Sax appeal


Isn’t it funny how the direction of life unexpectedly takes a turn, just at the time you are looking for new challenges, and in some aspects, returning to old ones?For me this started in December when I was offered not one, but two opportunities to return to itinerant music teaching for 2019. Naturally I jumped at the chance.

I’ve never really moved far from my musical roots, but for many years I was only involved on the fringes as I focused on my library career and really concentrated on building that through both study, professional involvement, and seeking opportunities to advance within the profession.

For reasons that I have covered in other blogs, things in this area changed for me over the past three years. Although I remain interested in libraries from a professional perspective, as I still work in the tertiary side of library education, I am no longer at the front line. This year there have been big changes in the tertiary sector as well, so I was on the lookout for something else work-wise to fill in a gap. And blow me down, along came two offers that drew me back into music.

So, two days a week I do the 100k commute to the city to teach budding young musicians how to play the clarinet and saxophone. And I have to say, it’s lovely to be back. Not all these students will become great musicians, but if they get even a fraction of the enjoyment that music has given me over the years, then job done, as far as I’m concerned.

The first couple of weeks were a little traumatic as I drew heavily on my memory to remember what to listen for, and even harder, how to actually get the beginner students started on their brand new instruments. I also took some rehearsals for some of the more experienced students and on the surface these kids sounded really good, and I wondered how I could possibly make them sound better. What could I add? I gave myself a mental slapping and then made my own ears do some work. From then on, things have gone really well, and the students are making good progress.

Things have changed since I last taught music. For a start, You Tube now exists, and with the swish of a finger you can bring up a raft of recordings of songs such as Desafinado for the students listen to by saxophonists from Stan Getz to the inimitable Kenny G – the only saxophonist I know of who stops to smile at his audience when he takes a breath. The kids know their way around these sites really well too, and they can download backing tracks at will. In schools most of their band music is read on iPads (I’m not sure if pencils are still even used now, or how).

I don’t kid myself that schools have been falling over themselves to have me work with them, and my own playing is not what anyone, even kindly, would call virtuoso. But I do understand big band and other ensemble playing, and where saxophones fit into this kind of music. I also know how to get beginner students off to a good start with good blowing and breathing.  I still have a bit to offer in this area.

Personally I owe an immense amount to music, so it is so nice to be back. Many of my lifelong friends have been made through bands I’ve played in, where you see each other several times a week, you socialise together, perform together, and often tour together as well. These people become like family, and over the years, as your lives diverge and then sometimes converge again, nothing has changed. These people are still your tribe.  

I recently attended a birthday party for an old friend, and as it was a milestone birthday, and one of the few he gets to spend in New Zealand, he drew in people from far back in his life. I had not seen some of these people for 40 years, and it was as if we had all been at a rehearsal together last week. It’s uncanny, and I don’t know of another profession or job that has this same feeling of family, although I know that they do exist, perhaps particularly in sport.

To be able to work with young people at the start of their musical journey is a real privilege. I am very lucky to be back, and I have good friends who helped me get there. Music draws you back in, and it’s as if I never stepped away.

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