The Tenor Saxophone: The “Goldy Lox” Saxophone

In this post I’m going to do something to the tenor saxophone, something that I don’t think has ever been done before. I’m going to take the entire saxophone family, from sopranino to contrabass, and explore why the tenor saxophone is the Goldy Lox” of the saxophone family.

In one of my very first posts on this blog, I wrote about the size of the saxophone family, and about how it goes all the way from sopranino to contrabass. If we take the entire family, we have two extremes, sopranino and contrabass. Less extreme are soprano and bass. Less extreme still are alto and baritone. That leaves one member left: tenor. The tenor saxophone has some interesting musical properties which make it a “Goldy Lox” saxophone. Because it’s located in the center of the family, it can play notes that all other saxophones can play: it’s neither too high or too low, it’s neither too small or too big, and it requires neither an extreme amount of air pressure or volume. It’s just right.

Credit for my knowlege of the saxophone family goes to composer Brett Newton. Feel free to find him at http://www.bandestration.com.

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Why Blind Musicians Should Know The Print Musical Staff

Some blind musicians know the musical staff? What? Yes, and I, Chad Erickson, yours Truly, am one of them. In this post I’d like to explore why knowing the print staff is important for blind musicians and music students. Here again I’ll use past musical experiences as the basis for an argument.

In November of 2014 I went to Baltimore from Florida to participate in a science event with the National Federation of The Blind, aka NFB. While there I met a young blind oboist from Kansas whom I had met a year earlier, also with NFB. While we were in the car driving from the airport I told this oboist about my knowledge of the oboe’s range. I mentioned the lowest note in the oboe’s range as “the B-flat below middle C.” Apparently that reference to middle C caused a bit of confusion in this blind musician’s mind, which I must have sensed because I asked, “What, so you don’t know the print staff? Nobody’s taught it to you?” Apparently not, and that’s musically dangerous. If a blind musician expects to have normal conversations about written music and musical instruments with sighted musical peers, they must know the staff.

Braille music, the main source of written music for the blind, is not written in the form of staves, but rather it is just written like text, with all the notes and related symbols next to each other. Piano and other grand staff instruments have music which is rendered in Braille with two lines, the top line for the right hand and the bottom for the left hand, but like single-staff music, such as for oboe or saxophone it is written like text. Also, Braille music treats pitches in octaves rather than positions on a staff. For example, Braille music’s first octave C is the lowest C on the piano, with print Middle C being Braille’s fourth octave C, treble-staff third space C being Braille’s fifth octave C, bass staff’s second-space C being Braille’s third octave C, and so on.

So how to teach the print staff to the blind? Here are some helpful hints:

Find a representation of the print staff that they can feel. If you can’t find one ready-made, you can create one using wax-coated string, known in the blind education fields as “Wiki Sticks.” Another approach you can take is to get print staves that work like refrigerator magnets; with those you can also teach blind music students what print notes look like.

The bottom line is this: don’t think that just because a student is blind they don’t need to know the musical staff with five lines and four spaces. They do need to know it, and they and all their sighted musician friends will thank you for it for the rest of their musical careers.

My Musical History With Harps

In one of my previous Posts I wrote a list of Every musical instrument I’ve played, and in that list, in between percussion and violin I wrote “Harp”. Some readers may have read that list and wondered about my history with harps. Well, here iT is.

In the mid-2000s, as a little boy growing up here in Rutland, before my mother and I even considered moving to Florida, I was attending the wedding of one of my mother’s college Friends. At the wedding there were two musicians, one who played violin and another who played harp. I found myself drawn to both, but in particular to the harp. I stood in front of the harp and plucked its strings from Lowest to highest: the instrument was tuned in G major, with its lowest note being B1, not the lowest B on the piano but the one above it. The harp’s range extended up from that B for about four and a half octaves. The highest strings were not tuned, they were just loosely attached to the instrument. That was my first encounter with a harp, and I would not encounter another one until October of 2016 while a music education major at Castleton University.

During my last semester at Castleton, August-December 2016, I played bass clarinet in the wind ensemble. On the second or third day of class I overheard my fellow bass clarinetist tell the contrabass clarinetist that he was a harpist for 35 years. I got excited and asked him if he could bring in a harp, if he had one, so I could feel and explore it. Sure enough, in October 2016 I got the opportunity I’d been seeking for months: I was able to play the harp, although my interest in the harp made me late to a meeting with my conducting professor. Ever since that 2016 harp encounter I have been able to keep my harp interest high by listening to the harpist Josh Layne on YouTube.

And in October 2018, in one of my classes at CCV, I asked one of my classmates if she knows anyone who plays harp. I got lucky because she said yes. This classmate in question went to a private school down in Manchester, Vermont, a school with many more musical resources than public schools in the area. One of the students that this classmate of mine knows at the school plays harp. I am still working on securing an opportunity to meet this young female harpist, and I will keep this post updated with the latest news on that.

But in the meantime, I have already started to think about what sorts of arrangements I would write for us to play together. I’ve also been thinking about how I would learn harp technique from her: the method I’ve been contemplating is a sort of hand-over-hand, where my hands would be over her hands, feeling her hand and finger motions and positions. There is so much I could learn from her, and because of that I won’t just meet this harpist and walk away. No. Harpists are too musically valuable for that. Instead, I’d like to get to know her, to such a high degree that we could become part of each other’s musical careers.

