woensdag 7 december 2016

I left the Amstel Quartet. What's next?

I just gave my first concert after leaving my quartet. I felt liberated. Not because my quartet held me as a prisoner, but because I gave up something I worked on for twenty years. Sometimes life is about letting go. I let the quartet go. Although it is one of the best ensembles I know., I had to let go and search for new ways and inspirations. We made eight cd's, traveled everywhere and shared everything.
Now the time has come to enter the next phase.
The next phase is about letting go. Not only of the quartet. But of things that I always thought were important. I played quartet every week. At least every Wednesday we had a rehearsal. In the weekends we had concerts. Everywhere, Siberia, Japan, China, The US, Canada, Germany, the UK, etc. It was something steady in my life. For twenty years....!
Tonight I played more freely than I have ever played. Maybe not the best. But with a free spirit. It felt good.
I'll see what happens next. I have some plans. But I want to let them ripen. Think, meditate and just do.

dinsdag 29 november 2016

I am leaving the Amstel Quartet

Dear Amstel Quartet fans,
I have some sad news to share with you:

I am leaving the Amstel Quartet.

As most of you will know, I have gone through a very difficult period. I was seriously ill and I am still recovering from a very heavy chemotherapy. 

During the past year I have doubted pretty much everything. I am a searcher and a doubter, always trying to change things for the better in my life. Last year I wasn’t even sure if I could continue playing the saxophone. 

In the last couple of months I slowly entered working life again, which hasn't always been easy. Despite the fact that this period was very tough on me, my family and my colleagues, it has had some good effects as well. I have come to realise that my focus should be on the things that are most important to me. In the first place, these are my family, my girlfriend and my kids.
But this shift also applies to the artistic field. The Amstel Quartet has been a pillar in my life for twenty years. Whatever I did, there was always the quartet to put my feet back on the ground. Our group has always tried to attain the highest level of musical quality, constantly discussing interpretation and repertoire. At the same time, we have shared many personal things. In that sense, you could say it was like being in a marriage. 

Now I am forty years old. Not old, but not young either. I foresee that I will have the energy to go on whatever road I need and want to take. In order to be able to think about my life and music, however, I need more space, in my head and in my agenda. 

I am currently discovering new music, playing with other cats and I am trying not to wear myself out in the process.

There is still a lot of repertoire to be discovered, so many stages to conquer, but I have chosen not to do this with the Amstel Quartet. I need to take it easier and focus on my own music. Whatever it will turn out to be. 

Harry Cherrin will be taking my place as of January 2017. On December 2nd, The Amsterdam Concertgebouw will host my last concert with the Amstel Quartet, the group of friends that I co-founded twenty years ago. We toured the world and shared everything. 
Now, time has come for me to move on to unknown territories. Thanks a lot for supporting us, coming to our concerts and listening to our CDs.

I am confident that the Amstel Quartet will remain successful and that they will reach a new level of musicianship with Harry.

I had a blast.


zaterdag 19 november 2016

Bach and Coltrane: a clash of conditions

Since my chemo I have been listening to a lot of music again. I hadn't listened to music intensively for a couple of years. During the chemo I (re-)discovered the music of Coltrane, also as a player, Jürg Frey, Charlie Haden/Hank Jones, Philip Glass, Paul Simon, John Dowland and as always Johann Sebastian Bach. 

I am going through a strange time. Still. My body is slowly recuperating. And my mind seems to be tired quicker, but also more focused. Things seem to be more clear. 

The last two months I have read about and listened to a lot of Coltrane. I tend to get obsessed sometimes. This obsession can be anything, 'Breaking Bad', current events or an artist. In this case It was John Coltrane. 

Coltrane has had several periods. And I seem to be most interested in the period after 'Giant Steps', first to modal-like music, then more free, even going to the most avant-garde free-jazz. I even play ‘Trane’’s ‘Transition’ with my buddy Rembrandt Frerichs. This is also the period that I am most attracted to as a listener. I listened to his music for a couple of weeks straight. I couldn’t listen to other music. Every other jazz player seemed to be self-indulging compared to Coltrane.

I haven’t written a blog in some time now. No inspiration. But today I turned on Spotify and decided to go for Bach’s Sonatas for Viola da Gamba by Patxi Montero and Daniele Boccaccio. I didn’t know these artists. Montero’s styles is without compromise. No vibrato whatsoever. But the music hit me. The music of Coltrane is genius. But it made me unrestful lately. I kept listening to Coltrane, but it didn’t reach me as much as before. Bach did. After a couple of notes I noticed that I calmed down and that I could listen to the music without pushing myself to do so.

I have always had a relation with Bach. Even after my chemo I keep coming back to his music periodically. His music seems to be a sort of bench mark. All other music comes from his music. Like Coltrane, Bach seemed to in direct contact with some kind of higher force that put the music in his fingers. I am an atheist, but this notion is a really nice metaphor.

Although I am a classically trained musician, labels seem to have less and less meaning to me. I have always listened to a lot of jazz music. But in an early stage I decided to specialize in the classical idiom. In the final stage of my studies I decided to study with cellist Anner Bylsma. He set me free as a player. He showed my that music could also speak, instead of only sing. He wanted me to play with a broken reed to focus less on sound and more on pronunciation. As a saxophonist there is a danger that we focus so much on sound and playing ‘lines’, in stead of delivering the message.

To play Bach on saxophone is one of the most dangerous things you can do. There’s so much critique to be given. A couple of years ago the organizers of a saxophone festival at my school in Tilburg even decided to not put my rendition of the first Cello Suite by Bach on a collection album of the festival. The recording did not meet their expectations. Listening back to it I do understand what they mean. Some things go wrong, and the acoustics do not help at all. But it was how I played it. Focussing on agogic and pronunciation. Listening back to the whole CD, I realized that the reason for putting the other performances (which also have a definite live feeling to them as well) on it, is that the music is so much less personal. In Bach we can all recognize something. It is music that goes ‘Straight to the Heart’. If things are not like we expect them, it hits us personally. Besides, the general consensus about playing Bach a wind instruments is to play ‘beautiful’, my performance was definitely not an esthetic one.

That is the same reason Branford Marsalis got so much critique when he played and recorded  ‘A Love Supreme’. Probably Coltrane’s most important album. A tribute to God and Love. Coltrane hit so many people with this album, and he still does. When Marsalis played this album it initially felt like blasphemy.

In my most recent project with Rembrandt Frerichs I decided to combine those two artists in one program and go beyond all (self-imposed?) taboos.

zaterdag 15 oktober 2016

Een geweldig benefiet concert in het Muziekgebouw!

