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