“Ralph Emmanuel Lim, one of Singapore’s most accomplished young woodwind players… his rich and mellow sonority, almost nonchalant virtuosity and engaging personality, commanded the stage from the first entry”

The Straits Times (20th October 2021)

Award-winning clarinet soloist Ralph Emmanuel Lim is the Principal Clarinetist of Singapore’s Resound Collective, and founder of the award-winning clarinet ensemble CLARQuinet.

Ralph appears frequently as a soloist with Resound Collective, Philharmonic Winds Group, and the Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra. In 2021, he was regarded as the highlight of the evening when he performed the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with Concordia Quartet:

“Lim’s mellow and long-breathed clarinet part… proved the high point of the evening.” – The Straits Times (18th January 2021)

Pushing the artistic boundaries for Singaporean musicians, Ralph teamed up with the Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra and established composer Germaine Goh to commission a clarinet concerto, ‘Kaleidoscope, fantasy for solo clarinet and orchestra’. It premiered on 30 August 2022 to raving reviews, with Ralph himself as the soloist. In 2019, he also partnered with the Philharmonic Winds Group and worked closely with music arranger Jay Ong to arrange the popular piece ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ for solo clarinet and wind orchestra.

Ralph studied under Tang Xiao Ping, Assistant Principal Clarinetist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, while studying at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore. He then studied under Timothy Lines and Janet Hilton while studying at the Royal College of Music in London.

With numerous awards and accolades under his belt, Ralph has won the 2017 and 2015 Singapore Clarinet Festival with CLARQuinet, and the second prize at the 2015 Prof. Dichler International Competition in Vienna. Additionally, he was awarded a Distinction in the Royal College of Music Woodwind Concerto Competition in London, and was also the winner of the 2014 Singapore National Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition.

Ralph is a Buffet Crampon Clarinet Artist and currently plays on a 2021 limited edition Légende in Mopane by Buffet Crampon, 74/85.

What is your clarinet setup, and how did you decide on each part of the setup?

I play on a Kanter custom-made mouthpiece, Pink Gold Plated M/O Ligature and Vandoren V12 size 3.5 reeds on a limited edition Légende in mopane Bb clarinet.

The mouthpiece is generally open, something like a B40, but has that extra depth in its sound that is hard to find in other mouthpieces. This mouthpiece was recommended to me by Hermann Stefánsson when I went over to Norway for a masterclass. He was very influential in my development as a musician and brought my sound to a whole new level.

The Pink Gold M/O ligature has a good response, and looks great. Personally I find that most decently made ligatures are similar in response and I have a running joke with my friends that ligatures are cosmetic, largely for the looks.

Prior to my Légende, I used a Festival for about 10 years. I was eyeing an upgrade for a while, and Buffet Crampon releasing a limited edition model was the push I needed. The instrument has a luscious sound, naturally sweet with great projection. I still use my Festival every once in a while for a change in tone colour.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt in all the years you’ve spent learning and playing the clarinet?

Always strive to have the best sound you possibly can — a good sound indicates good fundamentals. Having a good sound drives technique, having good technique drives you to practice more, and practising more will teach you more about your sound. It’s a full circle! Just remember, sound drives technique!

One important aspect in sound production would be finding a good mouthpiece. Together with the right sized/correct strength reed, a mouthpiece that suits you will bring fantastic results.

What you want to feel in a mouthpiece is a comfortable response when you play (response is the feedback you get from the mouthpiece and reed when you make a sound). Always check the tuning, how well you can control dynamics, as well as the feel of articulations. If you play in a school band and are only assigned to one mouthpiece and it feels “stuck”, try changing reed strength. This step involves a lot of trial and error but it will get easier with each attempt. Have a teacher, close friend, or mentor you trust to give inputs as what others hear will be different from what you hear.

What are some lessons that you wished you had learnt sooner when playing clarinet?

The importance of good breathing techniques is something we take for granted. Through watching documentaries of different art forms, I have come to a conclusion that many professionals in various performing fields — actors, athletes, magicians and even gamers — are all consciously aware of their breathing and have the capability to reset and lower their heart rate. As we know, playing with an uncontrollably fast heart rate can lead to uncontrolled movements.

Next time you’re about to perform a difficult performance or passage, try to take a deep slow breath to calm yourself down.

The Alexander technique is something worth looking at. I am not certified to teach this so I won’t go into details, but I urge those who are interested to look this up!

What are some must-know tips you’d like to share with young clarinetists today?