Ties Mellema uitgedaagd door ziekte van Hodgkin

Benefietconcert in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ met Akwasi, Remy van Kesteren, Ernst Daniël Smid en vele anderen

21/9/2016 | In de zomer van 2015 werd bij saxofonist Ties Mellema de ziekte van Hodgkin geconstateerd, een zeldzame vorm van lymfeklierkanker. De periode die volgde stond in het teken van chemotherapie. Een zeer zware tijd die hem echter ook inzichten heeft gegeven die zijn leven ingrijpend hebben veranderd. Sinds het begin van dit jaar, nadat een CT-scan uitwees dat alles ‘schoon’ was, werkt Ties aan zijn herstel en comeback. Zondag 30 oktober 2016 organiseert hij Hard Reset, een benefietconcert in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam. Een scala aan artiesten treedt op, waaronder rapper Akwasi, Remy van Kesteren, Rembrandt Frerichs en Ernst Daniël Smid. “Ik heb musici gevraagd die belangrijk voor me zijn geweest tijdens de ziekteperiode”, vertelt de saxofonist. “Het wordt een avond met perspectief, we kijken vooruit en richten ons op de toekomst. Ik wil muziek presenteren die past bij de nieuwe Ties Mellema.”

Tijdens de chemokuur is Ties door een hel gegaan maar hij is altijd blijven spelen. Zo’n acht uur per week. “Hierdoor voelde ik of ik motoriek verloor en kon zo nodig de dosering van medicijnen worden aangepast. Ik studeerde vooral het saxofoonconcert van Denisov, een moeilijk avantgardistisch stuk dat ik vijf weken na de chemo moest spelen in Amsterdam. Een Nederlandse première. Het werd één van de beste concerten uit m’n carrière. Hoe kon dat onder deze omstandigheden? Ik was verbaasd en heb er lang over nagedacht. Doordat ik vorig jaar tijdens de chemotherapie zo uitgeput was, had ik geen energie om me zorgen te maken over m’n carrière, over deadlines en over randzaken. Ik was relaxed en kon me optimaal focussen op het stuk van Denisov.


“Veel vrienden hebben me er doorheen geholpen. Zo heeft Remy van Kesteren vaak met me gewandeld en af en toe een pannetje eten gebracht. Hij was er altijd voor me, terwijl hij op dat moment een plaat aan het opnemen was voor Deutsche Grammophon. Remy is een voorbeeld voor me. Hij heeft z’n hart gevolgd en is richting popmuziek gegaan. Ik vind het knap dat hij het durft.” Zelf kwam Ties er vorig jaar achter dat zijn passie vooral ligt bij minimal music, hedendaags klassieke muziek en jazz. Daar krijgt hij energie van. “Voorheen speelde ik ook bijvoorbeeld de tweede klarinetsonate van Brahms. Een mooi stuk en het zal heus nog wel eens langskomen, maar het kost me veel meer moeite, het is niet mijn muziek. Het geeft niet de energie die ik nodig heb. Dat is mijn graadmeter. Ook hoef ik niet meer te bewijzen dat de sax bestaansrecht heeft als klassiek instrument.”


Ties heeft de ziekteperiode nodig gehad om tot die inzichten te komen. “Het klinkt raar, maar eigenlijk heeft de kanker mij de kans gegeven om mezelf en mijn passies terug te vinden, nieuwe wegen in te slaan en andere mensen te leren kennen.” Voorheen liet hij zich veel meer leiden door wat hem overkwam, nu maakt hij bewuste keuzes. “Zo ben ik in gesprek met Akwasi over een mogelijke samenwerking. Zoiets zou vijf jaar geleden niet in mijn hoofd zijn opgekomen. We praten veel en inspireren elkaar. Ik ben gegrepen door zijn geweldige teksten en zou graag iets met hem samendoen.


De opbrengst van het benefietconcert is bestemd voor Micro-RNA onderzoek van het VU medisch centrum. Ties Mellema: “Dankzij dit onderzoek kunnen Hodgkin-patiënten steeds beter chemotherapie op maat krijgen, waardoor de kans op genezing groter is en er minder schade wordt toegebracht aan het lichaam. Ik heb geluk gehad dat de chemotherapie aansloeg en ik gun dat ook alle andere patiënten. Daarom organiseer ik deze avond.” Josée Zijlstra, internist-hematoloog aan het VUmc, zal kort iets over het onderzoek vertellen.


Het komend seizoen staan er een Philip Glass-project met het Amstel Quartet, een theatertour met Ernst Daniël Smid en The Four Baritones en een tournee met Rembrandt Frerichs op het programma.

Hard Reset - De kracht van muziek  | Benefietconcert met Ties Mellema, Akwasi, Remy van Kesteren & band, The Four Baritones, Amstel Quartet, DJ Kypski, Rembrandt Frerichs, Ernst Daniël Smid en het Sax-ensemble van het Fontys Conservatorium. Regieadvies Jos van Kan.


Zo 30 oktober 2016 | 20.15 uur

Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam

Tickets & Info www.muziekgebouw.nl

dinsdag 27 september 2016

John Coltrane

Last Friday I went to Splendor Concerthall with somewhat mixed feelings. Last year I needed music that stimulated me to keep playing, because one of the medicine I took could harm my nerves and thus damage the motorics in my fingers. I found the music of John Coltrane. Back then I thought it was a good idea to try this out on a stage. And so we did, Rembrandt Frerichs, Vincent Planjer, Jos Machtel and me. Not only risking the harsh criticism of our own artistic hearts, but also that of colleagues and jazz lovers. Playing the notes of John Coltrane is not jazz... In the end we didn't and don't care. My mixed feelings were gone at the end of the concert. Everything came together. Music is music, and the music of John Coltrane is divine, magnificent.... And needs to be heard on a stage. We are the only ones who are doing this, and we will continue.

Listen here why:


Quite proud of this.


zondag 14 augustus 2016

My lessons with Arno Bornkamp

I studied with Arno Bornkamp. To this day I think he is one of the best saxophonists out there. He is always spot on. So much drive and passion. He keeps going with more youthful enthusiasm than many 20 year olds. 

These are five things I learned from him:

1) Play sustained.
Arno most important lesson is to always connect the notes. To always let the air be the basis of your phrases and to not let the fingers determine the direction of the phrase. 

2) Always play a tune. 
Arno taught me always find a tune in everything I play. Even in the most avant-garde pieces. I always needed to play towards a certain note, even is there was no tonality to help me point out the obvious.

3) Play in tune.
Always take care of intonation. And correct with embouchure, but if it's too much, correct with fingering. There are saxophonists who are against this way of correcting and say you should correct only with embouchure. Arno taught me to use every means necessary to play in tune.

4) Eliminate technical problems.
To be truly free one should eliminate technical problems. Firstly by studying exudes and scales. The first year in the conservatoryI almost only studied technique to take away as many technical barriers as possible. The technique that is left one can solve by finding musical solutions to technical problems.

5) Colours
Arno taught me to look for colours, by using vibrato and changing the sound by using the cavities in the throat and chest. He also taught me that my basic saxophone sound is not that important. What is most important is what I do with it.

zaterdag 30 juli 2016

Intonation, how?

Dear saxophone lover,

I have been trying out some tenor saxes today. I was looking for a new one. I say 'was', because I concluded I gave priority to intonation over sound. I tried two mark VII's, an early Mark VI, my own Series II and a Reference.

