Kenneth Fischer, saxophonist, teacher, and friend

December 9, 2009

One of my former teachers, Dr. Kenneth Fischer, passed away yesterday, after a brief illness.

Dr. Fischer was a protégé of Eugene Rousseau, and, over the past 30 years at the University of Georgia, established himself as a major force in classical saxophone performance and teaching. His close associations with composers like the late Jindřich Feld fueled an influx of new compositions for the instrument. He was active and involved with the World Saxophone Congress and the North American Saxophone Alliance, and was making plans to host the latter’s 2010 conference.

Read the UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music announcement here.

Here are a few things that I learned from Dr. Fischer.

Some things about saxophone playing:

  • You shouldn’t have to strain for the altissimo notes. Relax and let them come.
  • Every note is part of a larger musical gesture. Every note.
  • There’s something to be said for keeping the fingers close to the keys and closing them with a feather touch, but it’s also worth exploring larger, more aggressive movements for fingering. Saxophone keys aren’t flute keys.
  • Every sound is interesting and beautiful and musical. If the composer calls for key pops or multiphonics or flutter tonguing, commit to making those sounds really work musically. Practice them like you mean it.
  • Sometimes, what you really need is to struggle with a piece that’s way over your head. Other times, what you really need is to play a piece that you can absolutely nail. Do some of each.
  • A pleasing tone doesn’t mean much without good pitch and rhythm. Don’t just work on fundamentals, work on all the fundamentals.
  • One of Dr. Fischer’s favorite things to say to a student after a recital was, “That was terrific! But next time, use a reed.” It was a joke. Or was it?

Some things not about saxophone playing:

  • Relationships with other people are more important than anything, even music.
  • Take time to talk to people. Hear their stories, and share yours. Everything else can wait.
  • Every birthday deserves a celebration, complete with singing and cake.

Dr. Kenneth Fischer

Comments

  1. Bart Walters

    Thanks Bret.

    Reply

  2. Jason Ogg

    I came to the University of Georgia 5 years ago expecting to be whipped, beaten, and bruised into being a great saxophonist. Instead, what I came away with the most were your final three entries. I came solely because I wanted to be a better saxophonist…and ended up becoming a much better person. If someone ever asked me what I thought about Dr. Fischer, that would be it. He created, over 3 decades, a studio full of respectful people who loved music and would do anything that he asked them to. That kind of trust should never be taken lightly.

    Reply

  3. Brett Bawcum

    Very well said.

    Reply

  4. Clara Pantazopoulos

    Absolutely. Every word true! He meant a lot to me for sure. He will be greatly missed.

    Reply

  5. Joseph

    what sad news! I often wonder what would have happened if I had gone to UGA for my MM instead of UNCG. Its never easy to see a respected name go but i’m sure it must be harder for those who have worked with Dr. Fischer.

    Reply

  6. Dr. Michael Cox

    I am just finding out this very sad news on January 26, 2010. Having become less than active in NASA over the past few years, I only occasionally check on the Alliance website, therefore I had not heard previously about Ken’s passing. Though I would be unable to attend the conference in March, I am glad to see on the conference schedule a tribute to this great champion of the instrument. I regret not having been more often in his obviously energizing and enriching presence, yet I am grateful for the brief association I had with him years ago as part of a conference planning committee. I did get the pleasure of hearing him perform several times at Saxophone Alliance events, and I was always inspired by his mastery. I also learned much from him. I will miss him too.

    Reply

  7. Sarah Moreau

    I have been assigning my saxophone student to do research on Sax, Mule, Rousseau, and now Dr. Fischer. She wasn’t sure where to look. I sent her here so she could understand. I read through it and am now crying and smiling. Thank you so much, Bret. It means so much to have this to look back on and refocus.

    Reply

  8. Dr Dana F. Everson

    Ken and I were in school together at Michigan State.
    I sat next to him in the saxophone section and we were competitors AND friends. I learned some things from him and had a great respect for his diligence and determination to be the best saxophonist he could be. Those of you who were his students surely were inspired by him.

    Reply

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