Musician First, Saxophonist Second is a popular mindset amongst the smart-set.
“Pshaw!” I say.
My heart belongs to the saxophone.
Be honest—doesn’t yours?
Honouring Your Intuition
There is a reason you are not a tubist. Or a banjoist.
What was your first instrument? Surely it was the voice, widely considered the greatest instrument of all. Instinctive and natural, we are all born singers. What came next? Piano? Violin? Guitar? Did you muddle your way through the recorder and ukulele units in elementary school? And then—OH HAPPY DAY—in grade six or seven, the band teacher put a saxophone into your hands. With the release of your first note something deliciously visceral and intangible went, ‘Oh Baby! You are the one for me!’ All those other instruments, terrific as they are, were unable to spark the desire to take it to the next level.
Becoming a musician, with all the implied status that title carries, takes extensive training. Why commit yourself? We all need a trigger, a powerful spark to ignite the motivation to spend many hours and many years building our skills. If you are reading this, you probably experienced that sparkling affinity to the saxophone, and which provided the essential first step.
So. From a purely chronological standpoint, Saxophonist First, Musician Second seems fair. C’est logique, non?
But there’s more.
If you don’t put the saxophone first, you risk not developing and investing in the instrument’s full potential.
Becoming An Ambassador
No one takes up the saxophone in order to learn the Denisov Sonate. That privilege comes later. Those newbie thrills, your first Twinkle, Twinkle, your first Pink Panther, are simple stepping stones to something greater. Easily played on any instrument, they do not showcase the actual qualities of the saxophone.
Other people, and—worse news—often other musicians just don’t get the saxophone. Like a second-born rebellious child, le saxophone was introduced into the family of orchestral instruments only to be labelled the black sheep. Out-of-tune. Loud. Brassy. The saxophone’s inherent qualities have been mostly hidden from the listening public. Unless you search it out, you are unlikely to have experienced the full tonal palette of this misunderstood hybrid.
And just what can a saxophone do? It’s Yours to Discover: an extraordinary dynamic range; incredible flexibility of tone, pitch and timbre; the altissimo register; slap tongue; multiphonics. The possibilities for expression are rich.
Let’s play the easiest multiphonic in the book, Low C, minus finger 4. Love it? Hate it? Doesn’t matter. EMBRACE IT! A true saxophonist will learn to appreciate all possible sounds. These are our communication tools.
Student Confirms: “So you want me to invest in the saxophone’s full potential by learning to produce every possible sound.”
Pleased Teacher: “Yes. Absolutely. Then you’ll be playing with a full deck. No composition will be out of your reach and you will be able to improvise alongside the very best musicians.”
Pleased Teacher Becomes Passionate: “You will develop a feeling or instinct for what the saxophone does best. Craftily developing these assets, you will become a competent technician, and possibly, just possibly, a virtuoso, and then, maybe, an artist.”
Honest Student: “What if I’d rather just play The Pink Panther? If I perform that piece wearing a fedora, everyone will think I’m supér-cool.”
Philosophical Teacher: “I’m sure that’s true. No one has to peel back the layers of the onion if they don’t want to. Heck—who needs real onions? They make onion powder these days. Sprinkle, sprinkle. No cutting board required.”
Teacher Whips Her Head Around To Face Student: “Are you picking up what I’m throwing down?”
Confused Student: “Ahhh…something about onions?!?!”
Earnest Teacher: “Go ahead, play The Pink Panther. But don’t stop there. You chose the saxophone. Choose to honour your own intuition by mastering the instrument. Because to
Master the Instrument
And you just never know how amazing you might become.”
Grinning Student: “And only cook with real onions.”
Teacher Nods: “And a good knife.”