He was wearing jeans and a red shirt when we first met. I was a little nervous but he seemed friendly. After the usual pleasantries, my Mom, who had accompanied me into the Music Centre, left the building. We got set up in a Wenger practice cubicle and it began: My Very First Saxophone Lesson.
I took to him right away. Easy-going, kind, yet serious and specific. I studied with him for six powerful years. With his help I passed my Burlington Teen Tour Band audition. He prepared me for Royal Conservatory of Music exams. He recommended I attend McGill University to study music. Off I went.
He was terribly important to me. In the weeks before my final lesson I fretted over an appropriate gift. Nothing seemed right. I wanted it to be special and meaningful. By then we were both wearing Birkenstocks and gold rimmed glasses with circular frames. (It was the nineties.) Now our lessons took place in a church basement. It was a bit dank. My practical streak came to the fore. I bought him an aluminum thermos from IKEA. Awkwardly, I tried to explain my choice, suggesting that hot tea might be welcome with so much time spend in a cold basement. The unglamorous thermos was graciously accepted.
We got along well. He was, after all, a gifted conversationalist. I looked forward to my lesson each week. The talk wasn’t fun and frothy or sternly serious. He wasn’t a friend or a parent, but someone whose role fell between these common and well-understood relationships. He was interesting and shared his perspective unreservedly, encouraging me to test out his theories for my own advancement.
Sometimes I got THE LOOK. This was a sideways glance imbued with exasperation, but also expectation. Playing my Ferling étude for the second week in a row, THE LOOK would be delivered after I repeated a rhythmic error that had been previously corrected. Could he have made it anymore clear? The rhythm had been circled and the counts were written underneath the notes in pencil. All this to say: Fix it. Don’t let it happen again. And yet, it did. And so I got THE LOOK. This memory was buried deep in my mind until many years later I startled myself by giving THE LOOK to one of my own students. The act was spontaneous but I placed it instantly, remembering well the times when I was on the other side.
I still have a ligature he adapted for me. He cut a small slit through the metal after lining the inside with a soft leather-like material. Always the scientist, always the free-thinker, he was clever at finding his own solutions. He valued and enjoyed experimenting, discovering ways to refine his two overarching goals: Ease of Response and a Warm Tone Quality.
We kept in touch during my studies. These were the early days of email. I liked sharing my news and I waited with pleasant anticipation for the replies. His opinion mattered to me. It still does. The email dialogue continues to this day. He’s now a trusted colleague and friend.
It’s been almost thirty years since I took my first saxophone lesson. Tremendously lucky and richly blessed is how I feel now, having had, at the tender age of twelve, a most excellent teacher. On this World Teachers’ Day, October 5, 2018, I would like to formally thank my first saxophone teacher, Willem Moolenbeek.