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It's Sunday, and I'm at home (I'm not a church-going person, having had the experience ruined for me in childhood, but I have respect for any and all peaceful and non-invasive expressions of the spiritual), and I find myself thinking about our friends and colleagues here who play sometimes, or exclusively, in religious contexts. Sunday makes ME think that way, because I'm a cultural Christian if not a practicing true believer; others may do their holy-place riff on another day. But I am genuinely curious: how many different religions encourage or depend on saxophones in their worship? And what are the different repertoires for different religions? In my experience, I know people who play in various Protestant contexts; is there a Catholic equivalent? Jewish? Muslim? Hindu (I know there is a strong sax tradition in India, and I have listened to several albums that have come from there: very interesting indeed!)? Buddhist? I'm sure there are Buddhist sax players, but is there a place in Buddhist practice, per se, for the saxophone? Christian Science? Scientology? The Church of John Coltrane is a no-brainer, but how about the Church of Elvis? How broadly and how deeply in world religion does the saxophone's voice penetrate?

Again, I ask this question very seriously and with great respect. William James's great book The Varieties of Religious Experience has had a huge influence on my thought (it's a wonderful book); that's why I titled this post as I did. James approaches the question by getting information from a huge number of people from various walks of life coming at the issue from a near-infinity of directions. Perhaps we could do something like that here? What religion is your music a part of; what part does the sax play in that kind of service; what is the music itself? The more different points of view the better.

I've checked to see whether there's another thread like this one, and I haven't found one, but if this has been done before, please refer me to the previous thread.

Thanks!
 

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FWIW, I thought it was really cool to see you raise these questions, and quite respectfully IMO. Perhaps someone with a background in comparative religion would be in a position to answer them comprehensively. Anyway, here are a few thoughts, but be forewarned that this is a mixture of facts and hunches.

At least in Christian music, one sees a tremendous variety of musical styles in general. As to the sax, a friend of mine blew three hymns in church this morning. The stylings in this church are heavily classical, with some Gospel, but there are churches where the reverse is true. My teacher blows sacred music in a bebop context in bars. The people don't bat an eyelash; they just groove on it.

Why do you suppose that's so? I think it's because good musicians play from the heart, and when they do, folks get it in a powerful way. Check out Kevin Cowert doing "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" at http://youtube.com/watch?v=bUD1CBbUKcM&mode=related&search=Ladybird%20Video%20Demo%20-%20Sax%20%26%20Piano%20Jazz%20Duo. Whatever style you call it, it's genuine and it rocks.

I have to think there are fine saxophonists of so many faiths with something to say, so there will be many outlets for them. Some congregations will be very open to the saxophone and others may not be. I consider myself as a serious Christian for over two decades, but my family is Jewish. One of my grandpa's was an orthodox Rabbi. I mention this so that no one will go into heat when I tell you that my family has a saying "If there's one sure fire way to get 12 different opinions, its to ask 10 different Rabbis." That's why it's so important to think about congregations, and not faiths. There must be some exceptions, but in general, things happen at the congregation level, as different communities live out their faiths together. There are a lot of congregations, so there must be a lot of styles.

Incidentally, I also had a horrible childhood religious experience, one which turned me off to God for many years. It doesn't have to be that way forever; up to you.

EDIT: Just fixed a clerical error.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
LampLight said:
FWIW, I thought it was really cool to see you raise these questions, and quite respectfully IMO. Perhaps someone with a background in comparative religion would be in a position to answer it comprehensively. Anyway, here are a few thoughts, but be forwarded that this is a mixture of facts and hunches.

At least in Christian music, one sees a tremendous variety of musical styles in general. As to the sax, a friend of mine blew three hymns in church this morning. The stylings in this church are heavily classical, with some Gospel, but there are churches where the reverse is true. My teacher blows sacred music in a bebop context in bars. The people don't bat an eyelash; they just groove on it.

Why do you suppose that's so? I think it's because good musicians play from the heart, and when they do, folks get it in a powerful way. Check out Kevin Cowert doing "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" at http://youtube.com/watch?v=bUD1CBbUKcM&mode=related&search=Ladybird%20Video%20Demo%20-%20Sax%20%26%20Piano%20Jazz%20Duo. Whatever style you call it, it's genuine and it rocks.

I have to think there are fine saxophonists of so many faiths with something to say, so there will be many outlets for them. Some congregations will be very open to the saxophone and others may not be. I consider myself as a serious Christian for over two decades, but my family is Jewish. One of my grandpa's was an orthodox Rabbi. I mention this so that no one will go into heat when I tell you that my family has a saying "If there's one sure fire way to get 12 different opinions, its to ask 10 different Rabbis." That's why it's so important to think about congregations, and not faiths. There must be some exceptions, but in general, things happen at the congregation level, as different communities live out their faiths together. There are a lot of congregations, so there must be a lot of styles.

