I was eight years old. A third grader. Elementary school…
We had to choose an instrument to play.
I picked the saxophone.
The sax is a very cool instrument.
Like any third grader, I began playing with great enthusiasm. After just a few lessons I could play numerous simple songs.
I got better and better.
Year by year I enjoyed the saxophone more and more.
I took private sax lessons at a music studio.
Everybody said I was pretty good.
“That boy can play the sax,” they’d say.
The saxophone is a very cool instrument.
By seventh grade, I was the #1 sax player in the elementary school band. With this, I sat first in a long line of saxophone players – altos first, then the tenors. (This was elementary school; we didn’t have any baritone sax players.)
Our school concert band was too big or our stage was too small. The set-up on the stage had me sitting precariously close to the edge.
In one practice, just before a concert, I fell off the stage.
The chair, myself, and my precious sax all fell together.
The chair was fine. I was stunned, but no worse for the wear. My sax, not so much. The edge of the bell (the big round thing in the front of the saxophone) was bent.
It stayed that way for about thirty-five years.
The first day of school as a new student in high school wasn’t pleasant for me.
I remember walking into the band room, sax case in hand. The upper classmen were huge. They scared me.
Even more frightening was the band director. I’ll never forget his opening message.
“If you are in the band,” he said, “this is your life for the next few months.” He went on to explain how we practiced, daily, and on weekends. He talked about marching and football games. “You’ll be at every football game,” he announced. Rain, snow, wind, cold…we’d be there.
All of a sudden, playing an instrument didn’t seem like much fun to me. It would be a job. I wasn’t ready to have a job.
As kids, we sometimes make mistakes. I went home that night and told my parents that I didn’t want to play the saxophone any longer.
They let me stop playing. I quit.
I loved my saxophone.
The sax is a very cool instrument.
It was a long divorce.
My sax and I would see each other on occasion. I’d take it out of the case, put it together, feel it in my hands, and blow out some tunes. If I once was good, I wasn’t any longer.
The more time went by, the less we saw of each other. The sax now mostly lived in the attic. I wondered about selling it a few times, but I couldn’t.
I thought, “Maybe someday, I’ll play again.”
Someday came when I was about 31 years old.
By that time I was a middle school principal. In a discussion with the band director, I indicated that I knew my way around a saxophone, probably couldn’t play too well, but I could still make it make some noise and play some easy notes. He was intrigued.
The next thing I knew, I had joined the 7th and 8th grade concert band.
(Originally I insisted that I join the 5th and 6th grade band as that was where I felt my skills lied after not playing for about a quarter of a century. The band director wouldn’t hear of it. He put me with the big kids.)
I went to the band practices before school. I relearned how to translate the notes on paper to placements of my fingers on the instrument. I learned again about slurring and tonguing notes.
I wasn’t as good as these middle school kids, but they seemed to like that I was in the band. I liked it as well. I especially enjoyed joining the band in the various concerts over the years. I got a little better over time, but I never found that old magic.
I was able to keep up with most of the songs. I was best on whole notes and quarter notes. (No one played a rest better than me.) On the really fast or challenging parts, I just put my sax on my knee and let the kids lead the way. I never wanted to distract from their performance or hit wrong notes.
The saxophone, a great instrument, and I enjoyed a good run of about nine years playing together, but an elementary school was calling me…
Now forty years old, and a veteran of the middle school concert band, when I left one school to serve as the principal of another. I was certain my saxophone playing days were over.
I knew that I might sit in with the elementary school fifth grade band, but these were just beginners. My playing with them would be more of a distraction than an addition.
But then there was this thing called Dads’ Night and the Dads’ Night Band…
Word got out that I could play the sax.
“Not well,” I insisted… “NOT WELL!”
It mattered little. I soon became a guest member of the Dads’ Night Band. These men play the music for a variety show that’s somewhat akin to modern day Vaudeville. Each year the come together, practice for a few months, and then put on a great show to raise funds to support a number of local schools.
Dads’ Night is an amazing program full of dedicated fathers who freely give of their time, their energies, and their talents. There is a lot of talent in their band.
Here is the thing about the Dads’ Night Band… these are not just a group of men trying to play music. These men are good. Real good. If they aren’t pros (some of them are), they could be.
And the Dads’ Night Band doesn’t play middle school concert music, they play rock-and-roll. They play it loud and well and good. And it’s fun. Real fun.
Everyone loves The Dads’ Night Band.
With the support of these dads (the most patient musicians ever), they put up with my struggles, mistakes, wrong notes, and stumbles.
I attend their practices. I rehearse. I spend long evenings after work jamming. We play on weekends. I get invited to practice in some private homes.
It is cool.
I had never played great music like this before. It is great.
Where I can, I play. When the songs are too challenging, I sit out. Over the years, I’ve even had a few simple solos. The parents and the kids seem to love that I play.
I love that I play.
For about five weeks each year, I get to think I’m a rock star.
I love my saxophone.
The sax is a very cool instrument.
This year, they have given me my biggest challenge yet. They want me to play the Benny Hill Theme Song, on the stage, with one of the acts.
I am a big believer in trying. I am trying. My fingers just don’t move that fast.
Seeing this dilemma, one of the band leaders rewrote the sheet music making it a lot simpler for me. Instead of playing every note, I’d just have to hit the main quarter notes. I’d now be supported by another dad – a real saxophone player. My fingers still don’t move fast enough.
But I’m trying.
The show is in nine days. These are nine long days with many practices. I’ll be playing that song in my sleep, I think.
I don’t want to let the program down. I don’t want to let the band down.
If I can get this figured out, if I can get my fingers and my brain to work together to pull this off, I will have grown as a saxophone player tenfold in just a few weeks.
It’ll be a short-lived triumph. I’ll be playing on stage for only a minute or two for two shows and then it will be over. But it’ll be a triumph nonetheless.
I’m not sure if I can do it, but if I can…
If I can do it, if I can play the Benny Hill Theme, I will be doing something that my ten year old self would have thought would have been a regular part of my adulthood.
The ten-year old me would be disappointed that the 47 year-old me doesn’t play the sax very well. I’d like to try to make that little kid inside of me proud.
I’d like to make myself proud.
It’s a real challenge – one that scares me right now.
But, if I can do it…
I’m trying – as hard as I can!
If I can play well enough to hold my own on stage at the show next week…
Well, a few years ago I started thinking about getting a soprano sax to add to my collection.
The soprano sax is a very cool instrument…