The Kid Steps Out and Rides the Riff

Before the concert, Joseph getting his reed in place.

Before the concert, Joseph getting his reed in place.

A few days before, at dinner, he was huffing between bites. Bite. Chew. Huff. Repeat.

“What?” I said.

“How will I do it?” my son Joseph said.

“What, your saxophone solo in the band concert?” his mother said. “You get to improvise. No problem.”

Bite. Chew. Huff.

“Look, kid,” I said. “Less is more. You don’t have to play a lot of notes. You know the key you’ll be in.”

“Well, what if I play the wrong notes?”

“As log as you stay in the key, there are no wrong notes,” my wife said. “Your teacher even said that.”

“Spaces between the notes matter too, kid,” I said. “You can improv on two notes.”

“MnnnO.Kayyyy…” Bite. Chew. Huff.

And after dinner, he went off to practice.

A quiet moment before going on.

A quiet moment before going on.

I am musical, but I try not to interfere. The best lessons are the ones he will discover, not the ones I tell him. Oh, once in awhile I may encourage him to feel something rather than plan it, to not be afraid to be wrong, to squeak or squawk it on purpose. But better if I let Joseph explore the treble clef, the tones between tones, the bend, the brass, and the brap.

While I do the dishes, I listen to the starts and stops, the half-notes and demi-quavers of frustration, feeling around, finding…”Dad, can you find me ‘The Pink Panther’ online for alto?” “Dad, can you come in here and beat out this rhythm?” I dry my hands and go.

From the first bleats and squonks to today, really not much time has passed. Discipline comes in like weather systems, not on schedule and rarely in a straight line. But over time, tone rounds, attacks get crisper, syncopations work into the right parts of the beat. Musicianship grows like a tree through the cracks in concrete. It will not be kept down.

Handling his part in Concert Band

Handling his part in Concert Band

Friday night finally came, and as I helped him tie his tie, I thought about asking Joseph if he felt ready. But there was no need. As one of the older musicians at his school, he has younger kids looking up to him. I could tell by the way he conducted himself in the green room, on stage, during his solo — which was, by the way, natural and solid and swingy.

He’s got his foot on the first step. From here, as long as he wants, it’s all up.♦

And the solo, first ever...confident, professional, musicianlike.

And the solo, first ever…confident, professional, musicianlike.

© 2013 Adam Barr

Photos by Adam Barr

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3 thoughts on “The Kid Steps Out and Rides the Riff

  1. naimavanswol says:

    He looks like a natural.

  2. SusanO says:

    So nice. Love this: “As log as you stay in the key, there are no wrong notes.”

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