Incidentally, I also had a horrible childhood religious experience, one which turned me off to God for many years. It doesn't have to be that way forever; up to you.
This is a great starting point. I hope we hear from lots more folks.

Many thanks, Lamplight.
 

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I too was born and raised Jewish (no saxophones in my synagogue!- just an occasional shofar). I was invited by a janitor at a school where I taught to join his gospel group to play the saxophone ( he heard me practicing in the smoker's lounge). We played at Assembly of God Churches and other Charismatic type churches. This was my first exposure to Christianity and eventually accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I have been playing saxophone as well as guitar and bass in churches-mostly what are called Independant churches as well as an Assembly of God Church, ever since-(25 years). I don't know what is acceptable instrumentation in other denominations, however. I see you are from Phoenix. If you want an non-threatening church experience, come visit my church next Sunday. Copper Hills Community Church being held in Highland Lakes Elementary School at 19000 N. 63rd Ave-Just north of Union Hills on 63rd. We start at 10:30. You don't even have to identify yourself if you don't want, but I'd be glad to meet you.
 

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Honeyboy, are you by any chance related to the Phoenix Slowskis? :)

Sorry; good jokes cost more.
 

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LampLight said:
Honeyboy, are you by any chance related to the Phoenix Slowskis? :)

Sorry; good jokes cost more.
No, just a Jewish carpenter.
 

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LampLight said:
Honeyboy, are you by any chance related to the Phoenix Slowskis?
For you LampLight, never a Slowski. Only a Longski. :D

Well, for those of you in the Phoenix area, drop by the Via De Cristo Methodist Church. The minister, David Felton, is a very good sax player.
 

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gary said:
For you LampLight, never a Slowski. Only a Longski. :D . . .
Well, I suppose if the shoe fits . . . :)
 

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Discussion Starter #9
gary said:
For you LampLight, never a Slowski. Only a Longski. :D

Well, for those of you in the Phoenix area, drop by the Via De Cristo Methodist Church. The minister, David Felton, is a very good sax player.
Why isn't it "never s Slowski; only a Quickski"? Did I miss an important cultural reference?

I'm hopelessly out of it -- again!:director:
 

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Reedsplinter said:
Why isn't it "never s Slowski; only a Quickski"? Did I miss an important cultural reference?

I'm hopelessly out of it -- again!:director:

I think I missed it as well, try as a might to figure out the admittedly lame joke. Maybe it's from a movie or something.:? :)
 

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Honeyboy said:
I think I missed it as well, try as a might to figure out the admittedly lame joke. Maybe it's from a movie or something.:? :)
"Love at First Bite". Not worth explaining though since it was a throw-away line. I just wanted to bring you Phoenix area folks attention to David Felton.

So, regarding the topic at hand, I've been in many different spiritual services of many Christian denominations as well as Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Jewish and other spiritual groups and the only time I've heard saxes in ceremonies were either in so-called jazz services and jazz masses, in the more pentecostal protestant services and, of course, in the black church tradition - all American though.

Here in Germany it is not uncommon at all for wind groups (containing saxes) or soloists to play in services, I've just never personally heard a sax solo or sax used in any other than as part of an ensemble.

You asked specifically "What religion is your music a part of; what part does the sax play in that kind of service; what is the music itself?" and my specific answer to that is that I do not belong to any organised religion. I realise that my next comment will not be taken kindly by some, so please understand that I am not inviting argument or criticising anyone in how they "worship", only putting my own beliefs into context.

I love to hear saxes in emotionally charged church services, but for me these kind of services are cheer-leading and superficial, so while I get a lot of musical and emotional pleasure out of hearing music in that context, for me this is not spiritual in the sense that I think you are asking your question. What is spiritual for me, saxophonically, is when I listen to players like Charles Lloyd, Pharoah Sanders or John Coltrane play music that, for them, is being played with a spiritual context. If I believe that they are playing with a God-oneness and wanting to communicate that, if I am in the same spiritual context then they communicate directly to me spiritually and they transport me to another place altogether.

There are many, many different ways that music is used in spiritual environments and I love much of it. But your question is directly regarding saxes so my answer is limited to that.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Interesting and thoughtful. Actually I'm of the same mind as you, more or less, though I'm inclined to think that one man's cheerleading might be another's spiritual experience (no Dallas Cowgirls jokes here please:shock: :D ). My question was not posed in the interest of having my own inclinations reinforced, but rather to discover uses of the saxophone in areas beyond my own experience. I too have found extraordinary profundity in precisely the same places you describe, and I am profoundly grateful for that. My intention in even asking this question was to expand my knowledge.:cool: So I'm happy to read anything anyone has to say on this subject.
 