Tips to experiment with your sound without spending money:
1. Experiment with how much mouthpiece you take in (stop when you start to squeak), if done correctly it will give you a bigger sound with lesser effort
2. Experiment with how much lips you take in (remember, your lower lips must be rolled over your lower teeth!)
3. Changing the vertical position of your reeds may make it softer (if placed lower) or harder (if raised higher). Make sure it’s always perfectly in the middle along the horizontal axis.

When it comes to buying music gear, what do you look out for? Different Clarinetists have different tone and sound preferences, so what would you suggest to a Clarinetist who might be looking for a brighter or darker sound?

Like I joked before, gears are for cosmetic purposes 😂. When I was younger I used to gravitate towards striving for a darker, warmer sound, but over the years realised that I shouldn’t limit my sound. In fact, I began to see sound just like a painter views his palette. Different sections of the music will definitely require different colours.

Jokes aside, what I look out for when buying gear is in its response; how little compromise do I have to make in order to get a full healthy sound. When buying gear, always check your control of dynamics (how well you can control the crescendo and decrescendo), tuning, and various articulations (does the sound come out easily when you play staccato, how well and easy is it to produce sound on do the higher notes?).

If I’m thinking of switching out to a different gear, I always ask myself if this new piece of equipment brings something new to the table. Are the overtones richer? Does this make my sound lighter or heavier? How does this improve projection?

Ending off this segment with a little caution: it will be very tempting to buy that shiny new ligature that was just released, the mouthpiece that everyone uses, or even a fancy brand new limited edition clarinet (hahaha). Instead, I strongly believe that one should focus on finding a good mouthpiece and reed combination. Find a teacher, senior, or friend you can trust to be your ears when deciding to buy a new piece of equipment. I earnestly believe a good mouthpiece and reed makes up 80% of the sound, and the remaining 20% lies in the instrument and ligature.

Who are some of your musical idols?

I really look up to Martin Fröst— he has definitely influenced my clarinet playing. Martin Fröst pushes the boundaries of clarinet playing. He was the one who inspired me to learn circular breathing and double tonguing, and showed me that there is no technical passage that can’t be conquered with proper practice.

Sabine Meyer is another idol who keeps me rooted with her strong sense of musical perfection. Her sound is focused and full, and listening to her playing taught me that in a captivating performance, every note has to tell a story.

Growing up in Singapore and even to this day, two more clarinetists I would trust and seek advice from would be both my teachers Desmond Chow and Tang Xiao Ping. They are both monumental to my growth as a musician and whenever I’m musically stuck with something, they would graciously come to my aid.

Tell us more about CLARQuinet. What experience have you gained that you wish to share with musicians today, and what projects lie ahead for CLARQuinet?

CLARQuinet was founded in 2007 and is the oldest active clarinet ensemble in Singapore. It was formed by a group of four friends who shared a joy in performing together. [CLAR] comes from the initials of the original members, [Q] looks like a clarinet from an angle, and [inet] stems from ‘clarinet’. Combine these and you get CLARQuinet – genius ain’t it!

For bigger projects, we have CLARQuinet+, a clarinet choir consisting of about 50 clarinetists. It’s been 15 years and seeing how our group has grown and evolved over the years seems so surreal.

What I have learnt about setting up an ensemble is to do it with people you enjoy performing and working with. It makes the whole experience more fulfilling and worthwhile. There will be ups and downs but true friends will stick by you all the way.

Next year, we will be working closely with some Community Centres for public performances. We are also looking into the possibility of a composer call! We feel that there is not enough clarinet ensemble music written by Singaporeans and we’d like to provide a platform for that. Stay tuned to our channels!

What are some exercises or etudes you would recommend for any Clarinetist?

Rose studies are great but if you find etudes too difficult, practising and mastering all your major scales should be good enough to get you through most band programmes up till tertiary level education. Complete Method for Clarinet Op. 63 – C. Baermann is also a great entry level method book to improve technique.

What projects do you have planned out in the near future, and where can people find you online?

This year has been pretty wild. Some milestones include preparing for a recital at Esplanade concert hall earlier on in the year, Commissioning local Composer Germaine Goh to write a Clarinet Concerto for me to perform with the Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra in August, and finally ending the year with a performance with PhilClarinets. I am also very fortunate to be involved with many musically stimulating performances with Resound Collective, and one of the highlights has to be our performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite (chamber version) in June this year. Resound has been a place that has nurtured my growth as a musician.

Next year I am looking forward to performing in a few esplanade concourse performances in the first quarter, as well as a new opera project somewhere in March. But the performances I’m most excited about are my students’ performances at SYF! Shoutout to everyone taking part in SYF – all the best!

Instagram: leclarinet / clarquinet
Youtube: leclarinet / clarquinet / resound collective 
Facebook: Ralph Emmanuel Lim / Clarquinet

Hao Li
Written By Hao Li