The Mark VI was incredible. The intonation was absolutely perfect. I could hardly believe it. The octave between B and B with octave key was right in the middle. Perfect. And the sound was so warm, powerful and above all, flexible. I tried all of the saxes with a C* (classical music) and a Robusto by 10Mfan. The intonation reacted the same on the two mouthpieces, which I didn't expect. On the Robusto the sound was warm, soulful and flexible. On the C* the sound was slender, varied and dynamic.
The Mark VI is an early one, and has a mature price tag. But this horn is not for me. I cannot deal with perfect intonation. If the middle b is the standard, then the high one should be a bit too high so I can drop the intonation when I press the octave key. This way I can give more body to the high notes. This is not possible on this Mark VI. Because the high notes are perfect. Jazz players tune their saxes too high and always drop the intonation on all notes, on some notes a bit more than others.

The Mark VII were terrific as well. Also with a very soulful and warm sound. With a much bigger sonority than the VI. Especially for classical music this sonority works extremely well. This may be why so many classical saxophonists play VII's, like Arno Bornkamp (Aurelia Saxophone Quartet) and Bas Apswoude (Amstel Quartet). The VII can sing like no other. But the intonation on both VII was way out there. Between the middle B and B with octave key there was a difference of almost 25 cents, a quarter tone. The saxophone shop (Saxomania) told me that this typical for VII's. Probably students can study and learn how to play on a horn like this. But I have learned to play tenor on a Series II, with the ideal intonation. The difference between the two B's is a little less than10 cents. Enough to drop the intonation with octave key and give a bit more body to the sound. Especially when playing the C* the sound has something warm and deep. Although it definitely lacks 'soul', whatever it may mean.
Because jazz music speaks more an it sings, it's a bit more problematic. The Mark VI was the best for jazz music, because the sound is more slender and more sensitive to colour differences.

The Reference was nice. But it did not give me a 'click'. This sax lacked 'soul', the sound seemed superficial. It's hard to explain, but it just didn't challenge me...

In the end I chose my own sax from the five in total. Although three of the five sounded much better than the sax I play, I could not justify a change of sax because of the intonation. And thus also because of the effect of intonation on the sound.

vrijdag 1 juli 2016

My mind seems empty

While I am coming to 'normal' life I am encountering some issues that were normal before the chemo, but now are something I want to avoid:

-Cnstant nervousness and stress.
I am a person that always wants to do something. I always want to go into a certain way. But I now notice that the stress that comes with this is too uncomfortable. My priority should now be to get better and see how far I can get without the fatigue. The fatigue is a big thing in my life at the moment. And that's one way to turn around all of this: I now realize that I have boundaries and limited energy. I can use this to find the boundaries in my mind. What do I really want to do, where do I really want to go?

-Little room in my mind to fool around. 
I have noticed that when I am busy my mind clears itself. Which sometimes comes in handy, but it also stops being creative, it stops fooling around. It stops to dream. I don't want to run after things in my life anymore and feel I am behind I want to determine my own agenda and do my own things. Like write a few notes every day, make one photograph, make s short walk, write a short blog (you're reading it now!), etcetera. 

vrijdag 24 juni 2016

Positive energy

To keep going nowadays I need two things:

-I need to do and witness things that give me energy. 
-I need positive energy around me. 

One positive thing I got from this past year of illness is that I immediately know if something give me energy or not. Probably I also had this before, but now my body reacts more direct. I get tired from things that do not give me energy. 
There's a lot of music that drains energy from me. Music that perhaps in the past I thought I needed to listen to. But I can't anymore. 

But I also need positive energy from the people around me. And I need people to react positively to my energy. Maybe this is what people call a 'click'?

To have an initiative responded with only 'but' is destructive. I notice I always try to respond positively to every energy that comes my way. I can't in every case of course. But I try. Because it is always easier to shut up. By action and initiative you make yourself vulnerable. But it's the only way to build something. 

I was listening to this while writing: https://open.spotify.com/track/3Qk6NKukIPlR4AMZLHY30A

woensdag 15 juni 2016

Music: advice needed!

Hey guys,

This year I am hard resetting my body. One of the things that is going on is that I am rediscovering music. I started watching Netflix last year but i got fed up with it in November. Then I started listening to music again. Since five years until November I hardly listened to music. In November I got myself a Spotify subscription and have been discovering all kinds of new (new for me) music. But also music that I knew with new ears. It's been an adventure. 

A whole new world opened to me. So it seemed. I always enjoyed the energy of these saxophonists of course. But their energy seemed to hit a different spot now. It seemed to go deeper. 

Now I have been listening to Jürg Frey (https://open.spotify.com/album/7tU4Y1ak1TVAv6Rdr7zE9H

And this is me new for me. I've always listened a bit to minimal music. I've always enjoyed Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich (https://open.spotify.com/album/3lNs2UnRog90lU3dusjkWK) but now there is more going on. My taste for minimal music seems to be coming from a yearning for tranquility and quietness.  And this is very new to me. It's new that musical taste seems to be dependent on my mood and on what I need spiritually. And I have to get used to the fact that my taste can be very different at the end of the day than when i get up. It always was  a too 19th century notion to me that I need to be in a certain mood for a certain type of music. Good music is good music, right? No!

A friend told me some months ago that there is only one type of music: good music. I do not agree (today...). There is music that I connect with on a certain moment, depending on my emotional state. And sometimes it's not the best music. But it's music that hits a certain spot in me. 

My question for you is: can you advise me any music to listen to based on my current preference for the minimal music of Jürg Frey and David Lang?

Please post them in the comments. 


maandag 13 juni 2016

Studeren aan het Fontys Conservatorium bij Ties Mellema

De basis van mijn manier van lesgeven aan het conservatorium is dat ik er achter probeer te komen wat de eigenheid van elke leerling is. Elke muzikant heeft zijn persoonlijke manier om dingen te uit te drukken. Het is mijn taak om de omstandigheden zo te maken dat dit zo vrij mogelijk kan. 

Je hebt ervoor gekozen een artiest, een muzikant te worden. Een moedige keuze. Ik zal je helpen die artiest in jou te ontwikkelen. 

Daar zijn een paar dingen voor nodig:

-Een goede techniek:
Muziekmaken is een ambacht, net als meubelmaken. En dat ambacht moet je leren. Techniek moet je niet in de weg zitten. Alle kanalen moeten open staan om de muziek er uit te laten komen.
In het eerste jaar krijg je veel études en toonladders te studeren. Deze toonladders behandelen in de basis al het materiaal voor je toekomstige repertoire, zoals Ibert, Denison, Creston, Lauba, etcetera.
De étude boeken in het eerste jaar zijn van Henri Klosé: Études Chantants, Études Journaliers, Études Journaliers, Études de Mécanisme, Études de Genre et de Mécanisme en Methode Complète. De toonladders beginnen bij Bes en zijn parallel, g mineur. De toonladders worden in secundes en tertsen gestudeerd, de drieklanken worden kort en lang gebroken.
In het tweede jaar maakt je de études en toonladders die zijn blijven liggen in het eerste jaar af. Daarna ga je verder met Études d’après Terschack en Berbiguier. Je herhaalt indien nodig de toonladders en gaat verder met de chromatische toonladder. Die studeer je in kleine sekundes, grote sekundes (moelijk!), kleine tertsen, etcetera, tot en met het octaaf.
In het derde en vierde jaar ga je verder met de Ferling études en de 'Messiaen' études van Guy Lacour. Dit zijn études waarbij de speler geen houvast meer heeft aan een toonscentrum zodat je je alleen nog maar kan vasthouden aan de lijn. 
Met de Ferling études wordt in de praktijk meestal te vroeg begonnen. Deze études komen altijd in paren: een langzame en een snelle. De snelle worden ook vaak overgeslagen. Maar juist de combinatie van de twee maakt dit étudeboek zo goed. De langzame trainen o.a. het spelen van lange lijnen op een vrije manier, naast natuurlijk het spelen van sostenuto en egaliteit; de snelle zijn bijzonder virtuoos en hebben elk hun eigen specifieke moeilijkheid. Ook in deze tijd gaan we de prachtige concertante études van Karg-Elert studeren.
Na de reguliere toonladders ga je verder met de chromatische toonladder, in kleine sekundes, sekundes, kleine tertsen, tertsen, kwarten, etcetera. Hier ben je meestal wel even mee bezig.
Als je hierna nog meer wilt doen gaan we op zoek naar de études die jij op dat moment nodig hebt. Zo heeft Christian Lauba een aantal avant-gardistische études waarbij je circular breathing, multiphonics, slap tongue, en zo verder kan studeren.

