Artist Interview: Felix Peikli
(Buffet Crampon clarinet artist and touring musician)
Born in Oslo, Norway April 2nd 1990, Felix Peikli was introduced to music through the local marching band at the age of eight. After discovering his love and passion for music, as well as rapidly developing skills on the instrument, Felix received a Benny Goodman recording by his grandfather. Felix first appeared at the jam session at Oslo Jazz festival in 2002, and was invited back the next day as an official festival artist. In 2005 Felix won the National Dream Prize on national television, a distinction that kick-started his early career. As a result, Felix began performing extensively as a featured soloist and a bandleader after receiving massive publicity and recognition in national press.
What is it about the clarinet that first spoke to you and kept you determined to master it?
The fact that I started playing the clarinet was very serendipitous and rather random. I am from a small part of Oslo, Norway where we had a small local marching band. When I started they needed clarinetists due to lack of members, so I didn’t really have a say in what instrument I was going to play, they just handed me a clarinet and said “this is what you will be playing”. I didn’t really care too much at the time as I was merely in the marching because my friends where there, and for the social aspect. As I progressed, many of my peers switched to saxophone, telling me it was easier. I have always been a fighter and I love being challenged, I just don’t simply “quit” something because it’s too hard, so that gave me more incentive to keep on practicing and getting better at the clarinet. After seeing how much I practiced and how serious I started to become, my grandfather gave me a record of Benny Goodman when I was 10 years old. He thought that hearing someone that could REALLY play the clarinet would spark a genuine burst of inspiration, as opposed to just hearing the clarinetist next to me in the marching band.. and he was right. I was completely blown away and mesmerized by the virtuoso playing of Benny Goodman, and that’s how I got into playing Jazz.
You are originally from Norway. What is the marching band program like in Oslo?
The marching band program in Oslo is great. Norway is a small country, and there are even less people in Oslo, but still, Norway has one of the largest marching band scenes in Europe. My local marching band was very small when I first started, but it gave a sense of community and a social aspect in relation to the music at such a young age, and that was very inspiring.
Many of our readers aspire to greater involvement in the world of music. Your alma mater, the Berklee College of Music, is known for preparing students for careers in music. What is the most important thing you learned in school?
The most important thing I’ve learned in school is that music and life goes hand in hand. It’s about the people that you meet, the relationships you make, and the social aspect of music. Music is for the people. An easy thing to say, but a hard concept to live by, especially for a person that is devoting hours in practicing and get caught up in the competitiveness, what I like to call is the “behind the scenes” minutia. All in all, be yourself and be on a mission to spread joy and happiness to everyone through your music.
You are a Buffet Crampon artist. Why is that relationship important to you?
I have played on Buffet clarinets ever since the very beginning. Everything I have ever done musically has been through a Buffet clarinet. That is because I genuinely and sincerely believe that Buffet Crampon is the best clarinets because of their uniqueness, their 190 yearlong dedication to finesse, sound and quality, and their vision in continuing to aspire to new heights even though they are at the top. Even if I was not a Buffet Crampon artist, I would still play on Buffet Crampon clarinets, and the fact that Buffet Crampon recognizes the same key qualities in me as an artist is not only a vote of confidence, but a foundation where we can reach for our shared goals and new heights together.
What model of Buffet Crampon clarinet do you play?
What is the telltale sign that a student is ready to step up from an intermediate clarinet to a professional clarinet?
Getting a professional level instrument of any kind is an investment. It’s all about if you are ready to make the commitment that the instrument deserves and requires. You shouldn’t get a better instrument because you think it will make you sound better. It’s like a car: if you are a good driver, you’ll be a good driver in a bad car and a good driver in a good car. If you are a bad driver, you will still be a bad driver even if you bought a brand new Ferrari. It’s all about having a good and accurate insight in your own skills and your own desires and goals. You get that by asking yourself, what I like to call, 3-dimensional questions (past, present, future) like “How serious have I been?”, “How serious am I?” and “How serious am I about to be?”. You don’t need to answer everything yourself, I would confer with people in whom I trust their judgement and opinions, like for example a teacher, parents, peers, etc. but at the end of the day, any upgrade you do is an investment.
Regarding accessories, is there a step-up mouthpiece you recommend for advancing clarinetists?
As a Vandoren artist, and someone who’s always played on Vandoren accessories for the same reasons as Buffet Crampon clarinets, I suggest Vandoren. Vandoren has a variety of mouthpieces, ligatures, and reeds that will suit everyone’s needs. Then again, accessories is a very personal thing. My embouchure and the way my muscles and physical structures are build is different from anyone else, so my setup is not necessarily THE setup for everyone else trying to play the music I am doing. It’s all individual, like your fingerprints, so it’s all about finding out what qualities in sound you are looking to explore and what qualities you currently are satisfied with, and try out. It’s all about sound, and your individual sound is in your head. If someone gave me a completely different setup and different strength reeds, it would be very uncomfortable in the beginning, but give me a month and I’ll assure you that I’ll sound exactly like myself. That is because I know what I want to sound like, so my embouchure would adapt to the new setup in order to produce the sound that I hear.
How have your reed choices evolved from your early days to your current instrument?
Not much. Naturally, the reed strength is stronger now than when I started at age 8, because I am a much bigger person now at age 25 and I have more force behind me as a human, and my embouchure and muscles are bigger (I hope!). But I have never been a big gear-head when it comes to reeds. I take out a reed, wet it, and put it on the mouthpiece. If it sounds weird, I’ll take it off and try another one. It usually takes a couple of tries, but when I find my reed, I play it for about a month, and then do the same thing again. Too be honest I don’t want to get too involved in the reed-hysteria. I know many clarinetists who are very picky about their reeds and to me it seems more of a disturbance then being a perfectionist. To each their own, I don’t judge, but for me it works better to focus more about the music and less about the minor changes from reed to reed.
During Music & Arts’ “Upgrade Your Sound” month, we hosted an intimate “Horns of Plenty” event at the Buffet Group showroom in NYC. You performed there with other top artists like Alex Terrier, Joel Vaisse, Kyle Turner, Joe Broom, and Marcus Printup. What is your advice to young musicians who may have trepidation about performing live in front of an audience and trepidation about performing alongside elite musicians?
It was such a great event and I truly had a blast performing with these great and talented artists. That’s what music is about for me, having a good time! Then again, glancing at my past, I had a very fortunate way of being introduced to live performance. When I first received my Benny Goodman album (as I mentioned earlier) I started practicing along with the record. I, in effect, transcribed the entire album, not on paper, but by ear. I would crank up the volume on our living room stereo and stand in our bay window facing the street and play along with Benny Goodman when neighbors passed our house. My next door neighbor was the local priest and he hired me to do my first solo performance when I was 11 years old in my local church. I was a very energetic kid and I LOVED attention, so when I performed for the first time I just had a blast. I had an entire audience who loved hearing this music, that where smiling and gave a standing ovation. That was all that I cared about. I know that a lot of players that starts to perform later in life, let’s say 18, often tends to psych themselves out by thinking “Do I know this piece well enough?” or “What if I mess up this line?”, and specially while playing alongside other top artists. Really, it’s a fear of mistakes. I didn’t have those thoughts when I started because I was too young think like that. My advice is a very logical one. Put yourself out there as much as you can. The more you do it the less you care about making mistakes, you start to look for what’s enjoyable and fun. There’s a thing about humans that makes the uncomfortable more comfortable if endured for enough time. Let’s say you are scared of flying planes and you are on a 12 hour flight from LA to Tokyo. You won’t be shaking of nervousness that entire flight, the body simply doesn’t have capacity nor energy for that. So maybe you’ll be nervous to begin with, but then you’ll get more used to it. And the more you fly, the more used to the uncomfortable situation you will be. So, if you are scared of flying, fly more. If you are scared of performing, perform more. Put yourself out there and keep reminding yourself why you are performing in the first place. Hopefully it’s because you think music is fun. And unlike maybe other performing genres like being a stand-up comedian, the audience at a musical concert actually DO want to see you succeed, so go get ’em!
Your website and social media handles are @kingclarinet. (Learn more about Felix at www.kingclarinet.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. How did the “King” nickname come about?
When I was 12 years old my mother took me on a vacation to New Orleans. We travelled together with a famous Norwegian Jazz group that invited us down with them. It was such an experience and the memories from that trip will last me a life time. I brought my clarinet wherever we went, and I got to perform with great artists like Frederick “Shep” Sheperd, Tricia Boutté, “Big” Al Carson, featured on Bob French’s radio show and more. I went with my mother to the French quarters and sat in with the street musicians almost every day we were there and I met a wonderful clarinetist, Doreen Ketchen. She called herself Queen Clarinet, and my 12 year old self thought that King Clarinet sounds a bit better, so when I returned home I registered KingClarinet.com. The website has been active since 2002, and my friends started calling me “King Clarinet” or “KC” as a nickname, so it has stuck with me ever since!
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