Yorkshire Saxophone Choir at Halifax

Our latest social event was a trip over to Halifax on Saturday 27th April to see the Yorkshire Saxophone Choir in concert.  Andrew booked the tickets and we had a good turnout of choir members – Tony, Diane, Carol, Anne, Andrew, Jen and me.  Square Chapel is a cosy venue with great views out through the high windows to the hills behind Halifax.   They host an eclectic mix of music and drama events – check out their website.

The YSC were formed in 2001 by Debbie Scherer and Sarah Jobson, and comprises saxophonists from across the Yorkshire region.  It performs as a 12 piece chamber ensemble,  occasionally with a conductor where required by a particular work.  The Yorkshire Saxophone Choir plays a wide range of music including classical, jazz, pop, contemporary and world music. The ensemble has commissioned a significant number of new works and arrangements, including “Excursions” by Martin Ellerby and “Phat Sax” by its lead alto player Matthew McGuffie; both pieces featured in the set list for Saturday’s concert.

The concert was in two halves with about 40 minutes of music in each half.  The playing was phenomenal.  I watched the lead alto player, Matthew McGuffie and I could see his score – it was covered in heavy black passages of demi-semi quavers – and yet he always seemed in complete control – cool, relaxed, with his fingers moving almost effortlessly.  And it was the same for the other players. This seems to be true of good technique – it requires minimum effort with the fingers floating over can caressing the keys.  By contrast when I play difficult passages I am surprised I don’t bend some of mine out of shape! The technical difficulty was not just in the lengthy passages of runs but also in the complex rhythms which they played – a time signature of 5/4 in Excursions for example.

The technical difficulty seeemed to peak in the Bach Pianola piece – a fusion of ragtime and Bach. This was a long piece with really long very quick runs up and down the scale but these were done so smoothly that it was difficult to hear individual notes – instead they all blended together and the sound seemed to wash over us. Add to this some really complicated variations in rhythm because of the mix of Bach and Ragtime and the result was simply breathtaking.  One of the exercises we did recently with Jen was trying to play a very simple piece without tapping our feet to the beat.  I was watching these guys and noticed that most of them stood with their feet apart not moving.  Having done it ourselves in the exercise I know how really difficult this is to achieve; it forces you to sense the timing and rhythm internally.

Aside from their technique, the music itself was very enjoyable.  I particularly liked “Excustions” (even in 5/4 time) and the 4 pieces which made up the Stray Cat piece ensemble, the “Devil Rag” at the end and of course “The Lone Arranger”, which we are learning.

All in all it was great fun, much to admire – I came home inpired to get my sax out and get practising!


Summer term kicks off with a stomp

On Wednesday we had our first rehearsal of the summer term and Jen provided added interest by handing over the first half of the session to Rob Crisp from Hoot.  Rob is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays in a number of different bands, and who teaches musical improvisation (amongs other things) for mental health charity Hoot

The improvisation workshop with Rob was a great success – great fun and I think we all learned something and gained the confidence to at least give it a go.  Kudos to Carol and Simon who were brave enough to try a couple of solo spots – and sounded good – and to Jen who played a very cool improvisation with dynamics…. but we think she may have done this before.  Here are some photos from the session

Wednesday night saw two new potential members joining us.  Anne’s friend …… and Toby Jolly, a friend of John’s who had played a lot of sax at school but had then taken a break through university.  Great to have two new horns to add to the choir.

As it was the first night of a new term, Jen had come with the term’s new music.  As usual it was a mix of classical, swing, jazz and Karen Street – we always have a KS number to test us!  This time it is “Rain Dance”.  My favourite is Benny Goodman’s “Stompin at the Savoy” – just the title alone makes me want to get up and dance.  We ran through all the new pieces one time and we made it through them all – somewhat hesitantly in places but as this was our first run through I thought we did pretty well.  The choir certainly seems to have gained in confidence and ability since I joined 12 months ago.  We ended the session on a high with Stompin at the Savoy accompanied by Rob Crisp on drums (yes, he plays drums as well as clarinet, saxophone, guitar and probably several other instruments).

All in all a great start to the new term.

Saturday 7th April: Concert at St Mary’s church Honley

Tony WAshington put together a fantastic night of muscial entertainment with talented musicians and singers drawn from the Holme Valley.

He began learning to play the saxophone five years ago and performed with both the Nytebeat Swing Band playing tenor sax, which was formed in 1989 after the dissolution of the Huddersfield Youth Jazz Orchestra, and with our very own Honley Saxophone Choir playing Bari. He also acted as compere for the evening.

Appearing with the Saxophone choir in the concert were

  • Honley Male Voice Choir
  • Honley Ladies Choir.
  • Local singing group, Raised Voices, formed recently by Jess Baker, a graduate of Huddersfield University
  • Recorder virtuoso Jill Kemp, who made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2009 and is considered to be one of the world’s top recorder players played two pieces.
  • Classical guitarists Peter Batchelar and Rebecca Crosby;
  • Simeon Wood – acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who played flute and pan pipes and tin whistle
  • jazz singer Julie Edwards and guitarist Kevin Dearden, who teamed up eight years ago and are making a name for themselves on the jazz circuit throughout the UK;
  • clarinet and piano duo our very own Jennifer Hewitt and Elizabeth Stacy, who perform under the name of Duo Applique which they formed when they were friends at Huddersfield University.

The evening was a great success and has raised a considerable amount of money for Kirkwood Hospice which is Tony Washington’s chosen charity for 2013