Jamming with my nephew, much easier after I practiced scales

In the meld of the horn and the strings,

Ah, the joy that harmony brings!

     In past times I failed,

     Then I started scales.

Not only do I play but I sing.

I grew up in Denver, and going back for the American Academy of Family Practice Scientific Assembly brought back a lot of memories.

When the conference finished I prowled my way through the traffic to the house of my sister, Ilise, for a family gathering. 

I got to catch up with another sister, Hava,  and her family and meet my twin niece and nephew.

After supper, the two toddlers melted down (normal for age) and went home.  I got out my saxophone and jammed with my teenage nephew, Ilise’s son.

Unlike mine, his musical talent hasn’t been hampered by a lack of lessons nor a deficiency of desire to practice basic exercises.  He plays well, he’s gotten a good sense of rhythm and he learns quickly. 

I’m not sure if he composed the two numbers we played, I am positive I hadn’t heard them before.  Keeping up with contemporary music requires a lot of listening and cannot be rushed.  I have had little time to just sit and listen to music for the last forty years, it has always formed an accompaniment to doing something else, like bicycle repair or driving or cooking or sweating over a hot elliptical machine.

I put my horn together, tuned up, and said, “OK, what key are we in?”  I received a blank look and asked, “How many flats?” 

Let me explain that my soprano saxophone is in the key of B flat; a piano is in the key of C.  In order to get onto the same musical page I have to transpose everything in my head.  In the beginning, my brain rebelled against such cognitive dissonance, but since my experience in Barrow, Alaska (see my posts on musicianship from June and July) the exercise has become more like dance and less like calisthenics. 

When I had my head wrapped around what musical neighborhood I should play in, I said, “You start, I’ll follow.”

A youth in his mid-teens doesn’t expect such a statement from an uncle with a markedly grey beard, particularly if he’d never heard me play. 

Now in contemporary American Cinema the protagonist walks into musical group, picks up an unfamiliar instrument, says, “OK, C minor,” and immediately the group turns out a highly polished number, leading the audience to believe that you don’t really need to practice scales to sound wonderful.  Such was the illusion I labored under for a very long time.

But I have been playing scales, and I have improved my musicianship.

He started with a very compelling rhythmic structure under a (thankfully) simple harmonic.  With my new-found ability to play scales, I enveloped his melody with good, solid counterpoint.  Our right hemispheres melded.  We sounded great.

And we had a great time.


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