young boy wanting to play his saxophone with our choir
  • I've only been choir director for a year now and I recently had a high school boy approach me saying he wants to play his sax in our choir. I"m thinking many things:
    How do I incorporate him into the hymns/mass parts without covering up voices?
    I don't want to be transposing everything!!
    any advice appreciated!
  • Well, he should be able to play at various dynamic levels, and be sensitive to the needs of the choir. Young sax players in general have difficulty with curtailing the ease with which they can out blow the rest of the band in terms of volume and realizing that their best sound is seldom their loudest. If you have a hymnal from one of the BIG 3 publishers (GIA, OCP, WLP), there are probably Eb instrument books available so that all of the transposition has already been done for you. There are also usually alternate parts that the instrument can play to add interest and a sort of counterpoint to the main melodic material. In terms of transposing music for the alto saxophone (I'm assuming he's an alto player, most of them are), viola parts generally transcribe well, as they have a similar range. Also, explain to him that the voices are the most important parts, and they must be heard, since they carry the liturgical text. Let me know if you have more specific questions: I'm a professional band director.
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  • Ditto the qualification that dynamics should be varied, etc. - as well as avoiding jazz style vibrato. I have tons of hymns already in Finale, and a few already transposed to Bb and Eb. Send me a message if you need quick transposition.
  • Welcome him to play occasionally as soloist accompanied by the organ - and welcome him, as a person who reads music, to sing with the choir. Impress upon him the importance of having persons, such as himself, who read music in the choir.

    He could play before, after Mass with the organ, and, if he plays well enough at offertory or communion when the choir is finished singing.

    Otherwise you could quickly end up with a small orchestra of amateur players playing along with everything that can go out of control. This happens too frequently. And then it becomes a possible hotbed of bad feelings against you.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I've only been choir director for a year now and I recently had a high school boy approach me saying he wants to play his sax in our choir.


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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    The only saxophone, IMHO, that could, could participate with less discord would be the soprano. And the musician playing would need to be expert along the lines of Jan Gaberak or Paul Winter. A discreetly played soprano sax can successfully imitate an oboe for descants and other layering concerns. However, the "swing noodling" of less-skilled jazz wannabe's like Bill Clinton needs suppression.
    Assuming an expert player, then the issue becomes which style/genre could employ the soprano sax.
    Part of me wants to go all Pius X in opinion, but I have had a great experience such as I've outlined above. But not with a traditional choir or schola, fo sho.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • dhalkjdhalkj
    Posts: 46
    I have instruments all over the place and once had a saxophone player. Great reinforcement on alto and tenor lines. Blended well with organ. Probably he can write out his own transpositions if missing from published resources. Remember he's adding three sharps to your key signature so will find even G and D quite chromatic. "Jazz" instruments stick together because they play in similar transpositions. Don't like the same keys as guitars and strings. That's why clarinets have instruments in A when playing with orchestras.
  • Mamaherrera,

    Let me elaborate slightly on Ben's terse remark.

    Complete the following sentence:

    The Saxophone is an instrument which, in American culture, is usually associated with.....

    Even the American bishops (famous for many things) said that instruments which are suitable for the august worship of God "or can be made worthy" may be admitted. Pius X, on the other hand, observed that instruments and styles of composition which have grown up to serve the profane (i.e., "outside the temple"), should be left outside the temple.

    Can you (or he) make a saxophone appropriate for the worship of God? (Remember, God in his permissive will allowed the creation of the Saxophone. This is different from other articles in creation.) Can you divorce the saxophone from its obviously profane origins? (Again, "profane" isn't meant to be a term of condemnation, since it means "outside the temple", but that which is for the temple belongs there, and that which isn't, doesn't.)

    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • It truly depends on where you go to study saxophone. Fred Hemke's pioneering work at Northwestern University comes to mind. OTOH North Texas U. is well known for the more "jazzy" influence.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3OG4VhPJRc

    I'd have these guys any day!
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 650
    We've had saxamophonists play with our choir on numerous occasions. Sounded O.K. Not as good a trombonists, but still O.K.
    Thanked by 2CCooze jefe
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 650
    BTW, a trombone is a liturgical instrument. The reason trombones aren't present in the symphonic literature until the 1800's was that it was deemed inappropriate to use the instrument for profane purposes.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    Instruments, properly used, can cover weaknesses in choirs. Hence, the famous serpent. I wouldn't mind having a few instruments some Sundays. They even play on pitch, which can be quite a novelty in some choirs, often in mine.

