NASA 2010 Biennial Conference report

NASA logoI had a great time at the 2010 Biennial Conference of the North American Saxophone Alliance. It was held on the campus of the University of Georgia, my alma mater, so I got to see many old friends and colleagues.

A more poignant aspect of this year’s conference was the conspicuous absence of Dr. Kenneth Fischer, my former saxophone teacher and the intended conference host. After Dr. Fischer’s very untimely passing a few months ago, many among the NASA leadership made extra efforts to ensure that the conference went on as planned. Surely not the least among these was Dr. Stephen Fischer, Kenneth Fischer’s son, my old classmate, and a brilliant saxophonist in his own right. I noted that the conference program read:

Dr. Kenneth Fischer
Dr. Stephen Fischer

I was in attendance Thursday through Saturday (the conference began on Wednesday). It’s such a big conference that lots of things are going on at once, and there’s no way to get to everything. But here are a few events that I caught that were highlights for me:

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Kenneth Fischer, saxophonist, teacher, and friend

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