Harborough’s Phoenix Saxophone Orchestra were honoured to welcome their Patron, world-renowned saxophonist Gerard McChrystal, to lead an all-day saxophone workshop on Sunday 14 November.
Thirteen Phoenix members were joined by another 13 local saxophonists for this open workshop at Church Langton Community Hall, and the 26 musicians were put through their paces on four very different pieces of music, kindly provided for the session by Phoenix Saxophone Orchestra’s sponsor, Saxtet Publications.
The group worked on three original pieces for the saxophone ensemble – ‘Petite Suite for Saxes’ by Karen Street, Katherine Evison’s ‘Slip Reel’ (video clip below), Nigel Wood’s atmospheric masterpiece ‘Where Spirits and Demons Dance’ – and an arrangement of the Average White Band’s million selling instrumental ‘Pick up the Pieces’, arranged for saxophones by Ciaran O’ Donnell.
Gerard McChrystal said: “It was a special day to work with an ensemble compromising the broader saxophone family from sopranino to contrabass. Well done all on tackling some adventurous repertoire. I mainly focused on music that was originally written for saxophone ensemble, as this is so important if the genre is to be taken seriously – much as I love Star Wars and In the Mood, of course!”
Gerard also shared his vast experience of playing and performing sax on an international stage, with lots of help and advice on saxophone technique, how to get the best out of ensemble playing, sight reading, timing, intonation and sax equipment, including the importance of choosing the right sling for you and your instrument. He also demonstrated how expressive the saxophone can be, and just how quietly it can play.
Phoenix Saxophone Orchestra’s Jane Smith said: “We’d like to thank Gerard for an interesting and inspiring workshop. A couple of the pieces we played were particularly challenging, but with Gerard’s insightful advice and guidance on how to approach these, it’s amazing how quickly we started to get to grips with those tricky passages!
“Gerard became our Patron in August 2020, and he’s supported us through lockdown with online Zoom workshops. We are so pleased to have finally been able to meet up in person, and also to welcome other saxophonists to learn and play with us.”
During the day, Gerard also took the opportunity to jump online with fellow professional saxophonist Richard Ingham, who was leading a rehearsal with Phoenix’s close friends north of the border, Aberdeenshire Saxophone Orchestra. With Richard leading 25 players up in Scotland, we were able to virtually link up 53 saxophonists across the borders!
About Gerard McChrystal
Multi award winning saxophonist Gerard McChrystal is Professor of Saxophone at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and also teaches at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff. Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, Gerard has played with leading musicians and orchestras in more than 35 countries worldwide and has recorded 15 CDs. His main ambition is to develop collaborations and encourage composers to write for the saxophone. You can find out more on Gerard’s website at SaxSaxSax.com