Back From the Dead

No, I did not die and return from the Great Beyond. Not yet. What I’m referring to is my recent endeavor to revive the art/hobby/skill of playing the saxophone after a 20+ year layoff. I plan to post on this topic for the next several Fridays, and I hope others who may be contemplating a similar revival of their own musical skills find it useful.

First, a little background. I’m guessing many readers have a similar story. [What's yours? If you have or are currently attempting something similar, please comment, or even better plug your own blog where you talk about it.]

I started playing alto sax at elementary school at age 9, and switched to tenor as soon as I was big enough to pick one up. The church our family attended owned a tenor sax that I could use, and somewhere around age 11, I was playing in the church orchestra. In high school I took jazz lessons for two years and played both tenor and baritone. After high school, I tooled around with some friends and we made noises about starting a band and even made some tapes, but never got serious about recruiting a good drummer to do gigs. We just played informally at parties for friends. Eventually, real life sent us our own ways. After age 21, playing time tailed off significantly and was essentially nonexistent by the time I went to college at age 23. Every five years or so, I’d get out the old tenor [a very decent Vito my dad bought when I started high school - still in excellent condition today] and sounded a little worse than I did the last time, but never managed to get playing back into the routine.

Eventually I came to regard that chapter of my life as closed. I considered sax-playing a dead hobby. Until…

About three years ago, I began to get the urge to play again. As I considered what possible applicability it might have other than just playing for personal enjoyment, I thought playing in a church band the most likely use.  Now the kind of churches I would be likely to attend these days play rock-based contemporary Christian music. So I thought the tenor, especially the bluesy tenor I played, would not fit in very well except perhaps in spots, but a soprano might. So a few months later, I bought a Yanagisawa S-991.

At this stage of life, money is easier to come by than time. Owning a new sax, even a high-end pro model, did not do any good if I couldn’t find time to play it. It wasn’t until this year that I began to get serious about practicing regularly. The situation became even more aggravated when my wife, who plays flute in the church band, began to tell people that her husband plays the sax. Turns out the bandleader really wants a sax in his band, so now the heat is on. I have to be ready for an audition soon, or out of consideration, tell this person that he needs to look elsewhere.

Besides the level of work expected in recovering an old skill, I’ve run into a few more challenges in this enterprise -

  • the physical effects of age on playing;
  • playing a different style of music;
  • playing a different saxophone (soprano);
  • a very different mission in playing.

I will elaborate in weeks to come.


3 Responses to “Back From the Dead”

  1. Norm says:

    Please don’t even suggest that I revive my musical talents.

    I won’t even tell you what I played. Scratch that “Practiced with”

    There is already too much sadness in our world.

  2. admin says:

    It’s always ugly at first, Norm. But it gets better with practice, though not quickly.

  3. Norm says:

    Ugly at first. Ugly Forever. No musical instrument should ever be touched by, A, my hands, or B, my lips.


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