A new year, a new skill – playing the saxophone
Learning to play the sax was hard work, but it was one New Year's resolution that was worth the effort.
How many of us have abandoned our New Year's resolutions by now? How many never made it past the end of the first week? I don't make that kind of resolution anymore. I try to learn and grow all the time.Skip to next paragraph
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But I wasn't always willing to be a beginner. I remember that the year I wanted to learn to play the soprano saxophone, I discovered that the biggest impediment to learning was me.
This musical lark hit me in my late 30s out of nowhere. Haunting me at the time was a backup riff played by Jim Horn on "I Can't Tell You Why," Vince Gill's cover of the Eagles' classic song. To me, the riff was both sensual and ethereal. Wouldn't it be great to be able to re-create that sound at will? And make more sounds like it?
My history with musical instruments was thin – a reluctant year of piano when I was 10 (and would have preferred riding horses) and a year of clarinet (which I never wanted to practice). But the idea grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.
A local music store located a soprano sax for me after four months of searching (yes, this was before the instant availability of anything on the Internet).
When I first laid eyes on it, I was dazzled. The sax was a straight, brilliant brass instrument sprouting what seemed like a zillion keys and levers. (What I didn't know when I started is that it takes more finesse to make sweet notes on a soprano sax than on a tenor sax.)
Feeling reckless, petrified, and clueless about saxophones, I signed up for lessons and the rent-to-buy plan for the instrument.
When I got home, I immediately removed the gleaming beauty from its case for a test blow. All I remembered from my grade-school clarinet lessons was that you have to wet the reed.
After twisting the mouthpiece on the end, I blew with all my might. Nothing! All that money I put down and not even one horrible-sounding note!
Eventually, I figured out how to close my lips around the mouthpiece more firmly and got, well – it sounded like wild geese being tortured. I spent the next few evenings before my first lesson trying to make some noise that resembled a musical note and hoping the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wouldn't call.
Lesson day finally arrived, and Ed, my instructor, welcomed me to his tiny, carpeted lesson room. Ed was a technical writer by day, played tenor sax in a band on weekends, and taught kids and adults to play the saxophone and clarinet.
"So, where do we start?" Ed asked.
"Well, I took a little clarinet when I was a kid," I said.
"Do you remember the fingering?"