-Een ontspannen embouchure:
Er is veel informatie te vinden op het internet over embouchure. Mijn visie op embouchure is erg eenvoudig: ontspanning, waarbij slechts enkele spieren gebruikt worden om ervoor te zorgen dat de lucht het mondstuk in gaat. De mondhoeken gaan naar voren, de onderkaak naar onderen en de onderlip vult de ruimte tussen het riet en de tanden. De achterkant van de tong is hoog en bevindt zich tussen de kiezen. Het is net als met fluiten, daarbij gebruik je de tong om te intoneren. Zo werkt het ook op saxofoon.
Maar dat is makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan. De meeste studenten die beginnen op het conservatorium doen veel te veel. Ze knijpen meestal tegen het riet aan, terwijl het riet vrij moet zijn om te trillen. Op die manier is het het makkelijkst om het geluid te krijgen wat tussen je oren zit.
Ook de keuze van het materiaal doet ter zake. Er zijn mondstukken die een mooi geluid produceren maar die erg moeilijk te bespelen zijn. Ik ben er persoonlijk achter gekomen dat de combi van een makkelijke set-up (de keuze van saxofoon, nek, mondstuk en riet) die goed klinkt het beste is. Maar dat kan voor iedereen verschillen. Daar gaan we tijdens je studie achter komen.

-Het vinden van geschikt repertoire:
In het eerste jaar is het meeste repertoire techniek, études en toonladders. In dit jaar wordt de basis gelegd voor de verdere studie. In veel opzichten is dit het belangrijkste jaar. Hier worden alle obstakels weggewerkt en alles aangeleerd wat er nodig is om het moeilijkste repertoire te spelen, in de basis! In het eerste jaar wordt er ook concertant repertoire gespeeld. We zullen dan de stukken kiezen waar je het meest aan hebt op dat moment. In de praktijk komt dat vaak neer op stukken als de Aria van Bozza, Fantasie-Impromptu van Jolivet, Histories van Ibert en La Malinconia van Badings.
Mijn filosofie is dat iedereen op zijn minst de ‘reguliere’ stijlen binnen de saxofoonwereld geprobeerd moet hebben. Alleen omdat het repertoire van de saxofoon relatief beperkt is en een student zoveel mogelijk stijlen moet kennen, zodat hij later geen werk hoeft af te wijzen.
Hoe verder je komt in je studie, hoe meer je je eigen smaak zal ontwikkelen. Aan het eind van het traject zullen we niet alleen een technische basis hebben voor de rest van je carrière, maar ook een artistieke.

-Kennis van het repertoire:
Een gedegen kennis van al het repertoire dat er bestaat voor saxofoon is absoluut nodig om je te ontwikkelen tot een eigen musicus. Ondanks het feit dat het repertoire voor de saxofoon relatief minder groot is dan voor bijvoorbeeld voor viool (al was het alleen maar omdat de saxofoon pas bestaat sinds het midden van de 19e eeuw), is er heel veel repertoire voor de saxofoon geschreven, en liggen er nog steeds ontelbare kansen voor bewerkingen. De saxofoon biedt bij uitstek de kans voor musici om buiten de gebaande paden van de klassieke muziek te gaan kijken.

Aan het einde van de studie zal je een eindconcert geven. Dit is altijd een groot feest. Je presenteert hier wat je hebt geleerd de afgelopen jaren. Het presenteren van een goede en zo probleemloos mogelijke techniek is belangrijk, maar je moet ook laten zien waar je je de komende jaren mee gaat bezig houden in artistiek opzicht, welk repertoire je de moeite waard vindt en welke kant je op gaat in het algemeen. En als het heel goed gaat kan je misschien wel een masters opleiding gaan studeren.

Een van de belangrijkste dingen die ik je wil meegeven is zelfwerkzaamheid en zelfstandigheid in het algemeen. Ik wil dat je na je studie op eigen voeten kan staan en sterk genoeg in je schoenen staat om een eigen artistieke en praktische lijn te bepalen. Het liefst begint die lijn al tijdens je conservatoriumtijd. Mijn stijl van lesgeven kan soms lastig zijn omdat ik veel dingen van je vraag zelf te bedenken en ze je niet voorkauw. Ik wil al snel dat je zelf beslissingen gaat nemen.

-De stimulans komt nu uit je zelf:
Het verschil met de muziekschool is dat de motivatie nu vooral vanuit jezelf moet komen. Ik ben je coach. Ik vertel wat er beter kan en wat er goed gaat. Muziek kan altijd beter, en we zullen ons uiterste best gaan doen om er het maximale uit te krijgen.

-Masterclasses en speciale projecten:
Op het Fontys Conservatorium streven mijn collega en ik er naar twee masterclasses te organiseren: Eentje van een saxofonist, en de andere door een muzikant die geen saxofonist is, zoals een traverso-speler, pianist, zanger, jazz-bassist, noem maar op. Dit is één van de dingen die de saxofoonklas van Fontys onderscheidt van andere conservatoria. Het vizier op het Fontys Conservatorium staat wagenwijd open voor vele invloeden van buiten de saxofoon. Ook wordt er bijvoorbeeld steunvak lichte muziek saxofoon aangeboden. Dit kan goed zijn voor de flexibiliteit, maar ook omdat er vaak in de praktijk wordt gevraagd naar saxofonisten die klassiek én lichte muziek kunnen spelen.
De masterclasses door saxofonisten op het conservatorium zijn zo breed als maar kan zijn en sluit geen enkele stijl van spelen uit. De filosofie van de saxofoonklas van het Fontys Conservatorium is dat er overal wat te halen is.

Voorspeelmiddagen en groepslessen:
Elk jaar streven we naar vier voorspeelmiddagen en vier groepslessen. Tijdens deze lessen speelt iedereen solostukken, kamermuziek en stukken met pianobegeleiding van Martien Maas, de co-repetitor van de saxofoonklas. Iedereen in de bachelor-opleiding heeft ook les van Martien Maas. Deze lessen vinden plaats op afspraak. De lessen met de co-repetitor zijn van essentieel belang voor de opleiding. Hier maak je kennis met het repertoire, de pianopartijen, en leer je samenspelen en stemmen met een piano. De groepslessen en studentenconcerten worden over het algemeen gezien als behoorlijk spannende lessen, omdat de studenten voor elkaar voorspelen.

