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!