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Discussion Starter #1
Our daughter asked if a 'first seat' alto player at her college (she's a freshman) could borrow her soprano. After asking why she was not asked she said the teacher did not want her to play soprano.
This did not seat well with me, so I wrote the professor to ask.
Here is parts of his response.....
".......there are no parts in any of my big band's current literature
that call for a soprano sax, which is, at best, an instrument that is a
"double" for an alto saxophonist, as is flute and clarinet
........
........From what I gleaned from my conversation with Amanda on the subject, she
wanted me to give her a copy set of the tenor saxophone music from my
big band so that she could play it on the soprano sax next semester.
This will simply not work--the soprano plays an octave above an alto
sax, which is the main melody line in a big band. Playing a tenor
saxophone's music on a soprano saxophone would mean the tenor's
harmonies would be above the alto's melody, and would simply sound quite
strange. No big band I have ever seen has done such a thing, and for
good reason..........
......The soprano sax will work fine by itself as a melody instrument for the
jazz combos, but not as a main instrument in any big band setting.
If
Amanda wants to play in a big band, it would have to be on alto, tenor,
or baritone saxophone. If she were the "lead" alto sax player in a big
band, and a soprano sax "doubling" part were needed, I would have no
problem having her switch to soprano for that literature, but for now, I
already have 4 alto saxes in my big band, and there is no guarantee she
would be reading the "lead" part next semester--I would audition for
that spot, and my other 4 players are quite capable in their own right.
If Amanda truly wants to be a serious saxophonist, she should focus on
alto, tenor, or baritone sax.
"

Just to be clear, "big band" is thrown out for all ensembles......the first & third paragraphs deals with Concert band, while the second paragraph (tenor music) deals with Jazz band. As far as I know there is no 'Big Band' at the college.

I'm I little shocked & don't know how to respond.
 

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Soprano sax really isn't called for at all in a school band. I double on flute in my school stage band, only once have I used it 4 years in that band. I play with a stage band outside of school and even then we dont need a soprano sax. I havent heard many big bands that use a soprano sax. If in your situation let it go, and really she doesnt need a soprano sax. Its like me and wanting a piccolo, I got one then I never played it again after the first week. Im in year 12. The final year of high school in australia. There is nothing wrong with playing just alto, really she should get to first seat on alto ( im assuming she plays alto) then maybe consider soprano, soprano is quite different to other saxes and is quite annoying at times.
 

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The soprano saxophone is not a primary instrument in either large jazz ensembles or large concert ensembles, where 95% or more of the repertoire assumes a section of alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Soprano parts come up from time to time in either as doubles on the first alto part (concert band) or lead alto part (jazz ensemble). If she has the opportunity to study privately in a lesson setting (not sure if she's a major or not), soprano repertoire could be included. If she really loves soprano, she should look into joining (or forming) a saxophone quartet, where the standard instrumentation of SATB most definitely includes soprano.

Finally, a student who may have been a star player in high school has to get in line behind more experienced players when they get to college. Those who persevere can rise to the top again, but it takes quite a bit of drive and a thick skin.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I guess parents need a thick skin too!
She is torn between music and art as a major, but leaning toward music.
'We' took a break from her private lessons but will be starting again soon.
 

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I guess Thad jones never got you memo about what big band literature is supposed to have.....

And soprano does not play an octave above alto. There Are a lot of things wrong in what you wrote.......
 

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And soprano does not play an octave above alto. There Are a lot of things wrong in what you wrote.......
Yeah, he definitely missed on that point. I'm wondering if he was just in too much of a hurry to think over what he wrote. Maybe was just trying to make the point that the soprano would be an octave too high and would end up voiced over the alto.
 

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This is one of the reasons I avoided playing in college. It always seemed that, unless they were playing jazz, most of the music they did play never used the saxophone correctly no matter if it's sop, alto, tenor or bari.

That said, I do probably and reluctantly agree with much of what the teacher said. The sop doesn't fit in most of the stuff they play. It could fit very well. But only if the music is arranged that way. Back in the day when the big band was actually popular, the sop was used a lot.

I normally play sop as a lead instrument in my church wind orchestra which I conduct. It's perfect for Dixieland style music. And with a well-developed full sound, I find the sop can "out-trumpet" many trumpets. Many times I play lead along with my trumpets but enhance my part with extra licks and often pop up an octave in certain places for effect. I find the sop almost infinitely flexible for lead, high harmony, singer accompaniment and solo work. However, if I'm carrying another harmony part, I usually revert back to tenor. But you have to remember that I have complete control over the arrangement and the orchestra. So I do what I want.