-Elk half jaar herbezinning:
Bij elk tentamen in de bachelor moet de student aan de hand van een eenvoudig vragenformulier, opschrijven wat zijn korte en lange termijn plannen zijn in artistiek, technisch en productioneel opzicht. Deze plannen zullen worden besproken tijdens de les.
Je bent een artiest, niets is veranderlijker als een kunstenaar. We gaan kijken hoe je verandert en waar je interesses en talenten liggen.

woensdag 11 mei 2016

Mens en Gevoelens, mijn artikel in de editie van februari 2016

Mens en gevoelens januari 2016

Zaterdagochtend. Gisteravond heb ik voor het eerst na mijn chemo weer een concert gegeven. Een belangrijk moment. Wellicht wat overmoedig. Ik ben nog maar 3 weken klaar met de chemo. Toch wilde ik dit concert doen. Om meerdere redenen. Ik ben de laatste jaren goed bevriend geraakt met harpist Remy van Kesteren. Hij maakte een nieuwe CD, ‘Tomorrow Eyes’. Toen ik mijn diagnose kreeg in de zomer van 2015, stond ik op het punt deze CD op te nemen. Ik heb de arts gevraagd of ik de chemo een week kon uitstellen om deze opname en mijn theatervoorstelling te kunnen doen. Dat kon zonder extra risico. Nu, bijna een half jaar later is het eerste wat ik doe de presentatie van deze CD. Voor het eerst stond ik weer op het podium. De cirkel is rond.

Ik was best zenuwachtig en vooral moe. Dat is normaal zo kort na de behandeling. Maar het was ook onwennig en ik was onzeker. Nog steeds eigenlijk. Nog altijd heb ik moeite met me overgeven aan het moment. Een nogal romantische notie over muziek maken. Voor mij was musiceren vooral een ambacht en in zekere zin ook een rationeel proces. Ik chargeer natuurlijk. Maar toch heb ik altijd met bewondering naar mensen als Janine Janssen gekeken. Zij speelt met complete overgave. In een interview heeft ze gezegd dat ze niet wil weten wat ze precies doet, anders zou ze het niet meer kunnen. Ik denk dat ze gelijk heeft. Ik ben het omgekeerde. Ik heb op het conservatorium precies geprobeerd te ontleden wat ik doe, en moest doen om ‘het’ te kunnen. In 2008, toen ik ernstig geblesseerd raakte heb ik een week bij jazzpianist Kenny Werner gestudeerd. Hij heeft me geleerd hoe ik ‘overgave’ kan oefenen. Hoe ik meer in het moment kan spelen, hoe muziek maken iets ontspannends kan zijn. Met de saxofoon in mijn handen probeer ik niet te denken, probeer ik mijn vingers, mijn embouchure, mijn lichaam het werk te laten doen. Muziek maken is te complex om over te laten aan het oppervlakkige, denkende brein. 
Als ik iéts overhoud aan deze klote periode, is het dit: dat ik meer op mijn gevoel durf af te gaan. Sterker nog, dat ik beter weet wat ik voel, in plaats van altijd een stap terug te doen en mijn ratio de situatie van een afstand te laten bekijken. Dat wil ik ook in mijn spel. Misschien dat niemand het hoort, en wellicht zijn het kleine stapjes, maar ik denk dat hier voor mij winst te behalen is, ook in mijn persoonlijke leven.

Vandaag keek ik een documentaire over Susan Sontag. Haar leven was, net als haar werk, vrij abstract. Wat me vooral aanspreekt over haar leven is het feit dat ze met zoveel dingen bezig was. Ze was geëngageerd, eigenzinnig en liet bijna geen onderwerp onberoerd (met als uitzondering de muziek). Het lijkt alsof ze een aantal levens in ééntje heeft geleefd. Ik ben bijna 40 en heb voornamelijk één ding gedaan: saxofoonspelen. Het afgelopen half jaar heb ik veel nagedacht over wat er nog meer voor mij klaar ligt. Ik heb geflirt met compositie. Zelfs een compositieles genomen bij Martijn Padding. Ik heb wat schetsen gemaakt. Maar ik werd al heel snel weer enthousiast over mijn instrument. Als ik een half uur heb, ga ik liever spelen. Dat gaat vanzelf, het is geen bewuste keuze. In mijn hoofd wil ik erg graag componeren, maar in de praktijk trek ik er niet naartoe. Dat accepteer ik maar. Bovendien heb ik het schrijven van woorden herontdekt. Schrijven voor ‘Mens en Gevoelens’ bijvoorbeeld. Dat is wel iets waar ik wél geïnspireerd door raak. Iets waarvoor ik het saxofoon spelen heel even kan uitstellen.

De veelzijdigheid van Susan Sontag kan en hoef ik niet bereiken maar vind ik wel fascinerend. Ik kan wel proberen meer de dingen te gaan doen waar ik écht warm voor loop. Zo ben ik jazz gaan spelen tijdens mijn chemo therapie. Ik moest blijven spelen van de fysiotherapeut om mijn fijne motoriek in de gaten te houden in verband met bepaalde medicatie die schade aan de zenuwen kan veroorzaken. Daarom moest ik muziek spelen waardoor ik graag mijn saxofoon wilde pakken, zelfs als ik wat misselijk was. Dat waren het Denisov concert, en solo’s van John Coltrane, Buddy deFranco, Lennie Tristano en Cannonball Adderley. Ik heb jazz altijd als een andere taal gezien. Een taal waar ik ook een hele studie aan kon wijden. Daarom heb ik me er altijd verre van gehouden om pure jazz voor publiek te spelen. Daar komt wellicht nu verandering in. Met jazz pianist Rembrandt Frerichs heb ik het plan opgepakt om beroemde jazzsolo’s te gaan naspelen. Zoals je eigenlijk ook met klassieke muziek doet. Je kan in Amsterdam elk weekend wel naar een aantal uitvoeringen van de muziek van Bach, maar de muziek van Coltrane wordt nooit uitgevoerd. Het lijkt me te gek om daar verandering in te gaan brengen.

Ik zit nu aan de eettafel met een Dexter Gordon afspeellijst en een lekker biertje dit stuk te schrijven. Dat is omdat ik nu tijd heb, maar ook rust in mijn hoofd. Ik hoop op zijn minst een gedeelte van die rust te kunnen vasthouden de komende tijd. De laatste paar jaar heb ik nogal getwijfeld aan mijn carrière. Ik was moe en onzeker. Ik heb veel leuke dingen gedaan, maar er was altijd die twijfel en moeheid op de achtergrond. De moeheid bleek grotendeels door de kanker te komen. Ik weet niet hoe mijn hersteltijd gaat verlopen, maar ik hoop dat de moeheid op den duur verdwijnt. Zo niet, dan ga ik proberen op mijn gevoel af te gaan en andere wegen te gaan bewandelen.
In ieder geval zal ik de komende tijd mijn dagelijkse ritme in de gaten moeten houden en de consequenties van een drukke dag moeten aanvaarden. Het wordt schipperen. Als ik de ene dag net iets teveel activiteiten onderneem, ben ik de volgende dag extra snel moe. Dat is lastig voor mij, maar ook voor mijn omgeving, die wellicht dachten dat ik ‘genezen’ ben en dus weer gezond. Helaas is dat nog niet zo. Hoe lang dit alles gaat duren is niet te zeggen. De ene patient staat na drie maanden alweer op de werkvloer, de andere voelt zich zich na 12 maanden nog steeds niet 100%.

