young boy wanting to play his saxophone with our choir
  • mamaherrera October 18 Thanks
    Posts: 21
    wish me luck,. I will hear him play today!!
    @mamaherrera hopefully it was an inspiring performance, although you can decline to state.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I've been asked to write for soprano saxophone many times, but I always say "No", because the soprano is the MOST biting and non-blending in the saxophone family.

    Zac,
    You negate your own position by your refusal. How can you KNOW empirically that a soprano tone cannot be mitigated to your liking if you haven't put skin in the game? I was fortunate to be gifted with a prodigy for five years, better than KG or Paul Winter, I'd say on a PAR with Garbarek. I wrote for him specifically. He delivered flawlessly, always. Don't proclaim something you cannot back up with experience. Such myopia is ill-considered for all arts.
  • Um, what is a saxophone?
    Is it... maybe... what they call each other on in Saxony?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,155
    At the risk of derailing this thread, just how unusual does an instrument have to be?

    I've arranged music for voice and saxophone (in particular, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow") with some success. On the whole, I've found that a well played soprano saxophone has a sweet sound that blends well with voices, not that a well played alto or tenor saxophone doesn't (because each of them can also blend well).

    What about other (nontraditional) instruments? Piccolo or contrabassoon might be going to extremes because of register. But there are other (tuned) instruments such as accordion, marimba (or its relatives), or zithers, autoharps, etc. Can any of these be (made) acceptable for sacred or religious musical use?

    Then there are these ... um ... instruments:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5KiodkF2m4

    Here's an interesting duet:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SPLEPdEBuo

    Finally, I wonder if anyone has heard this at a wedding:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kmft674XPC0
  • The musical saw has likely been used in some religious context I imagine somewhere in Appalachia.
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 456
    I find the "sacred v. profane" argument -- when it talks about an instrument intrinsically, or based on its history of use -- to be a bit superstitious and silly. The thing to care about is what does the instrument sound like? or what can it sound like


    Indeed. I sometimes like to apply the 5-year old test. That is, I recall a car trip with my young son and some plainchant came on the radio and he blurted out: "That sounds like church." The thing is, his whole experience of church music up to that time was typical AmChurch saccharine and he had never heard plainchant in the context of church. I'm sure if we give a five-year old pictures or recordings of instruments and ask them to put them in their proper settings, they'd bat it out of the park. You gotta put them in a college music program to make them deaf. :)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,103
    I have said that it isn't the instrument, but the talented and capable hands of the musician using the instrument. It's an operator thing.
  • Adam,

    Trumpets don't blend well -- in fact, it is precisely for that reason that they are so popular for regal fanfares and such: they stand out.

    When a saxophone stands out, however, it doesn't (generally) suggest the sacred. Pictures on a Late Night Talk Show is hardly part of the sacred repertoire. Does my comment imply that the saxophone is evil? No, I don't intend to make such a claim. Does it mean that it is unsuited to a liturgical setting? I think so.

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    This thread corroborates the old maxim: Bad sax often leads to violins. Badaboom.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 674
    Melo, ROTFL!!!!!!!!!!
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,819
    The strumpet shall sound....
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,615
    In a previous parish I had a very good jazz saxophonist who was used almost every weekend for the principal Sunday Mass, which was mainly Praise and worship music. When they hired me we immediately shifted music idioms but I didn't get rid of anyone. So he would come in and jam out like a jazz saxophonist during the traditional styled hymns played on the organ. I didn't say a word but it sounded like two very weird worlds colliding.

    About three weeks into the experience he came up to me and said he didn't think his style was meshing with the new music, shook my hand, and let me know if anything ever fit his style to let him know.

