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.