Casa de Weird (bunrab) wrote in community_band,
Casa de Weird
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Report on the Navy Band Saxophone Symposium

This is a free event, open to all ages and skill levels, sponsored by the Navy Band, held at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. This was the 29th year of the symposium. It's the first time I've ever been; I had been living in Texas 1500 miles away for the past quarter of a century.

We drove down Saturday morning, not in time for the first concert at 9:00, but got there in time for the 10:00 concert. (The GPS unit I got Spousal Unit as a Solstice present certainly makes it easy to find things; it directed us not only to George Mason U, but even around the inside-campus drives to the precise building!)
Finding the room that the concert was in was a challenge; while most things were taking place on the ground floor, there was one concert room and the vendor room on the third floor, for which one had to follow an unlikely path through basements and up stairs and through doors that looked like fire emergency or janitor-utility doors. The symposium staff were still busy taping up arrows and stuff to help people when we got there.
The concerts by the service band groups were great, of course. The 10:00 concert by the Marine Band Saxophone Quartet was mostly modern music, though - a piece featuring pre-recorded samples of spoken word stuff on a ghetto-blaster, with atonal saxophone accompaniment, for example. Not my cup of tea.

At 11:00 I attended a session on "An Overview to Writing for the Saxophone Section" which was great. Only 4 of us showed up for that, so it was like having an hour-long semi-private lesson in graduate-level arranging. Some of it is reminiscent of the undergraduate stuff I did with counterpoint and figured bass, of all things.

The lunch available in the lobby at noon was, um, edible, I guess. We got down there ahead of the worst of the lines. You'd think that at a conference for people who are going to be playing reed instruments, they'd provide more non-sugar drinks, but all they had was water, regular soda (and not many kinds) and some truly horrible canned diet iced tea.

At 1:00 was the rehearsal for the Community Saxophone Choir. If any of you were there, I was the woman on tenor sharing a stand with the two middle school kids who wouldn't shut up even when the conductor was talking. I kept shushing them, to no avail. It was at this point that we realized some of the serious problems in the printed program, namely, that it didn't list the performance time or place of said Community Choir, so many people didn't know there was an actual performance and couldn't stay for it, since they already had after-supper plans or they had made arrangements to go home at 5:00 and had no way to get back. The main printed schedules in the front cover and back cover of the program also didn't show in any way shape or form the concert of the Navy Band Commodores at 8 pm - if you didn't happen to read through the whole program during the day, and run across the page describing the Commodores, and see that it listed a concert, you would have no way of knowing about it.

The printed program had other problems - inconsistencies between the text schedule in the front cover, the detailed program inside, and the chart/table schedule inside the back cover. We discovered this when the Interservice Sax Ensemble was listed as 2:00 in the front schedule, 1:30 in the back schedule - and actually started at 2:30 as things turned out. By 2:00 pretty much everything was running late, in all sessions. Anyway, the Interservice Sax Ensemble was undoubtedly the best daytime performance of the whole day (excluding the Commodores concert in the evening) in my opinion. They had a bass sax! And a sopranino, played by the guy who had conducted the Community Sax Choir rehearsal.

The vendor room was small and crowded. There were only half a dozen vendors there, the usual suspects. I said hello to a friend who works at L & L Music, in Gaithersburg, which was one of the vendors; stopped to fondle a bass sax on display at the Selmer tables, and bought a new swab for my new used bari from a small table of a vendor who does pad repair and key repair. Whose card I can't find at the moment, so I can't tell you who it was.

At 4:30 we went over to the Grand Tier to hear the last of the College Sax Quartet Series; that was running late too, however, so we were forced to hear the second-to-last, which was playing current music. I have a saying, "Not everything that can be done, should be done" and that certainly applies to writing a piece that makes a saxophone quartet deliberately sound like an atonal bagpipe. The world has more than enough actual bagpipes already, thank you. There were a whole lot of odd squeaks, a total lack of recognizable melody or rhythm, in that piece - "Fantasy Etudes" by William Albright.
When the last quartet of the day, the Norfolk State University Quartet, finally came on, they thankfully did wonderful, traditional, MUSICAL pieces. A Bach fugue, a Handel concerto, a very nice arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, and a really fun arrangement of Tiger Rag. The quartet wasn't perfect, performance-wise, but they were good, and enthusiastic, and melodic, and we gave them a BIG hand.

Then it was a break for supper; Spousal Unit and I found a Thai place across the street from the university, as did several other people attending the symposium, so when we came back for the Community Sax Choir performance, there was a certain amount of curry-and-lemongrass breath in the crowd. Because the performance time hadn't been in the schedule, and because many of the people at rehearsal were middle-school kids, the number of people who showed up to perform was only about 1/3 the number who had rehearsed. The soprano sax parts were performed on a clarinet and a borrowed soprano, as well as a backup tenor; we did have both baris who had come to rehearsal show up for performance. But the number of tenors, for example, was down from 18 at rehearsal to 7 at the performance. Nonetheless, we all had fun amidst the panic. And if at one point, I was the only person who found the place after the DS and played 2 bars by myself, and at another point the guy I was sharing a stand with was the only person even faintly managing the 16th notes while the rest of us faked it, well, overall we covered everything between us all. We all ended at the same time. Note to conductor, however: next year, do NOT choose pieces with complicated DS's that cross pages, followed by jumps from bar 23 to bar 40 on the DS, followed by jumps across another 40 bars to a coda, when the group playing the piece gets to rehearse them only ONCE and then play them standing up, 3 on a stand, in poor lighting. Not ideal conditions for evoking a good performance. Let's keep it simpler next time, shall we?

The Commodores performance at 8:00 was superb, needless to say. They ran 2 full hours without an intermission. A fabulous group. Although it's a full jazz ensemble, they concentrated more on pieces that featured sax than they might have in a regular performance, and there was a guest bari sax soloist. A wonderful time was had by all.

Note: the Army Band Tuba-Euphonium Conference will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 25th through Saturday, Jan. 28th, also in VA, at Fort Myer, right near Arlington National Cemetary. This event is also free; if you can't get off work or out of school for the day sessions Thursday and Friday, at least consider the opening concert Wednesday night, and the events on Saturday! Fort Myer is an active Army base, so you will have to go through a security checkpoint to get in; bring a driver's license and they may want to inspect your car - they inspect most cars coming in.
Tags: navy band, saxophone
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