    In the occasion of a new saxophonist I would probably tell them from the get go that it's not an instrument that works well with Catholic liturgical music - but if you have an existing musician it might be best to let them come to this conclusion on their own (if they can). I was told weeks after this happened that the saxaphonist spoke well about me and the new liturgical music style at a KofC meeting, at which he was an influential member. Good musicians, regardless of the style, should "get it."
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,517
    Good musicians Christians, regardless of the style, should "get it."
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,615
    No. Even an atheist musician should understand that saxaphone rocking and AURELIA aren't compatible.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,478
    AURELIA

    Must we bring this up? I need an AURELIA-free safe-space.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,103

    Must we bring this up? I need an AURELIA-free safe-space.
    LOL
  • How can you KNOW empirically that a soprano tone cannot be mitigated to your liking if you haven't put skin in the game? [...] Don't proclaim something you cannot back up with experience. Such myopia is ill-considered for all arts.

    I know many saxophonists on a personal level, and have played with and/or otherwise heard them play. I have, in fact, heard all of the different saxophones played by people who could do amazing things with the instruments. Perhaps if I was desperate enough, I'd consider writing for soprano-sax, but it's definitely not an instrument I want to give people an excuse to play. Like I've said before, though, I do like the sounds made by the alto- and tenor-saxes, and think they are fine instruments.
  • All through the Renaissance and Baroque, chant was often doubled by cornetto, serpent or bassoon -- all instruments which have a decided "human" quality to their sound. I would like to hear two or three singers doubled at pitch with saxophone. In a reverberent building, the effect would be very "traditional". Illustrations of "serpents" in choir:
    http://www.serpentwebsite.com/gallery.htm
  • DougCowling makes an important point: there has always been some sort of instrument permitted to be used as pitch support for the singing of chant, whether that is an organ, a flute, or as he mentions the serpent, cornett, or bassoon. I would imagine that the key being that the instruments didn't drown out the voices.
  • well in honesty to my surprise he plays very well and soft. with the voices u cant even hear him and yes he is alto sax. i will train him to transpose because i hate doing it .
  • Not at this moment arguing against accompanied chant, I can't help but notice the constant varieties of the rejoinder that 'if it's well done (meaning, naturally, 'the way I do it') you can't even hear it, it's not noticeable'. And yet, the proposed argument in favour of accompanying chant is that it serves (or is needed) to keep everyone on pitch. As mamaherrera says, 'you can't even hear him'. So, then what is the purpose of accompanied chant that is there to keep people on pitch who 'can't hear' the accompaniment? Rather a weak argument, isn't it. Why not just say I accompany chant just because I like accompanying chant and I think something essential is missing if there is no (theoretically hardly-if-at-all audible) accompaniment for me to enjoy - even though (theoretically) I can't tell that it's there. Alright, then, that's honest. So, at a given point in time chant came to be accompanied by this, that, and the other. At, then, whatever given point in time one chooses accompanied chant was an innovation that altered the essence of chant even more than square notes which did not convey the information offered by Carolingian notation. But never fear: it's done at Westminster Cathedral - what better pedigree excuse could one want.

    Truth be known, if chant were truly 'chanted' any accompanist would have his work cut out for him to follow and keep up.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Truth be known, if chant were truly 'chanted' any accompanist would have his work cut out for him to follow and keep up.

    Great point, and therein lies the ever-present rub: to strictly mensurate, or not? Not.
  • well in honesty to my surprise he plays very well and soft. with the voices u cant even hear him and yes he is alto sax. i will train him to transpose because i hate doing it .

    Saxophone is still a woodwind, so it's not as loud as people think it is; it has the dynamic advantages the clarinets have. (I've had this reiterated to me many times by saxophonists.) There's exception in the extreme registers of course. And PLEASE teach him transposition (if he doesn't know it already); it's a necessary music skill that woodwind players often don't have, and will give him a massive advantage over his peers.
  • Saxophone is still a woodwind, so it's not as loud as people think it is; it has the dynamic advantages the clarinets have.


    On the contrary, it has the reputation for being loud for a reason. Try teaching middle school band: your saxes will drown out everyone else from the beginning. You have to take the time to teach them that their loudest sound isn't their best one. Also, as a clarinetist, I must protest, and say that I can out-pianissimo any saxophone player.

    And PLEASE teach him transposition (if he doesn't know it already); it's a necessary music skill that woodwind players often don't have, and will give him a massive advantage over his peers.


    Yes, transposing is a necessary skill, and if his band director is worth his salt, he already knows how to do this for his instrument. However, I suspect what you mean is how to sight-transpose and play from a concert pitch score. For woodwinds at the professional level, yes it's a necessary skill, but this kid is what, in 8th grade? Sight transposition is most likely beyond his ability level at this point.
    Thanked by 2irishtenor CCooze
  • I can out-pianissimo any saxophone player. [...] Try teaching middle school band: your saxes will drown out everyone else from the beginning.

    Perhaps I should clarify: Saxophones have the dynamic advantages the clarinets have, albeit to a lesser degree. I understand that the saxophones are naturally louder than the other woodwinds, but they are still closely related to the clarinet family, and are thus able to play very quietly without sacrificing the tone quality and/or intonation, something the double reeds and flutes cannot do nearly as well. And I have yet to be in a situation where the saxophones have ever drowned out the brass (save the horn).
    Yes, transposing is a necessary skill, and if his band director is worth his salt, he already knows how to do this for his instrument. However, I suspect what you mean is how to sight-transpose and play from a concert pitch score.

    I mean both, really. I wouldn't say sight-transposition is beyond an 8th-grader's reasonable capability to learn, especially not with simpler material, a quality to be found in most hymn-tunes. Obviously it would be silly to expect him to be able to do it right away, but it's certainly learn-able within a few months, especially if/when done alongside written transposition.
  • And I have yet to be in a situation where the saxophones have ever drowned out the brass (save the horn).


    I'm in this situation on a regular basis, especially with beginners.

    I wouldn't say sight-transposition is beyond an 8th-grader's reasonable capability to learn, especially not with simpler material, a quality to be found in most hymn-tunes.


    It's been my experience as a professional band director and music teacher that this statement is false. They have a tough time sight reading the actual written notes on the page, much less having to look at them, and then remember that they have to actually play something else. Writing out their own transposed parts, however, would not be unreasonable. Transposing at sight? Not really feasible for 8th graders.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,155
    ... and are thus able to play very quietly without sacrificing the tone quality and/or intonation, something the double reeds and flutes cannot do nearly as well.
    There are many who would take exception to this assertion.
  • Yes, transposing is a necessary skill, and if his band director is worth his salt, he already knows how to do this for his instrument. However, I suspect what you mean is how to sight-transpose and play from a concert pitch score. For woodwinds at the professional level, yes it's a necessary skill, but this kid is what, in 8th grade? Sight transposition is most likely beyond his ability level at this point.

    I knew transposition by 8th grade, but sight transposition developed by playing clarinet with flute choirs (as the alto or bass voice) at flute masterclasses' concerts during my high school years. Kind of a trick of the trade developed under the stress of command performances. Those skill sets can unlock vast treasures in musical experiences and gaining familiarity with the repertoire of many instruments.
  • Easy-Music Theory used to have a handy-dandy cheat sheet for transposing from instrument to another. I used it quite a bit when I was helping our choir director transpose some music for an alto saxophone who played with us for a while. If its not there anymore, I'll see if i have a copy and upload it.
  • I'm in this situation on a regular basis, especially with beginners.

    Even when I was a beginner, many years ago, the saxophones came close, but could never drown out the trumpet or trombones, which often do drown out the entire ensemble (besides the percussion). I used to think that saxophones were instruments that were better at loud than soft, until saxophonist friends told me that loud was actually something the saxophone didn't do as well as the brass, and that moderate and softer dynamics were easier to produce.
    It's been my experience as a professional band director and music teacher that this statement is false. [...] Writing out their own transposed parts, however, would not be unreasonable. Transposing at sight? Not really feasible for 8th graders.

    I learned it in 6th- and 7th-grade by myself (admittedly out of curiosity as to why my trumpet was always in a different key than everybody else, and not practicality), and I'm not particularly gifted or talented.
    There are many who would take exception to this assertion.

    I'm very fond of double reeds; they are my favorite members of the woodwind family. I'm definitely no expert, but I know enough to know that there's more effort that's put into playing quiet on an oboe or bassoon (especially in the lower register) than there is on saxophone or clarinet. There's a point where playing too soft causes higher overtones start to become especially prominent, which distorts the sound. Flutes don't have to work as hard to play quiet, but they intonation goes flat. Good players know how to adjust, but there isn't as much adjusting that needs to be done on single reeds in this respect.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • @ZacPB189

    At this point, I have to question where you're getting your information and your level of teaching experience. Some of the things you're saying don't match up with what I've experienced and learned in my professional training as a music educator. You are missing some key pedagogical concepts such as using proper support, which for example can eliminate the pitch problems you mention. Much of how you are wording your rhetoric is in terms of absolutes, or is simply false:

    Flutes don't have to work as hard to play quiet, but (their) intonation goes flat.


    This is a generalization, since not all flute players are going to go flat if they play softly.

    There's a point at which playing too soft causes higher overtones start to become especially prominent, which distorts the sound.


    Please cite your source for this, because I've never come across this concept at all in my experience nor professional training.

    I learned it in 6th- and 7th-grade by myself (admittedly out of curiosity as to why my trumpet was always in a different key than everybody else, and not practicality), and I'm not particularly gifted or talented.


    But have you really tried to teach this concept to beginner players? Again, what experience do you have in the music classroom? Where have you taught, and where were you trained? I asked my colleague with 22 years of instrumental teaching experience if she thought it was feasible for 8th graders to sight transpose, and she agrees with me that it isn't. The topic of attributing one's own personal abilities or limits to others has already been addressed on this forum: just because you did it or can do it doesn't mean it's feasible for others. As for me, I checked my facts with another professional just to make sure I'm not feeding you hogwash.

    I'm very fond of double reeds; they are my favorite members of the woodwind family. I'm definitely no expert, but I know enough to know that there's more effort that's put into playing quiet on an oboe or bassoon (especially in the lower register) than there is on saxophone or clarinet.


    Actually, playing at the softer dynamic levels on a saxophone requires about the same effort in the lower register as for the lower register of the double reeds. In fact, it's actually easier to play softer in the lower register on the bassoon than it is in the lower register on the saxophone. I took a bassoon class during my professional musical training. The oboe and the saxophone do have similar challenges in this regard, so you are correct there. However, it is easier to play softly in the lower register of the bassoon than the lower register of the oboe because of the lower pressures required to produce a tone.

    THE KEY TO PLAYING SOFTLY ON ANY WIND OR BRASS INSTRUMENT IS PROPER SUPPORT. THERE IS NO INHERENT LIMITATION FROM ANY OF THE INSTRUMENTS IN TERMS OF LACK OF DYNAMIC CONTRAST OR ABILITY TO PRODUCE SOFT TONES.

    While it is true that brass players often cannot play as softly as the woodwinds, and the opposite is also true: woodwinds can generally not play as loudly as the brass, there is no reason that a brass player can't play piano, and there's no reason that a flute or clarinet player can't give you a good forte.

    You claim that you are no expert, yet you are arguing with someone who is: me. I have a degree in music education, I have taught beginning instruments for more than 10 years, I have administered and run a successful band program at two schools, I have more than 10 years of experience in the band classroom teaching students from beginners to advanced high school, and I am a professional woodwind player. I have the feeling that much of what you're saying is coming from your limited experience as a band student, and a lack of professional musical training.
  • 'Don't look at the trombones. That only encourages them' - Attributed to Ricard Strauss
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Of all the gin joints in all the world....kid with a sax barges into chant land, cacophony ensues.
  • @ClergetKubisz

