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June 2011 saxophone ensemble workshop report

(June 28, 2011)

On Saturday 25th June 2011 7 alto saxophonists gathered at my home (the dining table had been ceremoniously dumped in the garage for the day!) to commence a two hour ensemble workshop.

Some had only been playing for around 6 - 12 months so understandably there were some slightly nervous faces initially. These soon started to vanish as we set up, laughed at the pleasures (and perils!) of saxophone playing, and got to know each other a little. Many had briefly met at our previous student concert and it was lovely to hear students congratulating each other on their performances there.

After tuning up we built up a lovely Dm 13 chord to experience the full sound that we were potentially about to create.......it was at that point that the cat had a mini heart attack and slunk to the back bedroom!

Five pieces had been sent / emailed to students 2-3 weeks prior to the event and each player had the 'tune'/lead line in at least one. Our 'programme' included an arrangement of Pink Panther, Star wars, plus three from the ABRSM popular Music medals series. Participants soon learned that they all had to think as one, grasp the pulse firmly by the hand and hold on for the duration of the ride! It was universally agreed that the pieces with more notes than rests were definitely the easier ones.....trouble often occured with the miscounting / omission of rests! However through concentrating (and a sea of furrowed brows!) things soon began to take shape nicely as we worked our way through our repertoire.

Additional points covered were; playing in a sitting position (a first for some) and conducting a note off for the leader (on which there was a mass clearing of stands......i'm not sure quite how large the players expected the leaders 'circle' to be, AND she was duly warned to please knock her teeth out!) Success! Articulation was revisited, accents discussed and pinged round the semi-circle in a handbell-like fashion.

After a well deserved tea break we performed a concert (to ourselves) of the five pieces before saying our goodbyes and congratulating each other on surviving to the end.

Feedback was instantaneous ; 'Fabulous!' 'Great fun!' 'What a sound' were heard so plans of course for repeat events next year will be in motion soon with the possibility to opening the event up to local amateurs (not just my own students) and in a larger venue. Meanwhile watch the events page for details of a Clarinet workshop later this year, news on our possible formation of a student saxophone quartet (to meet once a month or so) and details of a possible new series of occasional concerts featuring myself and fellow composer / pianist / musician Chris Lawry.

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