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ASU clarinet choir ClariZona says goodbye to one of its longtime advisors

When you hear the word "choir," you probably imagine a group of singers. But choir can also mean a group of people playing the same instrument — like the clarinet.

There are 11 different types of clarinets. You’re able to get more depth in sound with a group of clarinet players than with any other wind instrument.

So it makes sense that the most popular instrumental choir is a clarinet choir.

Arizona State University has its own, named ClariZona, made up of students studying clarinet.

One of ClariZona’s longtime advisors, Robert Spring, is leaving this year. The Show went to his retirement party.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix is filled with clarinet players aged 17 to 70. They're shuffling to the front of the chapel and warming up to play together for the first and only time. Clarinet choirs are usually made up of about 25 to 30 musicians. This one is about six times bigger.

They've all gathered for one reason. One man, actually.

"I thought the best way to celebrate this was to just invite everybody back"

That's Robert Spring. He's been teaching clarinet at Arizona State University for 36 years. Spring is celebrating his retirement by inviting his former students back to Phoenix for one last performance. A big one.

At the front of the room is a life-sized cardboard cut out of Spring. It's pretty dramatic. He's closing his eyes and holding a clarinet over his head.

By four in the afternoon, there have been nearly 3.5 hours of back-to-back clarinet solo performances, quartets and ensembles. There was also a surprise performance from Claire Annette, a drag queen and one of Spring's former students.

The massive clarinet choir is the final performance of the afternoon. Clarinetists from all over the world crowd into the front of the chapel, chatting with old friends and squeezing in last-minute rehearsals.

As soon as Spring starts to speak, the group falls silent. He talks briefly about the flow of the piece, then gives his choir a moment to tune. And then, they begin to play.

"I just really fallen in love with its flexibility, its versatility. It can just do things that other instruments can't do. And there's just a color to it that I just have fallen in love with," said doctoral candidate Stephen White. They first started playing clarinet because their mother and grandfather played the instrument.

Indeed, for many of the musicians who took part in the large choir, like Laura Sopeland, clarinet runs in the family.

"My mother plays the clarinet. My aunt played the clarinet. I play the clarinet. My daughters play the clarinet, and I'm hoping that my granddaughters will, too," Sopeland said.

But for others, like Macy Campobello, a love of clarinet was born of necessity.

"I'll say the truth. The oboe is expensive for the reeds and everything. But clarinet was my second choice and I was just stuck with it ever since. I never wanted to stop," Campobello said.

Campobello is a first year master's student at ASU and she says Spring's welcoming nature made her more comfortable performing.

"He also builds a lot of the clarinet repertoire we have today and he is very impactful on the clarinet world," Campobello said.

Spring has made a name for himself in the clarinet world. He revitalized ASU's clarinet choir, and he's been credited with popularizing clarinet techniques like circular breathing, multiple articulation and even playing two clarinets. At the same time, he was also president of the National Clarinet Association for a couple of years.

"I've done this for 46 years," Spring said. "I mean, I really don't know anything else as I'm a little worried about what's next."

Today, Spring is holding his last performance juries the equivalent of final exams for music students.

Although Spring is retiring, ClariZona isn't going anywhere.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Amber Victoria Singer is a producer for KJZZ's The Show. Singer is a graduate of the Water Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.