    I am not an educator (my degree is trumpet performance), and have no desire to be one. My experience with woodwinds has, yes, come from being in the public school band program, but also in the university band, the orchestra, and, more directly, composing works for close friends who play woodwinds and who've given me valuable input regarding idiomatic characteristics of the instruments when I've written for them. Beyond that, I have the Adler book I have within arms reach about 95% of the time, as well as the "Orchestration Online" group (which is where I got the information about the double-reed overtones, which I'll get back to). So, like I've said before, and you've agreed with: I'm not an expert. That doesn't mean I'm stupid. I've heard repeatedly from saxophonists that it's not a naturally loud instrument (something that I, like most non-saxophonists, assumed until I started actually writing for it); not that it can't play loud, but that "mezzo" dynamics are more natural, and ff or louder becomes rather strenuous.
    Please cite your source for this, because I've never come across this concept at all in my experience nor professional training.

    Here's the video (it's an out-take from a larger orchestration course, the bassoonist is professional): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn8LMM1c3ek
    I'll admit here that I hadn't seen it in a while and remembered it wrong (I'm only human), and was confusing her niente attack with her diminuendo. Thus, here, I will admit that I am very wrong there. That said, I still stand by the flutes-go-flat statement and, again, reiterate that players adjust to this, as is expected of musicians.
    Much of how you are wording your rhetoric is in terms of absolutes[.]
    The key to playing softly on any wind or brass instrument is proper support. There is no inherent limitation from any of the instruments in terms of lack of dynamic contrast or ability to produce soft tones.

    Which tells me that we're not approaching this the same way. I know that all instruments have the ability to play a full spectrum of dynamics. My point is that some instruments do some things more naturally than others. In the case of this particular conversation: saxophones aren't naturally loud, and I've never been present in a situation where saxophones could hope to drown out the brass, even when I was a beginner.
    Where have you taught, and where were you trained? I asked my colleague with 22 years of instrumental teaching experience if she thought it was feasible for 8th graders to sight transpose, and she agrees with me that it isn't. The topic of attributing one's own personal abilities or limits to others has already been addressed on this forum: just because you did it or can do it doesn't mean it's feasible for others.

    I've mentioned before: I taught myself transposition in 6th- and 7th-grade, both written and sight (again, with simple material). I'm not saying that "because I did it everybody can", but I am saying that "I did it, so it's clearly not impossible". And if the student in question is driven and interested enough to play outside of the school's band program and play serious liturgical music, then the student likely has the ability to learn transposition, especially with someone teaching him. I'm not saying we should give 8th-graders sheet music in the "wrong" keys, say "Good Luck!", and give the down-beat. That would be silly.

    Anyway, I've clearly derailed the topic, deeply offended people, and overall presented myself as having no opinions worth having, none of which I was even trying to do in the first place, so I'll stop adding anymore wood (or gasoline, I suppose) to the fire, and desist before I do any more damage.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 737
    I'm just going to say that I know band directors with decades of experience "teaching" instrumental music, but that does not make them experts on instruments other than their own.

    Sure, I had to take instrumental methods, as well, to get my bachelor in music ed. degree. I also played a different instrument every year in college marching band, because I'm an oboist, and was quite good at each. I could not venture to say I am an expert and know the ups and downs of the euphonium, or all low brass based on the semester I spent playing it (no matter how well that may have been). I'm not "dissing" anyone's expertise or job... I realize that much of that sounds awfully negative.
    I do, however, take issue with the various ways band directors describe the "difficult" and "easy" aspects of "playing the oboe."

    I've known some excellent high school musicians. The ones who can transpose on the fly - or even at all - are exceptions, not the norm.

    That being said, I'm going to agree with what MJO said about the saxophone's barely audible "accompanying." I also think that I wouldn't want to actually be able to hear a saxophone playing along with choral or chant music at Mass.

    Now, that having been said, I will say that one of the highlights of midnight Christmas Mass for YEARS here in Chattanooga, was hearing Booker T. Scruggs (on his soprano sax / jazz clarinet (I never turned to look - I try my hardest to never do that)) and his "band" playing absolutely beautiful Christmas music. Midnight Mass has never been quite the same, nor as overflowing, since our previous organist died - his presence apparently being the only reason that ensemble was there (perhaps no one else has thought to invite them...).