With minor complications, grace and a big grin, Christopher Franco performed his senior clarinet recital May 6 to an appreciative audience of friends, family and instructors.
“He really learned all aspects of clarinet playing tonight,” said Linda Silva, Franco’s clarinet instructor.
While playing the first piece, the senior noticed something was not quite right with his instrument. Indeed, one of the keys was broken on his clarinet, causing an excess leakage of air. With the help of Silva, the two tried to patch it up for the remainder of the concert. Franco played through the defect well, but was clearly relieved to have switched his clarinet with a friend’s for the final two pieces of his performance.
“He learned to be a problem solver in this concert,” Silva said. “It’s commendable.”
Unlike most senior musicians performing final concerts at the University of La Verne this time of year, Franco will not be receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in music this May. In fact, the political science major has only studied the soprano clarinet for about two years. But this didn’t set back his performance.
A musician of many instruments, Franco played the baritone, alto and tenor saxophone, the flute, piccolo and four types of clarinets in high school. The soprano clarinet was one of the last instruments he learned before dropping the music programs altogether at Don Lugo High School in Chino. Franco wanted to pursue other musical outlets for his senior year of high school to prepare him to play past a marching band level and into a broader spectrum of music. His band director wasn’t thrilled and kicked him out of the band program.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d pick it up again and stopped playing completely,” Franco said.
When arriving at La Verne the following year, Franco decided to take clarinet lessons, but the result wasn’t quite what Franco had expected.
“I didn’t think my teacher was going to take me where I wanted to go, but I joined Chamber Music the following semester and got serious again,” Franco said.
After a long search to find a clarinet teacher, he encountered Silva, whom he had studied briefly with in high school, in his junior year of college.
“The clarinet is the hardest instrument I’ve ever played,” Franco said. “It feels like the instrument is working against you, and the resistance when you blow into it is really unequal. It’s uncomfortable to play.”
To prepare for the concert, Franco practiced four hours a day during the two to three weeks prior to the concert.
“I’ve got the swollen lip to prove it,” he added.
Challenges in preparing for the concert included building up endurance to play a full concert, getting enough rest and finding the right reed.
“They are the spawn of Satan,” Franco said. “I hate reeds. Each reed is different (which affects) the pitch and the quality and the sound, and I hate them.”
Franco’s program for the concert was both diverse and entertaining. The concert began with a piece by Camille Saint-Saëns that included a dark third movement played beautifully by Franco through sustained notes.
Pianist Eunyoung Sohng waited patiently as Franco made necessary adjustments to his leaking instrument between movements.
“It’s been lots of fun. Eunyoung is very receptive to taking ideas,” Franco said of one of his pianists performing in the concert. “I’ve become more of a soloist and she’s learned to not accompany. We’ve become musicians on a stage.”
Senior theater arts major James Darrah said he liked that Franco included other artists in his senior recital.
“It’s good to see him not only as a solo performer, but as a collaborative performer as well,” Darrah said.
One of Franco’s co-artists, alumna Melissa Stahly, performed with the clarinettist for three years in the Chamber Music class.
“It’s been a wonderful experience working with Chris,” Stahly said. “I know when he’s going to take a breath, and we follow each other well.”
Franco closed the concert with a dramatic finish, playing “Concertino” by Carl Maria von Weber. With enthusiasm, he played through impressive runs, crescendos and phrases that sometimes sharply contrasted the piano’s dark tones. Exciting trills filled the piece as the sound seemed to rise from the artist’s toes and throughout the hall.
“He really outdid himself at the end,” said Angie Childers, the artist’s mother. “I’m so proud of him.”
Stephanie Duarte can be reached at email@example.com.