Ik moet mezelf opnieuw uitvinden, een hard reset uitvoeren. Ik kan me voorstellen dat mijn leven er over een jaar nauwelijks anders uitziet. Maar ik wil mezelf de gelegenheid geven wel dingen te veranderen, als ik daar zin in heb. Ik heb al nagedacht over andere dingen die ik eventueel zou willen doen. Ik ga zelfs een beroepskeuzetest doen.
Maar laat ik wel wezen, de kans dat ik volgend jaar nog steeds speel, met hart en ziel is het allergrootst!

Op 30 januari speel ik mijn eerste soloconcert weer. Ik kon het niet laten. Het is de Nederlandse premiere van het saxofoonconcert van Edison Denisov. Dit vooruitzicht geeft me energie en inspiratie. Het is een concert van 40 minuten. Lang dus, erg lang. Maar ik kon het niet laten. Ik heb mijn hele conservatoriumtijd opgezien tegen de Sonate van Denisov, een ijzeren repertoire stuk. Ik vond mezelf er nooit klaar voor. Nu doe ik het andersom. Ik speel het concert van Denisov, terwijl ik net uit een intensieve chemotherapie kom. Elke dag studeer ik dit werk. Tijdens mijn behandeling was het mijn project, het stuk dat ik speelde als ik me niet te beroerd voelde.

Ik weet niet zeker wat de komende tijd me gaat brengen. In ieder geval veel spierpijn. De prednison heeft mijn spieren doen verschrompelen het afgelopen half jaar. Fysiotherapie is één van mijn belangrijkste activiteiten. Eerst moet mijn lichaam weer terugkomen, dat is het belangrijkst. Daarna zie ik het wel.

Wordt vervolgd…

Toelichting bij foto’s

Fotografie laat me mijn omgeving op een visuele manier ontdekken. De schoonheid van het licht op de trap van eigen appartement bijvoorbeeld.

Ik ben bezig met een serie ramen in de stad.Vooral ramen in de Baarsjes. Door de vertekening van de ramen, viezigheid en het licht krijg je vaak hele interessante en mooie beelden van voorwerpen die mensen achter de ramen zetten, gordijnen, poppetjes, bloemen, etcetera. Die voorwerpen zijn uitgekozen omdat ze juist die dingen aan de buitenwereld willen laten zien. Soms al heel lang geleden, waardoor ze nu verweerd en verlept zijn. Prachtig vind ik dat.

vrijdag 8 april 2016

The Saxcraft ligature - an intuitive review

"The Saxcraft Ligature made me realize how important the ligature actually should be."

Hi everyone,

I haven't written many reviews on my blogs yet. There was a time when I was at the conservatory when material and new saxophone nerdy stuff was important to me. Anything to play better without having to put the hours in. Since then I have learned to play the saxophone. I know more or less what I want and I can get it, with some practice.  Without having to buy a new saxophone, mouthpiece or ligature. 

I have been playing my Selmer Reference and AL3 mouthpiece for 11 years now. And I see no reason to switch. This setup is great for me. It gives me flexibility and ease of playing. It allows me to grow and doesn't impose a typical sound on me. The sound has to come from me. 

Now about the ligature. 

Pieter van Kessel wrote me an email some months ago already. He had something new. A ligature. And to be honest, I did not care for ligatures too much. Priority number one and two are that it presses the reed against the mouthpiece and that it has one screw that tightens on both ends. In short, it has to be practical and not give me trouble during the concert. I usually have enough to worry about. 

Pieter wanted me to try his ligature. And he was quite persistent. Some weeks ago he told me he was doing a tour to have different Dutch sax players try out the ligature. He already told me that David Kweksilber was extremely enthusiastic about it. And although I have very high regards for David, this meant near to nothing to me. Ligatures did not interest me so much. 

Then Pieter came by and I put out my saxes. We tried several on several mouthpieces. One of the typical things about this ligature is that is has to fit the mouthpiece exactly. It is not flexible material at all. You put it over the mouthpiece and it stays where it is. The screw is on the underside and fixes the reed to the mouthpiece with one small copper pressure plate. This is different from most ligatures that cover the reed for like a centimeter or have several pressure points. The tightening of the reed is easy and a single movement. That was the first good thing about this ligature. It is easy and fast. The reed is also easy to align with the mouthpiece. So far so good. 

The Saxcraft ligature. 

According to the maker of the ligature, the pressure plate is designed to stimulate the vibration of the reed and let it pass through the the mouthpiece.
He thought that the ligature development was looking for the wrong things to change. He completely changed around the ligature. 

I told him that there are theories that when you attach weight to the mouthpiece, the sound changes, at least for the player himself. This is exactly what he did. The ligature is quite heavy and is fixed to the mouthpiece. 

And what did all of this do for me?

At first, when we tried the ligatures (I tried them on my alto with an AL3 mouthpiece and my baritone with a BL3 mouthpiece), to be honest, I did not notice much difference. I am not sure if this was because of the acoustics. Pieter did notice difference. He said the sound became deeper on the bari and cleaner on the alto.

To be honest, I was not convinced.

The days after I decided to keep the ligatures on my mouthpieces. And something happened. On alto I played for my students in a different space. They asked about my funny looking ligature and I told them that I promised someone to try them out. I then played for them a piece I played many times before (Glazounow Concerto) and all of a sudden the sound difference was so obvious to me. All of the cliches come to my mind, but especially: better legato, more depth in the sound and more control. The ligature seems to add the finishing touch to the sound. Even with a bad reed (which stays a bad reed, it's not a magic ligature!), this is noticeable. 

In short: I haven't gone back to my old ligatures. I haven't compared. And I won't. This is it. This ligature is the first one that makes me notice a big difference. I never cared much for ligatures but the Saxcraft seems to be the missing link between mouthpiece and reed. 

I highly recommend it. 

donderdag 7 april 2016

Update chemo therapy: 3 months of recovery

Three months now. More than three actually. Without chemotherapy. My last chemo pill was on December 21st 2015. It feels like a long time ago. I have hair again, I lost most of the weight. I look normal. But I don't feel normal. My biggest complaint is the tiredness. My energy is like the battery of my phone. It works fine until it's empty, then it goes off. Before the chemo I would feel my energy level going down slowly. The moment that that energy is gone I can hardly predict. I know it's earlier when I had a late night or a bad night. It varies from around 13:00 to around 18:00. I had a very busy week last week and I still have to regain my energy. 