If I had the time to go back to college and study music, I might miss the type of the playing I like to do. But I'd grab a tenor (I'm not much of an alto guy) and do what my teachers wanted. Why? Because they have things to teach me and experiences to provide that I couldn't get on my own. And in the end, I believe your daughter will be a better soprano player even if she has to play alto or tenor during her formal education.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for all the replies.
Enviroguy, part of the issue here is that Amanda stands 5' 1" and though she can play tenor for a bit (we have one), I don't know if she could play it for hours on end. And since the college does not have storage lockers for student's instruments, and she takes the bus to school.....
Again, I have a hard time with comments like, "soprano sax, which is, at best, an instrument that is a "double" for an alto saxophonist[/b]" and "If Amanda truly wants to be a serious saxophonist, she should focus on alto, tenor, or baritone sax.", especially if she prefers to play the soprano?
I've gone from thinking this was the best college locally to thinking maybe we should start looking for another college that embraces the soprano as it's own instrument instead of something that you only "second" on, or you're not a serious saxophonist if you do focus on it. I mean, why can't the soprano be your "first" sax and the alto or tenor your "second"?
I know the simple answer, something along the lines of the college music isn't chosen to incorporate the soprano.
And I, as uneducated in music as am, understand that for concert band, but the same for Jazz? Really?

Sorry guys, just blowing a little steam here.
 

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Concert band and jazz band repetoire is what it is. There's no way around it. There are very few parts that call for sop. The best thing to do is either accept this--play A, T, or B, in the bands and play sop as a double or just for fun-- or go your own way. Form a small group where sop is a featured solo voice. Personally I think alto and soprano go well together. Make a nice one-two punch so to speak. Alot of tunes and parts will lay better on one than on the other. Sop can play tenor parts and tunes note for note (sounding one octave higher) while alto parts played on sop (transposed to the proper key of course) might be in an awkward range (extreme high or low). Playing both sop and alto will open up a larger universe of playable tunes.
 

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I play soprano and while I only do i tvery rarely find switching to alto easier than tenor. I am in college but we play in 5 pce ensembles and rather than the jazz orchestra I chose to play in the rhythm section (guitar with the occasional sop solo) of the vocal ensemble which is basically a jazz choir.

Jazz orchestra offered flute parts as an option for soprano but I am more of a melody guy. Sop is definitely on the quirky side of the instrument world and if a person is small alto would definitely be a more ergonomically correct choice of instrument.
 

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My daughter (10th grader) also prefers the soprano, or at least likes both the alto and soprano equally. She knows that she's be playing the alto if she studies sax in college, but would like to attend a college/conservatory that has a large sax ensemble as well as sax quartets (she wants to study classical sax) and there she can play soprano. But I understand what you're saying; she wouldn't like to be told that the soprano sax is not a serious instrument.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I went over to talk to the professor face to face to clear up any confusions.
It seems as though there really is a 'Big Band' class and that was what he was talking about....even though neither our daughter nor the other student take this class! While I was waiting to speak with the professor after class (other 'students' talking to him), I spoke with the student borrowing the soprano. He goes on to tell me that the pristine YAS-23 he plays is borrowed from a neighbor! He's first chair and plays with 2 borrowed saxes! I don't know whether to feel angry because a 'serious' player should have his own instruments, or happy that a player has the passion to ask for something he does not own himself. Oh, and that whole 'first chair' is a bunch of B.S., our daughter was asked if she wanted to be first chair & declined (I'm working on her confidence, slow road). There was no auditions......maybe for Big Band, but not for concert.
I asked about playing the soprano & was told that if she wanted to play the soprano she should take the 'Combo' class.
And if she wanted to play in the Jazz band she should think of doubling on the flute or clarinet.

My last comment about the program is that I was told what a great music program this school had.
This is a community (junior) college, and as I was waiting to talk to the professor I could not help be notice how many 'older' students were in the class. There was/is a change that the class might be dropped because the minimum number of 'students' were not enrolled in the class. It seems as though there are adults in there that have taken the class more than the maximum times. They get to add the class as a teachers aide.
My point is that now I'm wondering if the 'program' is great, or just great because the bands are filled with members that have been players for decades (plural!).
 

