I found this article I wrote way back in 2007 for Teen Jazz – it has since been removed from the web site, so I thought I would share it here.
The way I came about playing the saxophone is quite unusual, but I cannot imagine my life without it.
It all started in elementary school. At the beginning of the year, when you are about eleven years old, they give you a form to take home and decide which instrument you wanted to play. Initially, we were given the option to continue doing theatre or join the band, and having already done theatre for seven years, I felt I needed change. Not to mention the fact that I had wanted to do music for quite some time – at a younger age, you could start lessons but they were after school instead of during – I had never been allowed to do it because my parents could not arrange for me to be picked up. We were given the option to take an instrumental music course during regular school hours, so I was elated to finally be provided the opportunity to play an instrument.
So, I took the form home. I had an uncle who played the trumpet, and I wanted to play the same instrument so that I could have someone around who could help me out when I needed it. But at the time, I was convinced that the trumpet was called the flute, and despite my parents telling me otherwise, I wrote “Flute” down on the form.
The next week at school, they had rented all the instruments and were handing them out to us. When they called my name, I walked down and they handed me a thin, long box. I opened it and looked at the instrument they gave me. My expression must have hinted at what I was feeling because they asked me if it was what I wanted to play. I replied “No”, but my fate was already determined. They told me that I couldn’t switch instruments because they had only rented instruments according to what the students had written down. I went home pretty disappointed that day.
Fast forward a year or two… All throughout junior high, I wanted to play in the jazz band, but they wouldn’t let me because I played flute because “the flute isn’t a jazz instrument.” I saw that some of the music they played had flute parts, but I was told that was only for “advanced” jazz bands, and ours wasn’t good enough yet. So, I insisted on sitting in at rehearsals, transposing the sax parts.
After I graduated from junior high, my parents told me that they would let me start to play trumpet or saxophone so that I could play in the high school jazz band. Based on my musical track record, obviously I chose the trumpet. We went down to the music store to buy a trumpet that I could learn over the summer.
The reason my parents wanted to buy my next instrument was due to the experience we had renting my flute. A student instrument was only a couple hundred dollars, so they wanted to invest in owning the instrument as opposed to renting. When we got to the store, the guy went into the back to look for a trumpet. He came back saying that he had already sold all his student trumpets and all he had left was an alto saxophone (this is why you don’t buy instruments right before the start of the school year). I was determined to play in the jazz band, so I gave into getting a saxophone. It took quite a bit of arguing for my parents to get me to do it though.
Eventually, in my sophomore year in high school, my grandfather gave me his 60 year old Getzen trumpet. I started to learn it, and I (thought I) got pretty good at it. When I told my band director, who is a trumpet player, that I had started to play and wanted to audition with it, he laughed. I was told girls never became good trumpet players, and that I would never be able to make a career playing trumpet – that it would be hard enough to ever become good being a girl on sax. This really discouraged me and I decided that I needed to choose between sax and trumpet so I could prove to him that a girl could get good on one or the other. I ended up choosing sax because I finally preferred it. I didn’t keep trumpet as a double
because the buzzing of the mouthpiece was starting to ruin my embouchure for sax.
In the end, I have come to realize that I truly love playing the saxophone and could not imagine my life without it. Since renting an old student Yamaha alto, I have spread out to playing soprano, alto, tenor and bari saxes. I think that writing “flute” on that little piece of paper was probably the best mistake that ever happened to me.