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The use of the sax in my church experience is in both the faster
'praise" songs which I think are the ones Gary percieves as cheerleading, and the more pensive, "worship" songs which are quite different in both speed, mood and spiritual awareness. The faster praise songs such as "My Redeemer Lives" by Rueben Morgan, "Forever" by Chris Tomlin and "You Are Good" by Israel Houghton are high energy joyful songs where a believer rejoices happily over his God and Savior. Slower worship songs like "Here I am to Worship","Amazing Love" or "How Great is Our God" (Tomlin again) are more private, thankful, tender spiritual experiences. The sax is a great instrument for either one of these songs styles since one can express all ranges of spiritual and emotional expression. I can be boisterous (Cheerleading for my God, if you must) and I can be tender, thankful, pensive and loving to and for my Savior.He has allowed me to do all this on the sax (as well as guitar) and the feedback in experiencing His love and presence in and around me (in the church as a corporate worshipping team) is the most rewarding experience musically I have experienced in 30 years of sax playing.No amount of applause can even approach this.
 

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I would agree that one man's cheer leading can be another's spiritual experience. Even within a congregation, people approach worship with different degrees of sincerity and genuineness. The churches I know are not ashamed to raise this as an issue, so I hope no one takes offense.
 

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LampLight said:
I would agree that one man's cheer leading can be another's spiritual experience. Even within a congregation, people approach worship with different degrees of sincerity and genuineness. The churches I know are not ashamed to raise this as an issue, so I hope no one takes offense.

I prefer to approach the entire issue of worship within our church as "praise & worship." During our services we often "praise" God with upbeat choruses, clapping of hands, singing, and yes, some folks shout. You can look at it as "celebrating" what God has done and is doing in the life of a believer. We tend to "worship" during slower songs. It's more a meditative or reflective time during our worship service.

To me, what can make a worship service a "cheer leading" session is strictly the the words being sung. Not to break into any sort of doctrinal debate here, but the truth of God must be as evident on our worship as it is in our preaching. I am the worship pastor of a large congregation and I make every effort to ensure that what we sing is first of all, solid doctrine, and secondly, musically challenging to a large group of musicians and vocalists.

I have been to many services where the focus in worship is on "I" - and not on God. IMO, when that happens the pep rally begins. Good worship should be Christ centered and should draw worshippers to Christ and away from self.

All of that being said, yes, we use sax in worship, along with two trumpets and two bones. Our style will very from funky black gospel to contemporary. I am a singer/sax player but rarely play my sax in church.
 

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Our church would be classified as non-denominational christian. We have a really good praise and worship team, and we have ties to Hillsong Church in Australia. Sadly, we do not have any sax presence currently, but we are working on it (our horn section is one Trombone!!). We just had an alto player join the team, an I bought a tenor a short while back. I plan to start playing some basic backings in a few months.

Our praise & worship pastor is very supportive of this effort. I play guitar during our services a couple times a month. Maybe he's trying to tell me something. :laughing:
 

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We did some Coltrane in our church one Sunday. I wrote words to the Love Supreme bass line, ("His Sacred Love, His Holy Love, etc) and wrote another line to be sung in unison ("His Love is Sacred, His Love is Holy) and the congregation sang both lines while we played the Love Supreme melody over it. I also wrote words to Wise One and we did that, and we did Dear Lord as an instrumental. It was all very well received by the church congregation.
 

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I've played at a Universalist Unitarian church in two groups - my classical quartet and a 20-piece contemporary big band. Their meeting place is one of the finest acoustic environments around.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
This is all very interesting indeed -- thanks for the input, everyone. Dr. G., I'm not surprised that a Unitarian church would do, well, just about anything (I attended one for awhile that invited in witches one week, and a group of prostitutes the next, to discuss their spiritual lives). I wish I could have heard your 20-piece group -- sounds great!

For those of you who play sax in church on some kind of regular basis: how regular is regular, and how big a role does the instrument play for the congregation, the group, or whatever your particular institution calls it?
 

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Reedsplinter said:
!

For those of you who play sax in church on some kind of regular basis: how regular is regular, and how big a role does the instrument play for the congregation, the group, or whatever your particular institution calls it?
At my present church, we have a very small worship team consisting of keyboard, acoustic guitar, sometimes electric guitar,( either me or the pastor's son who is now away at college), drums, bass and 3 singers and an occasional harmonica. Lately I am just playing sax every Sunday as both a background fill and also with some intermitant solos or a lead in solo to a song . If we have a walk in song, the sax is used to do the tune- for example, a few weeks ago a played "Great is Thy Faithfulness" as a walk in tune as people were filing in to their seats. It helps set the mood for worship.We've done livelier ones such as "He is Jehovah" or "Therfore the Redeemed of the Lord"". An example of a song with solo work would be "My Reedeemer Lives" which starts off with an in your face blues/rock style lead in , a short solo in the middle and one at the end. As far as how it effects the congregation,I've been told by some that my sax playing helps them get into praise and worship and helps create a worshipful mood. (No one has said this about my guitar playing!!! :( :) ) My goal is to support the praise and worship of God as I am asked by the worship leader. If I get any feedback indicating my playing is a distraction from that, I would be dissapointed and find out how to change that and seriously examine my motives as well.
 
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