    I heard a sax quartet play at one event, and they were quite good. Here is a YouTube recording of the famous, "my green socks have holes in the toes," for the Bach fanciers - yes, I know you are out there. It's the why, I don't understand - LOL. A college prof provided those lyrics, which have stayed with me ever since.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLH47I9b0a0
  • Bring him in whenever you do the famous hymntune BAKER STREET.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    You will have to enlighten me on Baker Street. It isn't in any of my hymnals.
  • This is "Baker Street." Darn. I thought I'd made a good funny.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    I remember that! I haven't heard it in years. Never knew the name of it.
  • One would think that the apprehension of what was and was not fitting, indeed, what was even thinkable, in our liturgical tradition would be universal amongst all people of our culture. One would think that, with this understanding and a native respect, the thought of inserting the inappropriate music and instruments into it would occur only to someone who was simply trying (trying, that is) to be amusing. It has been obvious since the end of VII that such comprehension and respect was not had by a very large portion of our people. It has often been upturned with boorish and purposeful aggressiveness. This is sad. Guitars, saxophones, and such are not fitting, belong to the secular realms, conjure up the secular, and are not conducive to worship, in fact, are an annoying detraction from it.

    And now here comes an innocent lad who, sadly, is not privy to our traditional aesthetic, who wants to offer his saxophone in the sacred rites. What are we to do? If, knowing him, he would understand and not be alienated by being told (with respect) that his instrument really was not appropriate in church because of its inevitable secular associations, this would be the preferred route.

    On the other hand, I like Noel's approach. Let him play something adapted from the classical repertory with the organ as a voluntary before mass, at the offertory, or at the communions, but do not allow him or anyone to play along on hymns and other singing. One wouldn't want this to become habitual, nor allow the inevitable shift of mental focus to the saxophone and its native milieu rather than the text that was being sung. Too, one might gain a badly needed choir member. Handled with true charity and good will, plus demanding of the instrument some certain tasteful parameters it is conceivable that this lad's instrument could be baptised.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    I have heard guitars, and seen guitar scores for early Spanish masses. It isn't the instrument that is inappropriate so much as contemporary styles of playing that are not suitable. This seems also true of many other instruments. What instruments are deemed appropriate has varied within the liturgy by century and location.

    Let him play something adapted from the classical repertory with the organ as a voluntary before mass, at the offertory, or at the communions...


    Seems like good advice.
    Thanked by 3Salieri Liam CHGiffen
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,437
    If the saxophone is played well, in tune and without too much vibrato, it could be a worthy instrument; after all, we are all, I assume, familiar with the gorgeous soprano sax. solo in Ravel's arrangement of the "Old Castle" mov't of Pictures. Even as liturgical an instrument as the sackbut would be inappropriate for liturgical use if it was played by a Dixieland trombone player. (i.e. in that manner.)
  • thanks for all ur replies and I agree in part with them all. I really would appreciate anyone that has transposed hymns that wants to share with me. I hope to get him singing and maybe just help with intros
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 650
    Mama,

    I have transposed hymns before. I used to have a 'cheat sheet' for transposing parts from one instrument to another. Alto Sax is easiest. It works out to Bass Clef with 3 sharps added (or 3 flats subtracted.)
  • One wouldn't want this to become habitual, nor allow the inevitable shift of mental focus to the saxophone and its native milieu rather than the text that was being sung.


    It has been my experience that much clamor for the piano over the organ is the result of this: some people just want to hear the piano sound, and aren't interested in what is being sung.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    As a former saxophone playing teenager, I have to start by asking:
    Is he any good?

    Most sax players sound just really awful for YEARS after beginning.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035

    It has been my experience that much clamor for the piano over the organ is the result of this: some people just want to hear the piano sound, and aren't interested in what is being sung.


    I have encountered that! It goes, I didn't want to be here in the first place, had to listen to that crappy sermon, and am bored to death. You might as well have some music I like, since there is nothing else here I care about.
  • I find honing the skill of transposing by sight has been invaluable for playing in church. Concert to Bb is easy enough, Eb a little tougher but easy to learn quickly if you're already proficient at bass clef. The toughest time I've had on the clock was basset horn in F to basset clarinet in A for the Mozart Requiem but I sweated it out and it turned out nice.

    Saxophone I think sounds loveliest with the Sigurd Rascher school of sax sound using a classical mouthpiece, this is a very warm vocal approach to sax tone. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigurd_Raschèr#Saxophone_tone_and_the_saxophone_mouthpiece
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • This is something already out there, but I can't vouch for its liturgical suitability.

    Edit: I can, however, vouch for the liturgical unsuitability of using this (or any) recording.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,254
    see if he plays the clarinet... more suitable as a solo instrument for a prelude
  • I play clarinet!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,798
    I'm with Ben. If you are a music director for a Unitarian church, and the sax is part of a jazz quartet, then OK; but otherwise, no.
  • My first church job in college had a professional sax player who played soprano with the choir each week, and really did a good job to make it sound more like oboe—which, incidentally, his daughter played quite nicely.

    Of course, there were certain songs during which a banjo would be employed, so it might not be the best parish to look at... (Lord of Glory)

    Marc
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 150
    IMHO, Prelude and postlude, or on the occasional festive occasion with an orchestra (Of course, now that I think about it, I haven't seen saxes in a liturgical orchestra outside of the "Jazz missa brevises" or a really bad version of the Latona/Cima gloria.) I don't know how hard it would be to switch to a more classical instrument, but that would be my first suggestion.
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 313
    I agree with melofluent: 'The only saxophone, IMHO, that could, could participate with less discord would be the soprano.'

    We have had a (teenage) soprano sax player playing at Mass to good effect; sometimes playing hymn descants, sometimes doing a solo slot. But only occasionally.
    An alto sax that came along was more difficult to accommodate, and has now moved away from the area DG. Currently we have a very good oboist and violinist, but we use both sparingly and get them to sing at other times. They did a particularly beautiful rendering of the slow movement from Bach's violin and oboe concerto at the offertory once; our celebrant, usually a fan of modern stuff, was visibly moved.
    A sax quartet has a beautiful mellow sound (with the right performers) so maybe the thing to do is find three more players. My late father played baritone sax in one, and arranged some of Bach's fugues from the 48 for them; lovely.
  • I used a saxophone before as a late-in-game substitute for a flute that dropped out before Easter. At first I was quite hesitant about it, but at that point I had no other options and we needed something for a couple pieces to fill what would have otherwise been holes in these pieces/arrangements. She was an excellent high school player who also sang in the high school choir (we had a K-12 school with our parish, and the HS choir sang monthly at parish Masses), and her mother was actually my predecessor as music director of this parish - left me a pretty good foundation for a kid in his first job out of college, actually, and was a substitute trumpet player when I needed one to fill the brass quartet/quintet we had for major feasts. She played with great sensitivity to the needs of balancing with the choir, clear intonation and clarity (no squeaky notes!), and sheer confidence especially when playing solo passages. While it obviously meant I had to do transposition and rearranging to fit a different range of notes, and understanding this wasn't an ideal replacement for a flute, it's what I had available to me and we wound up making lemonade out of the lemons I was given. I actually brought her back to play with us and the brass quartet I had for Pentecost for something (I can't remember what it was except it wasn't anything "jazzy" or anything like that).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    I would prefer the sax quartet to a sixties Casavant, any day. ;-)
  • There is a 1950's recording of Casals conducting a Brandenburg with a soprano sax.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6sZT1KITJc
  • wish me luck,. I will hear him play today!!
    Thanked by 2CharlesW canadash
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 456
    What noisemakers are already there? If none, then as Noel suggested this is the camel getting his nose in the tent. You let the sax in, then you have to let those infernal djembe and rainsticks in. And then electric basses. And soon you have Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...except bad.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Reval
    Posts: 150
    Yes, if you already have some kind of instrumental group, then there might be a way to blend him in. Otherwise - - you're going to have, what, sax and organ (piano) and choir (solo voice)? That's just a weird combination, I think. Then what do you tell the kid who is learning harmonica, or electric guitar, harp, etc? It seems like you need to decide whether beginning instrumentalists need to have a place in your church choir.
    Thanked by 1irishtenor
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    It seems like you need to decide whether beginning instrumentalists need to have a place in your church choir.


    This.

    This is very important. Encouraging young musicians should be part of the work of a church musician. But how, specifically, one does it needs to be thought through very carefully.
  • instruments and styles of composition which have grown up to serve the profane (i.e., "outside the temple"), should be left outside the temple.


    For example, ones like this?

    https://www.youtube.com/embed/4R6xR9XY6MA


    Beginner musicians, of whatever age, have a place in every church.

    They have a place within the church's music programme. That place may or may not be within formal liturgy.

    Established musicians can choose whether to be welcoming and encouraging or not. Your dime which sort of behaviour is kingdom-building.
  • The only saxophone, IMHO, that could, could participate with less discord would be the soprano.


    I'm not a saxophonist, I'm a trumpet player, but I've composed plenty of music for the saxophone (having friends that were willing to play things I'd write). 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. The best instruments in the saxophone family are the alto and better yet, the tenor. As long as his music is in the staff, too, he shouldn't have many problems, plus the experience will do him well.

    In any case, the best use for a soprano saxophone is testing the effectiveness of the wood-chipper.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood Liam
  • jefe
    Posts: 174
    Oh no! Only a few instruments are deemed sacred and profane. The saxophone is only profane. If i HAD to use a saxophone, it would be the alto; and nothing in the bottom 5th of the instrument or above written high A; a #1 reed with a small lay on the mouthpiece. You don't need another too loud shrieking soprano with too much vibrato join your choir. What is the key issue? Saxes don't play well with others. Only a few ligit professional sax players have enough control to play and blend at least at or under the choir and with a straight tone; no vibrato. Only Marcel Mule and Leo Potts are in that category that I've heard. Which are the instruments that blend with voices? Trombones or sackbuts (I'll have to admit a life long bias here); horns, recorders, cornetti, strings (but not guitar, unless you have an extraordinarily serious classical player with actual technique, not just a 3-chord strummer), harp, double reeds. That's about it.
    I'm thinking a sop. sax would dent the chipping wheel and you would have to pay extra to have it re-surfaced. Not worth it. Now, what do you call 50 baritone saxophones at the bottom of the ocean?........a start.
    jefe (who used to play bass sax (in Bb) aka The Queen Mary for fun and profit. I used tongue depressors for reeds, and a Brilhardt star 10 mouthpiece. There is no way you could play less than mf)
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 150
    jefe - I thought that's what you called 100 synthesizers! (Or, in the spirit of my band director, double basses).
  • Jani
    Posts: 386
    I thought I'd made a good funny. That was not good. That was great!
    Disclaimer: I'm not a saxophonist, nor have I ever played one on TV. (Only in the living room.)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    What is the key issue? Saxes don't play well with others.


    This is the key issue.

    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? -- and that has (almost) as much to do with the player as the instrument.

    Saxes are damned hard to play quietly. In fact, they were specifically designed to be loud. Straight tone is also difficult.

    They also produce a lot of extraneous noise -- tongue slapping, air escape, pad thumping, squawks. The ability to control these things, and use them as desired, is probably a large part of the affinity between saxophones and jazz. The difficulty in controlling them is one of the reasons the instrument hasn't been wholly accepted into classical music.
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  • The difficulty in controlling them is one of the reasons the instrument hasn't been wholly accepted into classical music.


    I believe that wind ensemble directors and my colleagues in the saxophone studio from university would disagree with you about the instrument not being wholly accepted into classical music. It has its own repertoire and its own historical development, and IT'S NOT ALL JAZZ ("Il Vecchio Castello" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" is a perfect example). It didn't exist until the 1800s, so of course nothing before that time could have been written for it. It hasn't, however, been accepted into the symphony orchestra for some strange reason, which I understand to be that it doesn't blend well with strings (although all of the wind players in an orchestra are essentially soloists, anyway).

    I for one would like to see people stop knocking the instrument on this thread. The saxophone is not a bad instrument, and it is not the noise box that some have made it out to be. Adam is correct that the quality of performance depends on the person playing it. I don't know how many people have heard me play clarinet and say to me afterwards, "I didn't know a clarinet could sound so good!"

    For strict liturgical purposes, I don't see a place that a saxophone can occupy. This is not because of any inherent fault of the saxophone: it is because history and tradition have already filled those places with voice, pipe organ, and occasionally an orchestra. Being that the saxophone is the newest of the wind instruments, having only been invented in the last 200 years or so, it has the force of history against it.

    Here's my take: if I had a student ask to play for school Mass, I would not turn him down. Period. I would try to find a way that the student could take part in making music for God. It could mean that I arrange a hymn for saxophone and organ accompaniment and have him play it solo as a meditation during Communion, or at the Offertory, etc. If he was asking to play for Sunday Mass, I would probably say no, for the aforementioned reasons that there isn't a suitable place (which there really isn't for school Mass, either, but since it's for school, I'd try to accommodate if possible) other than the prelude (which if your experience is like mine, pastor goodvibrations won't let you do a prelude, even with the choir). NB: the other reason that school Mass would be a more appropriate venue is because it doesn't open the door for anyone who wants to come up and play a solo to do so: I have the control to make it so only the students from the school who are enrolled in the band, and have been approved by me would be allowed to play. You do that sort of thing at a Sunday Mass, and you have all the Bob Dylan wannabes, garage bands, and anyone else with a "talent" thinking it's open season. Not to mention you'd have to have approval from the pastor first, which depending on where you are, you very well might not get.

    The other problem with this: just like with the piano, you'll have a lot of people wanting to hear more of it simply because they like the sound of the instrument. (Not to mention the myriad of requests you'd get for "my grandson (or insert relative here) plays the kazoo (or insert instrument here), could he play next time?")

    Other options: our string program often plays before Mass, but never during. The prelude would probably be the best place for him.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Viola
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,035
    ClergetKubisz, a very reasoned and reasonable approach. Thanks!
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    It hasn't, however, been accepted into the symphony orchestra for some strange reason,


    This is precisely what I meant when I said it hasn't been wholly accepted into classical music. Not that NO ONE ANYWHERE accepts it.


    And the reason you mention:
    it doesn't blend well


    was pretty much also what I was saying.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz