Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘playing saxophone

My Musical Journey (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

with 4 comments

Folks, World Music Day is later this month, June 21st to be exact. And the folks at Collaboration with a Purpose decided to write about what music is, why it matters, and why we care about it in our own words.

1528214645401-1

I’m a musician. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know this. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, and the oboe. I also compose music, though mostly for myself, and tend to think first in music, and only later in words.

I’ve played instruments since I was ten or eleven years old. Music always called to me. I loved the sound of a saxophone in particular, and remember telling my Mom that I would play that someday. (When my teacher in graduate school, Dr. Fought, said to me that the saxophone sounded the most like a human voice, I agreed with him. Perhaps that’s why I insisted I’d play it.) Whether it was someone like Clarence Clemons wailing away with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band or later, jazz musician Art Pepper’s clear and beautiful sound with advanced and interesting harmonic and rhythmic melodies (yes, you can have it all!), I was hooked.

So why did I end up on the oboe first, then?

I think they needed oboists, as it’s difficult to play well. (One of the common sayings, at least among musicians, about the oboe is that “it’s an ill wind that nobody blows good.”) And no one was going to tell me I couldn’t play a difficult instrument…that’s where psychology came into play, I suppose. (But I was only eleven, at most. You can see why this might appeal?)

I learned all sorts of things about the oboe. It has a beautiful sound if played well, a distinctive one, and for whatever reason, the sound I could get was a bit lower than most, tonally — this is very hard to explain in words, so bear with me — and a bit closer to the sound of an English horn, according to a few of my music teachers.

Personally, though, I think the reason my sound on the oboe was a little different was because I wanted to play the saxophone. And I wanted my oboe playing to be different, interesting, and memorable; I learned how to play jazz on the oboe, even, as there was one musical group — Oregon — that had a jazz oboist.

“But get to picking up the sax, Barb! That’s what we want to hear about…”

Yeah. Well, I wanted to play in jazz band. But they didn’t have arrangements for a jazz oboe player. And my band director, Mr. Stilley, believed that I could pick up the sax in a month or so. The school had an awful alto saxophone available to play; it was held together by string and tape. But I didn’t let this stop me, and I did indeed learn how to play the sax in a month as some of the skills I already had were transferable.

Then, I took up private lessons with two different instructors: one for the oboe, one for the sax. I found out quickly that the alto sax was the instrument most classical musicians play. Most of the good repertoire, including the Jacques Ibert Concertino da Camera and Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, was written for alto rather than tenor, baritone, or soprano saxophones. And of course I learned these pieces, along with one that later became one of my favorites, Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra.

I found that while I loved jazz, I loved classical even more. There were so many different ways to say things in classical music. From Robert Schumann’s Unfinished Symphony to Paul Hindemith’s Symphony for Band in B-flat, from Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (and it’s famous “Ode to Joy”), there were so many, many different ways music could be expressed.

And then, there was Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, and the one composer I sometimes loved, sometimes hated: Gustav Mahler. (Mahler’s music can be beautiful. It can make me laugh. And it can make me scratch my head and go, “What the Hell?”)

I listened to jazz, too. And pop music, as I found along the way that I rather liked the diverse influences Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and even Linkin Park brought to the table. (Linkin Park in particular was a very big surprise, as they combined some aleatoric elements along with rock-rap and solid music theory, with not one but two singers: the late Chester Bennington with his soulful voice that could turn to a scream in an instant and Mike Shinoda, who could rap or sing, depending on what was needed from him.) And Creed, too…something about them hit me, emotionally, and I understood why they became popular on the one hand quickly, and didn’t last on the other.

The best of music evokes emotion, no matter what genre you play or sing or hear. Whether it’s Alice in Chains’ “Rotten Apple” or Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days” or Linkin Park’s “In the End” (or, much later, “One More Light”), or the second movement of Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, or Elvis (my mother’s personal favorite, and for all his fame, a truly underrated emotional stylist), or Art Pepper’s flights of fancy while playing “Over the Rainbow,” it is all about emotion.

See, words can only take you so far. Music, with all its complexity, all its chords, all its harmony, all its rhythm, can take you much farther.

It’s because of that, and my own, personal journey, that I decided my hero and heroine in CHANGING FACES were both clarinetists and both would use music as a way to survive incredible pain. Because music can describe things words cannot, music is able to heal a great deal more than words.

And that, I think, is why World Music Day is so important.

So do let music heal you, or inspire you, or at least give you the soundtrack to whatever you’re doing/writing/learning at the time. And let me know what music you move to, in the comments!

Also, please go take a look at my fellow collaborators, who’ve also written interesting takes on the subject (links will be posted as they go up, as per usual):

Nicolle K. — Intro Post

Nicolle K. (coming soon)

Sadaf Siddiqi — “A Musical Tribute

Mylene Orillo

Sonyo Estavillo

Advertisements

Just Played in my First Band Rehearsal in at Least 10 Years

with 4 comments

As the heading says . . . I went out tonight and played my saxophone during a rehearsal of the local community band.  This is the first rehearsal in over ten years of any group whatsoever I’ve attended, mostly because my hands were not strong enough to sustain the strain of holding the instrument, much less fingering it, in all that time.

The main reason I decided to start playing in a band again after all this time is that I now can practice, on average, three times weekly for at least forty-five minutes (the high, so far, being about an hour and a half) without hurting my hands or wrists in any way.  (They ache, but I can use them, and I can live with that.)   The secondary reason is that in the last year, I’ve gone through two rounds of occupational therapy for my hands and wrists, which helped immensely.  So now, I can play again.

I am aware that in many senses, I’m very fortunate; I have carpal tunnel syndrome, but I have never lost the ability to type.  Most people with this condition do, whereas instead I merely lost some speed.  The OT helped me regain some of my overall typing speed, too, so it was extremely beneficial overall.

Now, as to how I played?  As you might expect, I certainly was nowhere near top form; I kept getting thrown off by other people’s sense of time and meter, and my own hands kept betraying me now and again (they wanted to slide off the keys, a big no-no that I knew was likely to happen due to the stress of doing something for the first time — even though it’s not, exactly).  But I followed the music, and knew what it was supposed to do; next time, I hope to play a solo part or two (within the context of the band pieces, not in front of the band), and I will practice the toughest parts (and of course the solo parts, too) so when I go back to rehearsal in two weeks (the next rehearsal, for a concert in December), I will be prepared and ready to lead the saxophone section.

Tonight, everything that I’d hoped for didn’t happen — my hands ached and weren’t doing what I wanted and needed them to do all the time (though they worked at least 85% of the time, and I’d actually expected worse — sight-reading music always means you’re going to make mistakes, and because my hands aren’t totally right (and will never be right again, I’m sorry to say), that just adds to any sight-reading mistakes I’d be likely to have anyway.

But my rhythmic sense was good; my sound was good; my intonation, mostly, was good.  (That last is an upper-level skill.  Mine is where it should be right now, and I can match pitches with other people, but I’m not where I would be in top form, no.  Will it affect me playing in a band, though?  Nope.)  And I had enough energy to get through an hour and fifteen minutes of rehearsal (it was a “short” rehearsal this week, mostly to see the new music and get copies of it to practice and be prepared to play in two weeks), so that, too, was a good thing.

I kept myself from playing for quite some time because I feared my health would not be good enough, and I knew my hands definitely weren’t good enough.  Now, though, I’m able to play . . . and even though I’m not where I want to be, I’m at least able to do something.

And something always beats nothing any day of the week.

—————-

Note:  I’ve been leery of discussing any of my physical challenges on this blog, because for the most part, I feel they’re irrelevant to the discussion.  However, in this case, they are quite relevant, even though I wish devoutly that they weren’t.

Now, are my physical limitations about to stop me?  Absolutely not.  They haven’t for anything else — merely slowed me down a little — and they won’t here, either.  I just have to learn to work around them, that’s all.  And I will do so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm