sister had played clarinet for a year and then switched to oboe. So, we already had a clarinet in the house, which would be mine! As an adult, I finally asked my dad why he bothered to take me to the school that night. His answer was that he hoped that I would pick the clarinet first!
What teacher or performer inspired you most?
My major clarinet teachers were Jerome Stowell and Clark Brody. Stowell was the Assistant Principal/Eb Clarinet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I travelled to his house weekly during high school for lessons, and then went on to study with him at Northwestern. Like a second father to me, Jerry gently drew out my musical leanings. He can best be described as a man with his feet on the ground and his mind on perfection. He was ideal for me in that he never let mediocrity rule the day. He showed me all the finer points of orchestral playing in his asides and stories, but he kept me on track with all the necessary techniques on clarinet. Even after becoming a professional player, I still have the experience of “realizing” something he told me years before that I did not understand then. I don’t play even one hour without thinking of him and all the things he taught me.
I studied with Clark Brody for only one year while on scholarship with the Civic Orchestra here in Chicago. His method of teaching was far different than anything I was used to. He would make me play one interval over and over till he deemed it correct! During that year I realized how important articulation is to music. He taught me how to get every nuance from the shortest staccato to the smoothest legato. Clark was Principal Clarinet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and I also had the pleasure of joining him at Northwestern on the clarinet faculty.
Share a favorite audition story:
During my “final” round at Lyric Opera, Maestro Bruno Bartoletti came to the front of the stage and reworked the Third Act solo from Tosca with me. I had already played it once for the committee and for him, but he wanted more. I won the job, but to my great surprise when we came to that same solo during my first season and I played it the way he had reworked it in the audition, he stopped me and said, “That is not how it goes!” He had reworked the solo only to see if I was flexible and changeable—LESSON LEARNED WITH A RED FACE!!
Outside the pit:
I like to spend time with my family. I am one of six children. All of us but one have children of our own and there are also many grandchildren. My father has 18 great-grandchildren! My two sons are both married and each has a child of their own, so currently I have two grandchildren who are totally and utterly in charge of my heart! Watching your children have their own children is such a rewarding experience!