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A clarinet choir is a musical ensemble that features various instruments from the clarinet family being played together. Clarinet choirs have been formed in many geographical locations, and they can vary in size and repertoire. The collective sound of a clarinet choir is very rich and has often been compared to the sound of a concert organ. The choir might consist of any number of players, from fewer than 10 to 40 or more, generally with a conductor. The most common type of clarinet in a choir is normally a B-flat clarinet, accompanied by some sopranino, bass and contra bass clarinets.
The concept of a clarinet choir is made possible by the variety of instruments within the clarinet family. The sopranino clarinet in E-flat is a small clarinet that is also known as the baby clarinet. At the other end of the musical register, the bassette horn in F is a large instrument with a much lower sound. The alto clarinet in E-flat is an octave lower than the baby clarinet and is larger, often being used with a strap to hold it in position. The bass clarinet in B-flat is a large, heavy clarinet for which a floor stand is required, and a contra bass clarinet in B-flat is another octave lower than this.
In the middle of the range is the clarinet in B-flat, and this is the type of clarinet most often found in music ensembles and orchestras. This clarinet is very versatile, having a wide range of four octaves and lending itself easily to use in a number of styles of music, from classical to jazz. Another instrument in the middle of the range is the clarinet in A, and this also can be found in some symphony orchestras.
A clarinet ensemble of 75 players was formed by Simeon Bellison in New York in 1927, and clarinet choirs became most popular during the 1950s. The repertoire for clarinet choirs has grown as composers have come to appreciate the possibilities of these choirs. There are even compositions written for a clarinet choir of a particular size or composition. Many clarinet choirs often play arrangements of music originally written for orchestras or other combinations of instruments. Some clarinet choirs are groups of professional performers, and others encourage players of all levels to join.