It's costing me effort to write about this period. I want to be normal again. But I am not. I am sliding back into my 'normal' life and this causes friction with the way I am now. I've changed. Personally and musically. One of my fellow patients who is one year ahead of me told me that is effect wore off after half a year with him. But I don't want it to wear off. Besides all the shit this chemo and the cancer gave me, it also gave me an opportunity. A chance to stop, to look around, to contemplate at an age where I should be running around. I've had a sort of sabbatical. Let me stress this 'a sort off'! Because if I could choose, well, you know. I had the chance to reevaluate everything. And it seems that so far my life is ok. I have a wonderful family, great friends, who take care of me, I have enough fun work (playing the sax)... But what I need to learn is how to focus: what do I really want? And how can I get there? When I was younger, at the conservatory I had an attitude that covered up my insecurity. Now I am insecure and full of (self) doubt, and I feel this covers up yet another layer. The layer that is real, that is me. The layer that wants something very clear and has a passion.

I keep a journal nowadays to write down what I feel, want, experience, etc. I try to stop myself several times a day to feel how I feel, what is going on. I chose a small number of projects that I want to work on the coming year and I try to stick with those. I need to do things that give me energy, instead of only take energy. Things that stimulate me and keep me going. Otherwise I will be too tired to work. A good way to get myself to limit myself and to do things that are worth my while.

Yeah, that chemo has some upsides.

Photographed today at Sloterdijk Station

zaterdag 19 maart 2016


I change my embouchure about every year to two years. I am not sure why. I am always looking for something better and more flexible. After my chemotherapy I play with more under lip out. This was inspired by playing jazz on tenor during the chemo. I noticed when playing jazz I did this and decided to try it when playing classical. And it worked very well. I have more good reeds and the quality of sound and flexibility is more constant. It seems to work on every horn. 

The biggest change I underwent so far was when I started playing my Selmer Series III and a c* mouthpiece. At that time my embouchure was pretty tight. I imagined a slender sound with a lot of projection. My phrases were also very sustained with a lot of compressed air. Then I changed. I wanted to be more flexible. Ease of playing became more important than sound. I got an AL3 mouthpiece by Vandoren. But it didn't work on my Series III. The tuning was terribly off. So I looked  for a horn that was compatible with the AL3. It was a Reference by Selmer. For years this was already a very popular set-up in Holland with conservatory students. And I understand why. It's easy to play. The AL3 seems to be a sort of almost Buescher like mouthpiece with a small tip and short facing. The legato is very easy and sound production hardly requires air. It's a dream. But of course, every mouthpiece and set-up has its disadvantages. This one as well. It needs more input, more personality from the player. It's very easy to produce a sound that is average and to play with a little air support. It needs more conscious artistic investment. Yes, apparently a mouthpiece can play too easy!

So I had to change embouchure with this set-up. More relaxed. Less compressed air. Supported, but with less effort. I had more energy left to focuss on the music.

The last step (for now) in this personal development was to have the under lip more outward. Somehow it changes the relation I have with the reed. It becomes less important. Still essential, of course! But I can still have an ok sound on reeds that are less good. I am not sure what happens with more under-lip outward. But it seems to give more control. And the reed needs less air to vibrate. 

My view of embouchure as I explain it my students at the Fontys conservatory:

The upper teeth go on the mouthpiece. The under-lip goes over the teeth and the lip goes on the reed. Then you push the muscles around the mouth forward, like saying 'ooh'. That's it. Everything else you do is too much. The rest is relaxing. Well, more or less. 

Also the position of the tongue is very important. It should not be flat in the mouth but the back should go up almost in between the molars. The tip of the tongue stays as close to the reed as possible. This is the basic position of the tongue. 

The intonation is done with the tongue, not the lips. This is a much heard misunderstanding. The lips hardly have influence on the intonation. 

And as I have found out, the amount of under lip that is out or in is of great importance. 

For classical saxophone, many sax teachers will tell you that your chin needs to be flat. Although I agree, I don't think it's good have this as a basis for practicing. Firs of all, it is non musical.  The basis of practicing needs to be sound conception. Not mechanics. In the end I find that most students (if not all) play with a flat chin. 

Cannonball Adderley, one of my idols, did not play with a flat chin. 

maandag 14 maart 2016

My horns

I love my horns. I found good ones. Now I still have to learn to play them ;-)

My Bari mark VI sounds great and the quartet can tune very well to the rich sound.
My series II tenor is very flexible and an all-round instrument. I don't play it so much but it's actually my favorite sax. I hope to play it more during my project with Rembrandt Frerichs

My alto is a reference. I started out on a Musica beginners horn, then my parents gave my a Series II for my 11th birthday. Then I got a super balanced action in the mid 90's, on which I played the beginning of my conservatory studies. After that I switched to a somewhat newer instrument, the Buffet Super Dynaction on which I payed my first end exam in 2000. I sold this horn and I regret it until today. I got a series III millennium edition because I changed embouchure: more focused and tight, almost contemporary French school. After I learned that I wanted a horn that just worked when I blow on it and I switched to the reference. 

The soprano is a yanagisawa. Which is very out of tune but has such a creamy sound!

zaterdag 5 maart 2016

Bach's Cello Suite no. 1

I just came back from playing the first cello suite by Bach at the Oosterpoort in Groningen. On baritone sax. Although I am not doing much these days because of recovering from my illness, these concerts I wanted to do.

Madness of course to play Cello Suites by Bach on sax. But some years ago I wanted to learn this piece. And maybe continue with some other suites. I stuck with the first one until now. 

And of course the first problem starts in the first bar: the big jumps. Very easy on cello, but very hard on sax to make them sound 'normal'. The whole concept of these first bars is almost gone when played on a wind instrument. The idea is to present some arpeggios in the first position, to discover the cello, introducing the instrument and preluding the entire six suites. 

That idea doesn't really work on a wind instrument. But you know, when I play it well, when it works, it's still really great music. It does work in the end. And that's typical for Bach's music. The genius of the notes goes beyond the instrumentation. That's why I wanted to play this on the sax. But it needs the best reed I can find, the best preparation possible and preferably the best acoustics.

Notewhise, the idea of Bach was to leave out as many notes as he could. And leave a lot of notes to the imagination of the listener. Anner Bijlsma once told me during one his lessons that the name of the performer ánd the audience should be on the poster for any concert with the cello suites. This concept makes the pieces rather abstract, but more than that, intriguing and fascinating.

When I restudied the Cello Suites I payed attention to the following things:

-I had to play the piece through, in its entirety. With Bach's music it's so easy to stop at every detail and find a more suitable expression for every note. But I often forget that not only musically I have to construct the whole piece and oversee it, but I also have to find a way for my body to keep going in a relaxed way the entire suite.
I have played this piece may years now and I have noticed that I need to find a balance between preparing the piece in a certain, musical, way and playing in an improvisatory way during the concert. This tour I focussed more on improvising the expression.

-My instrument has to be in order. It has to close and have the least key noise possible. When it doesn't close it's always worse during the concert, for some reason. Everything has to work as smoothly as possible. The piece is hard and long enough.

-When I come back to this piece I have to always rediscover it. It's multilayered, the notes can mean so much, and so many different emotions can be attached to every passage that I experience the piece differently every time I come back to it. If I don't get this right, the performance won't work.

-I have to have different tempi ready because of the acoustics. Every acoustic asks for its own tempo. The wetter, the slower I can play, and then I also have the benefit of the bass notes resounding the rest of the beat or even the rest of the bar.

-This time I reinvented my embouchure again. Every so many years I reinvent my embouchure, and coming back to the cello suite after half year of chemo therapy I changed some things. This had the following reason: I needed to keep on playing during the therapy because I had to monitor my fine motorics (one of the medicins could damage the nerves and influence the motors of the hands). After one month I didn't know what to play anymore and I started to play jazz, transcribing solos and practicing exciting transcriptions, mostly by Coltrane. When I play jazz I play with more under lip out and I tried to also do this when playing classical. And it works. I needed reeds that are a bit harder and that makes playing much easier.

I will write a bit more about embouchure in a later post.

vrijdag 12 februari 2016

Advice for young music professionals and conservatory students

I would have never written a blog with this title before I got cancer. But now I feel I have some things I want to share. I had time to think. About myself, music, life....

1) Do what you like.
Sounds obvious, right? But for me it was hard to even find out what I like and how to choose. It still is. Right now I feel I do not want to go back to the way I lived my life. This may sound dramatic, but the changes can be little. Hardly noticeable even for someone who is not me. I recently read an article online that said that busy people are people who cannot choose. And I think that's true for a lot of people. I do so much different stuff, I was always behind with administration, studying, contacting people. It's very frustrating.
The first thing you have to do is find out what you want to do, what you like to do. And that's not so easy. Especially as a classical musician. We have all of this tradition, composers, musicians, recordings, concert etiquette. A lot of people choose something they go for because people before them did it successfully. Or play music because it is great music. Sounds like a good reason? It's not! There's so much great music out there, but you have to find music that awakens passion in you. And it might not be Bach, and that's ok. You can listen to Bach, but you don't have to play it because he or she did it and recorded it and it became a huge success. Horowitz is great, the Royal Concertgebouw is as well, but it's not the basis of music, it's a road you can go, but you don't have to.
As a saxophonist I wanted to make my life work out of playing the Creston and Denisow Sonatas with my pianist. And they are great pieces, but in retrospect, I like playing with a pianist, but I love to come up with my own ensembles and experiment, do cross-over. My teacher was Arno Bornkamp and he played those sonatas many times per year with Ivo Janssen. And he was my example. So I wanted to do what he did. But there's so much more. Music is art. Is about creativity. Also as a performer.

2) Take composition classes at the conservatory.
As early as you can, learn to play with notes, make up your own, compose, improvise, even as a classical musician. You never know what is going to happen. My buddy Remy van Kesteren is a composer now, he became one in half a year and recorded a cd for Deutsche Grammaphone with his own music. Reall, you never know. And if you don't do anything with it, it at least gives you insight in the composing process.
I do think that classical musicians should start writing their own notes at least partly. We are influenced by Stravinsky and Bach, we see and hear their notes and know we can't do better. Sure, for most of us this is true. But Stravinsky is not you. We've heard what Bach is about, and it's great, but I would love to hear your contemporary comment on it for example.
I found Spotify, despite the obvious criticism of the medium, to be a great tool to find out what I like to listen to.

3) Don't go with the obvious flow.
A conservatory is called that because it wants to conserve music. So what we learn (and what we should learn!) is the stuff people before us did. Like Creston and Denisov. Learn that stuff and in the mean time think about what you want to do. In the last year of your bachelor I think you can have a basic idea of how you want to spend the coming couple of years. Stick with it, and on the other hand, give yourself time to adapt to new developments:

4) Allow yourself to change.
When students come to the conservatory to inquire about the study., they often say (influenced by their parents) that they might study something more 'useful' first and that after that they can always still study music. I would say it's much more logical to do it the other way around.
Motoric development is very important for conservatory and it's just much more flexible when your around 20.
My point is, after conservatory you do not have to stick with it (despite what I wrote earlier). We all develop. In those four years of study you might find out that you have talents in other areas. Meanwhile you did a study which develops the brain and body in a certain way. You learn to be the ultimate multi-tasker, you have spend numerous hours by yourself and with your instrument in a lonely studio, studying and learning about your music and yourself. It's a form of therapy. Those traits always come in handy at some point in your life.
Also within the music area: you can learn about music theatre and decide you want to pursue that. (See number 5) or maybe you wanted to be a soloist and find out that you are really more of a chamber musician.

But in the end it is very important you finish what you were doing. If possible, finish that bachelor study, study the basics, scales, some traditional pieces, different styles, etcetera. It's never for nothing.

5) Be a sponge.
Absorp as much as you can, not only music, but also fine arts, literature, concerts by others, interact with other people, philosophize, etcetera. Because your music has to be about something. In the end we are story tellers. We need a story to tell, experiences in our life.
This is very important: absorp as much as you can and, especially I the beginning of your studies, do not try to form an opinion just yet. Just listen to what's out there and let your taste develop by itself, without your head telling you what to do and feel.
But you also need to find out what's out there. You don't want to rely on releases by the biggest labels and concerts in the largest concert halls to know what's going on in the music world. There's so much more. There are underground concert halls, musicians who work with music theatre, chamber music in so many forms, ... Find out about initiatives like Splendor (splendoramsterdam.com), zaal 100, OT301, about musicians who go their own way, like Remy van Kesteren, Raaf Hekkema, Ralph van Raat, ...

(Picture by Co Broerse)

woensdag 3 februari 2016

The reason why I play the sax: Charlie Parker

I remember seeing the movie Bird by Clint Eastwood. The musical genius was already clear to me but to see his tragic life come by, portrayed so vividly by Forest Whitaker (who will always remain 'Charlie Parker' for me) was something else.

I was and am a big Parker fan ever since I started playing the sax. Well, even before, when I chose an instrument, my father had me eventually choose between Parker and Benny Goodman. He played them for me from a Verve collection record.  I chose Parker. The speed, the sound, I was saxophonized for ever. 

This article describes his life and his musical influences (with lots of juicy quotes by colleagues):


This article gave me some memories I had from the movie. The tragedy, the craziness, the genius. I was in my early teens when I saw the movie, but I will never forget it. Drugs were more important for Parker than anything else. Even than his saxophone, most of the time. He tries to kick drugs one time, and his is when he records one of most beautiful albums, 'Parker with strings'. (https://open.spotify.com/album/1vDghy6Zi6NYvwRHEeN72E). One day I will find a way to put this album on my repertoire somehow, like I did with the music of Prince (http://tiesmellema.nl/#!/shop/princepiration)

Some audio examples of pieces and artists mentioned in the article:

This is Walter Page's Blue Devils with Buster Smith, Parker's musical father:

And this is Jay McShann's Jumpin' Blues:

The Earl Hines Orchestra:

Billy Eckstine Band:

This is the version of 'Lover Man' that Parker didn't want to be released but was released nonetheless. Parker was suffering from violent tics at that time:
(Listen to the rhythm section playing the tune almost childish, perhaps to keep Parker in line?)

Bartok's 2nd Piano Concert: