How not to rob a liquor store

Written by Bob McCormick on 1/14/2007 11:27:00 PM

This thing reminds me of the old Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. The only thing missing is an Acme product.

How not to rob a liquor store...

(Hat Tip: Brian Dunbar)

My Musical experiences - the Junior High School years

Written by Bob McCormick on 1/14/2007 11:13:00 PM

Continuing on ... from my previous post ...

I first started going to Junior High School while I was in Florida. So, as I "graduated" from Elementary School, I was given a choice in 6th grade - play in the band, or take other electives. If I was to play in the band, I would have to be in the 6th grade band. But since most other 6th graders had not played an instrument yet, this would have meant that I would have to be in beginners band ... for the 3rd year in a row! Needless to say, I wanted to play sax, but not re-learn everything I'd already learned twice. So, I opted to take other electives (which actually turned out to be interesting).

During all this time, my family and I really wanted to move back to Texas. Dallas was our first choice, but my father was only able to manage a transfer to Houston, which he accepted. We moved to Houston, but only moved into an apartment so that we could get to the city but allow my parents more time to find a permanent home. We found a small two-bedroom apartment (which with my parents in one bedroom and my 2 year old sister and I sharing the other bedroom, living space was tight.) So 7th grade saw me start the year in Houston, riding a series of overcrowded buses 15 miles in heavy traffic to the nearest Junior High School (T.H. Rogers Junior High).

That's where I was in for a shock.

All of the students at T.H. Rogers had already been through 1 solid year of instrumental playing. As a result, they all had good knowledge of their horns. On Sax, I understood the basic note fingerings, but I did not understand how to play a basic scale or how to transpose "concert" pitches to the right note for my Alto Sax.

Furthermore, students were already divided into playing for "chairs" - the "first chair" being the most accomplished player (in the mind of the director, based on the limited playing she made the students do in front of the entire band), the "second chair" being second best, and so on. In essence, the odds were stacked against me - the open competition and lack of advancing (in fact, stagnating) at the first year level had taken its toll. I wound up near the bottom of the Alto Sax players list (about next to last chair). In spite of all this, I wasn't discouraged. My playing was obviously tentative at first but was slowly getting better as I mastered the horn, the music, and the scales/music theory - even in the crowded practice conditions back at the apartment.

Then, in midyear, things changed yet again. My parents found a house in Alief (in southwest Houston), and I found myself changing schools once again, this time, to Olle Middle School. The Band director there was more sarcastic than my previous Band Director, but not as harsh. He asked me if I wanted to play Baritone. When he asked me that, I literally did not know what he meant - but I found out.

I was to play Baritone Saxophone throughout the rest of my time at Olle and through high School.

Bari Sax is an interesting horn. It produces a much lower sound than an Alto. But it can be quite a bit louder- there's quite a bit more metal to that horn (as you can see from the pictures - the Alto is on the left in the back stand and the Bari is on the right in the back stand). But it's size is a big drawback. Of all the wind instruments, I can't think of a heavier horn (other than a Tuba). Just lugging the horn back and forth between School and home can give your arms and back a HUGE workout. (You can also sweep people off their feet with the horn in its case!) It's rare to see a petite Bari Sax player just like it's rare to see a petite Tuba player.

The other major difference between Bari Sax and Alto Sax is the type of music that is typically played. Altos normally don't play the melody, but they might play a harmonic third or fifth below the melody (or sometimes just as difficult, a counterpoint to the melody). Sometimes Altos may carry the melody briefly - oftentimes with French Horns. Baris typically play the bass line, which is much easier. (Even odder is the fact that Bari Sax players can usually easily transpose Tuba/Bass parts, because the Bari is an Eb horn which is close to the difference between the normal Treble Clef Sax notation and the normal Tuba Bass Clef notation.) This means the Bari parts are nowhere near as challenging - or as interesting - as the Alto parts.

But this can work for the Bari player in school. It means that the normal concert band arrangements are much easier to master, allowing a concert school band Bari player more time to devote to working up Solo/Ensemble parts or (in the US) other All-State instrumentalist competitions.

So by the time I'd "graduated" Olle Middle School, things seemed to be well-set. Bari Sax parts were easy to play, and because I didn't have a lot of "chair" competition (most bands have only 1 Bari player at most while 2 Tenor players and 4-6 Alto players get to get into "chair" competition), I was able to concentrate more on mastering the horn and getting beyond what the immediate concert pieces had.

NEXT WEEK: High School Band "Daze" - competition and discovery

BLOG SERIES - My Musical experiences - the pre-Middle School years

Written by Bob McCormick on 1/02/2007 09:10:00 PM

I've been meaning to start blogging about my experiences playing in school bands. Encouraged by an old High School buddy of mine, I've decided to write a series about my experiences. Mostly, my experiences mirror what a lot of other people have had - the typical (and in some cases, not so typical) school band experience.

I was fortunate enough to be born into a musical family. My mother had majored in drama in college and was constantly participating in plays and musicals (and still does!). My father participated in some of these musicals (at least, when I was relatively young). My younger sister would later continue on to obtain a Masters degree in Vocal Performance at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

But back in the early 70's, we lived in Dallas, TX. My older sister (two years my senior) started to learn to play the flute in fourth grade (we were enrolled in a parochial school which taught instrument playing that early). When I made it to fourth grade, I decided to learn to play the saxophone. I just liked the instrument's shape (after all, what instrument is shaped like the first letter of its name?!?), and for some reason or other, I liked the fact that something as complicated-looking as a saxophone could make sounds and music like that. So my parents and I went to a local music store in downtown Dallas, started "rent-to-own" payments on a used beginner's King Cleveland Alto Saxophone, and off I went to early morning music lessons.

Saxophone playing, like other woodwind instruments, is kind of like learning to read music as if it were braille. Unlike some instruments (piano, guitar), you can't look at where your hands or fingers need to be in order to play the note - the instrument's design prevents you from seeing them. You simply have to know that a particular note has a particular fingering. The result is that when you learn to play saxophone, musical tones are converted into finger positions. (The symptom is so prevalent that, to this day, as I read choir music, I find myself "fingering" the notes I'm trying to sing as if I were playing them on my sax!)

During fourth grade, I was able to learn enough of Alto Saxophone playing that was able to advance from the beginners group up to our school's concert band. It wasn't much - a group of about 50 or so wind and percussion instrumentalists all the way up to the eighth grade - but it was good progress for me.

Unfortunately, my family moved to Florida after that first year. I enrolled in a public school, but that meant going to a new Elementary school, where there was no musical instrument training. For the first half of the year, I was out of luck. But in the second half of the year, the school district sent a music teacher to the Elementary school to offer kids the chance to start to learn to play instruments. So for the second year in a row, learned how to play Saxophone all over again. Of course, it was not difficult - I'd already learned how to read and play the music. I even played a solo from the beginner's Saxophone book at the fifth grade musical production at the end of the year.

All in all, my saxophone playing had been a little bit frustrating, but I felt that I was pretty good at it and certainly wanted to continue on.

NEXT WEEK: I'll blog about my Junior High experiences ... and a "rude awakening" for my sax playing.