While his father played trumpet, young Jerome Fleg sat next to the jazz band, playing his plastic clarinet from the toy store.
“I would just be sitting off the side of the band, thinking I was playing along,” he said. He also “played” pots, pans, silverware and anything else his mother wasn’t using, to jazz records with his father.
Fleg loved the sound of the clarinet for as long as he can remember and started playing a real one at age 10. Now as a freelance, chamber and orchestral musican , he’s played throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, won several awards and earned a doctorate in musical arts.
The Casper College instructor teaches woodwinds and jazz studies plus chairs the annual Kinser Jazz Festival.
He was thrilled for the chance to put together his own concert for the Casper Chamber Music Society (CCMS), which he and a group of musical friends will perform Jan 22.
“It’s going to be a huge variety of musical colors in a palette of sounds,” he said. “I think people will enjoy seeing this amazing journey of the clarinet in different musical settings.”
One of the reasons he loves and chose the clarinet is its rich quality. The instrument has one of the richest overtone series, according to Fleg. The overtone series is a collection of pitches above the main note you hear. You may not realize you’re hearing those overtones on the sound spectrum but they’re part of what gives each instrument its own sound and character.
“The clarinet has a really vocal, human or emotional sound quality,” he added. The woodwind instrument is often featured in commercials and movie sound tracks because its voice speaks to people. Speaking of sound tracks, one of the pieces in the concert sounds like it could be straight from a movie. The piece, by Mark Mellits, is modern but immediately accessible. It will feature pianist Susan Stubson and fellow Casper College teacher Neeraj Mehta on marimba. The marimba, which is always fun to watch, and Stubson’s fingers darting around the keys make this an especially entertaining piece not just to hear but also to watch. Fleg will perform the number on an amplified, electric bass clarinet.
Also along for this musical journey with the clarinet is an eclectic mix of friends: fellow woodwinds, a saxophone and bassoon. CCMS director and Wyoming Symphony principal basoonist Richard Turner will play a colorful, quirky duet with Fleg.
The story will travel back in time a few hundred years to the romantic era for the lush Brahms’ Sonata — one of the best-loved classics — and other traditional standards. Besides local musicians, University of Alaska professor Jun Watabe will lend talent to the show. He’ll perform in a showy, catchy Mendelssohn duet that shows off the virtuosic abilities of the clarinet.
“My goal for the concert was to make a really interesting mix of pieces,” Fleg said. The artistic control of creating an entire concert was sometimes stressful but also exciting. Besides creating the program, putting on a show also brings a host of logistical problems to solve, from getting music to players to organizing rehearsal times for several busy musicians.
Smiling in his office as he played recordings of Mellits clips, Fleg said he’s lucky to perform and teach. He wouldn’t want to only perform and never pass on his knowledge. A career of performing can make a musician jaded, he said. But if he didn’t perform, he’d feel something lacking.
“It sounds cheesy but it’s a dream come true to combine a career where I teach and perform,” he said.
If you go...
Casper Chamber Music Society presents Jerome Fleg & Friends.
4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22, at Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church, 4600 S. Poplar.
Tickets at the door: $8 adults, $6 seniors, $2 students.
For more information, go to www.casperarts.com or call 262-6354.