The Pipe Organ: The Largest (And Loneliest) Instrument Of All

Quite some time ago I read an article on Classic FM about the harp. The harpist who wrote the article commented on how the harp is “a lonely instrument.” But there’s one other instrument that’s even lonelier than the harp. They’re common in churches, they have existed in one form or another since the third century BCE, and J.S. Bach wrote a lot of music for them. Oh, and they’re the largest single musical instruments ever built. Figured it out yet? They’re pipe organs.

My first encounter with a pipe organ, or rather the sound of one, happened very early on in my musical career. The organ in question is the same one that I mentioned in my post about musical oversight in churches. Even though I had an early aural encounter with pipe organs, it wasn’t until March of 2016 when I finally got an opportunity to sit down at a pipe organ and play it. Ever since then I’ve played at least 4 other pipe organs here in the Rutland area. Andd ever since then I have also done a bit of research on pipe organs, which, along with my playing experience, is how I came to the conclusion that it’s the loneliest instrument in existence in the Western musical tradition. No other single acoustic instrument is as large, complex, and capable of producing as big of a sound as a pipe organ. And according to organ professor James Cook, there are quite a few figures in the organ world who have no connections to the rest of classical music. All these factors combine to make the organ the loneliest instrument around.

Prof. James Cook’s organ Web site can be found at faculty.bsc.edu/jhcook

My Grandmother: The definition of Musical Constance In A Changing Musical Environment

In one of my previous posts I mentioned briefly how my maternal grandmother was the most important person to shape my musically conservative attitudes. Well, to follow that up, here is a short biography about her, written by one of her grandsons, me.

My grandmother was born Constance Corrine Dailey on February 12, 1935, in Bridgewater, Vermont, the eldest child of Milton John Dailey (1894-1950) and Stella Dailey née Kent (1904-1999). From the earliest years of her life, she was steeped in the musical traditions which had established themselves in rural Vermont during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including many musical influences of European folk music brought over by immigrants. In July of 1937 her parents gave birth to a second daughter, Rosita. Both girls were brought up in the musical environments of their mother, with guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin and piano.

Although jazz music had already established itself as a musical genre in 1930s America, it had not yet reached the most rural parts of the country, including Vermont: Vermont and other rural areas wouldn’t catch up in their musical trends until the late 1940s and early 1950s, which gave folk music a few more decades to survive.

In 1951, at the age of 16, my grandmother got the accordion which would remain with her for the next 61 years and which would go on to play such a pivotal role in my earliest musical training. That accordion, which is now in my possession and has been since 2012, is in need of a minor restoration. Another instrument of hers which is now in my possession is a steel-string guitar that she had bought for her second husband back in 1980. Unfortunately, about a month or so after receiving the instrument, he passed away. I discovered that guitar in its case underneath a pile of other items sometime in 2010 when I was visiting from Florida. I came out of the back bedroom and told the rest of the household what I had found, and everyone said, “Get out of it, you don’t need to get into it,” or something like that. Two years later, for Christmas of 2012, I received that very same guitar. It, too, is in need of a restoration.

In 1958, about seven years after receiving the accordion and two years after graduating from nursing school, my grandmother gave birth to a son, my uncle Shaun Michael Erickson. Despite is month or so of trumpet lessons, my uncle Shaun did nothing to carry on the musical legacy of the past. And neither did his younger brother Milton (1960-2008), my mother Connie Sue (1962), or my uncle Eric )1966-2017). As time went on, progressing through the 1970s, 1980s and eventually the 1990s, it became increasingly clear to my grandmother that none of her children and grandchildren were interested in her musical wisdom. That was, until I was born in June 1997. As the century drew to a close in 1999 and 2000, my grandmother started using me and my fascination with music as a medium through which her musical upbringing could be experienced long into the future, and hopefully for my future family. Long live my grandmother’s musical conservatism through me, that’s for sure.

Being A Multi-Instrumentalist: Some Prose and Cons

In this post I thought I might explore some prose and cons of being a multi-instrumentalist.

Imagine being interested in one instrument, and then, during a music-related conversation with someone, your musical interests completely change. This has been a theme of my musical career for the past eight or nine years now. This week, my main musical instrument interest is harp, but in a few weeks time it may change, maybe more than once. In this post, I would like to explore other aspects of multi-instrumentalism.

Prose: musical flexibility within ensembles, large musical instrument collection, potentially better compositions than composers who only play one, ability to teach the basics in many instruments

Cons: rapid changes in musical instrument interests

Being a multi-instrumentalist has been a fun and rewarding musical experience, and it has certianly enriched my musical career.

How I Became Musically Conservative, And How you Can Become Musically Conservative Too

A few months ago I wrote an article on this blog entitled, “What It Means To Be Musically Conservative.” As a sort of follow-up to that post, I thought I should explore the process by which I became musically conservative, plus a guide to how to foster the musical conservatism of the next generation. Here’s how to become musically conservative.

1. Start by playing orchestral and classical music to an unborn child.

2. Once the child is born, and as the child grows, continue to play exclusively classical music, with a bit of folk music interspersed here and there. Tune your radios to classical music radio stations both in the house and in the car. Some TV stations devote themselves exclusively to classical music, so have you children listen to that whenever possible.

3. Expose the child to pre-1950s musical instruments, including those used in the orchestra. In my case, it was the piano and accordion.

4. DO NOT play popular music anywhere around the house except through headphones. This will protect your child from what musical conservatives view as the musical inferiority of pop music.

If you follow these steps, you will (hopefully) turn your children into the most musically conservative people of their generation.