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If she is enrolled in a community college, I'm guessing that Amanda is 18 or so. Offering support is good, hovering is not. Maybe she should be learning to work out things on her own.
 

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If you think about it there are many of the more eclectic instruments that are fun & rewarding to play and can be used in pretty much most settings with careful consideration. For your daughter to get the most out her course it is best to allow her to focus on fundamentals without the additional complication of an instrument that doesn't slot into the ensembles offered.

Would it be reasonable do you think to insist on taking in bagpipes if that was her passion?

Oh and get over the comparisons with other players' instruments
 

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^^^^^^^
Have to agree with retread....strong parental support is good and to be applauded.....fighting the battles for a young adult is quite another. Best of luck to both you and your daughter.
 

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If she is enrolled in a community college, I'm guessing that Amanda is 18 or so. Offering support is good, hovering is not. Maybe she should be learning to work out things on her own.
I concur, tough as this may sound, with this and with the other responses you've gotten. The junior college Amanda is attending sounds much like the college where I teach (not music). For one thing, the many "'older' students" you noticed are not atypical at this kind of institution. Also because of the economy, a lot of adults are deciding to go back to college and get that degree that, for whatever reason, they never did ten, twenty, thirty years ago. The big research universities don't cater to the so-called "non-traditional" students and are way too expensive for most of them anyway. And just because a saxophonist happens to play on a borrowed horn should definitely NOT lead to speculations about her or his seriousness and dedication to the music. Perhaps you've heard of Charlie Parker, yes?

Purely from a pedagogical perspective, not just musically speaking here, it is absolutely beneficial to the young, 18-year-old Freshmen to have sitting next to them someone who's in their forties and who doesn't take a college education for granted (not saying that Amanda does).

Moreover, at the JuCo level, there's always much more fluctuation even during a single semester in terms of class enrollment. A lot of our students simply 'disappear,' sometimes the week before finals, never to be seen or heard from again. For me, as an English teacher, that's not such a big problem because that means fewer finals to grade.... But if I were a band director, I'd be very hesitant to have big band or even jazz combo rehearse anything with a soprano part written for it when I can't even be sure that my drummer is still going to show up for class next month, let alone next semester.

Lastly, I must say that to me, the professor you spoke with sounds courteous. FERPA (the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) stipulates that professors may discuss a student's performance with parents only if the student has signed a release form. Even though FERPA may not apply directly in the specific situation you describe, helicopter parents are known to spot the proverbial slippery slope from five states away. Amanda should speak with her adviser if she hasn't already done so, and she should also speak with the chair of the music department if she hasn't already done so. The point is, SHE should be doing that, not you.

I perfectly understand your concerns over Amanda's confidence and in fact applaud your efforts to boost it -- but the fact is, college is also about taking responsibility of one's own learning.

Best,

-j.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
-j. and others.
Though Amanda is in J.C. she is still 17 until November.

I need to apologize to all as I have turned this from statements concerning the soprano sax made by the instructor that had me scratching my head to questioning the whole program.
And this all started by asking the instructor if the other student truly needed a soprano.
In my mind I had a hard time understanding why someone without a sop would be given a sop part....or at least, ask if the student had a sop, as the instructor said that if a player did not have the instrument the school would provide one.

From there this mushroomed when I found comments the professor made not to be true.
I will say this may have been because the professor was thinking about Big Band & I was speaking of Concert band.

And though I cannot say I will never involve myself in future "issues", I will try to counsel Amanda in what she needs to do going forward.
 

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And though I cannot say I will never involve myself in future "issues"...
Better yet, don't create them for your daughter. If you continue to treat her like she's in grade school, her professors may as well.
 

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No need to apologize, AmandasDad, no need at all. I was just trying to illuminate the context a bit from the information you've given us.

I'm not quite clear though about who asked Amanda to lend her soprano to someone else: was it the student, or was it the professor himself? Either way, I hope Amanda's response to the latter would be a polite but firm "no, sir," or to the former a loud "Aw heeeeell no!!!!" As a professor myself, I would NEVER ask a student, especially not a Freshman, to let a fellow student borrow anything more expensive than a pen. If this is indeed what happened, then that would be of much greater concern to me than the dearth of soprano sax parts in college bands. Is it possible perhaps that the professor asked if anybody knew anyone with a soprano, and then the other student simply took it upon himself to ask Amanda for her instrument?

-j.
 
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