Issue 3: No more Swans. Please.

This is just a short plea to saxophone teachers.

I love “the Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals”, and even though I am a cellist, I am really happy to hear it played on a saxophone.  Honestly.  That’s not the issue here.

But please, please, I beg of you, please, I implore you – don’t ask me to accompany it for grade 4 exams any more.

The piano part is tricky, to say the least.  The right hand consists of unrelenting semiquavers over really awkward broken chords, and the left hand is similar, but in a surprisingly off-putting quaver pattern.  I have small hands, and getting my fingers round the notes is quite a challenge.  I can cope with all that, and I have even found a work-around for the tricky piano solo phrases at the end so that it sounds about right.

The problems become insurmountable when the young saxophonists cannot count to six.  I haven’t yet met the grade 4 saxophonist who can deliver six crotchets, no more, and no fewer, in every bar.  I hugely appreciate having enough rehearsal time to know which bars are likely to have only five-and-a-half crotchets, and, being forewarned, I can actually manage a near-seamless leap into the next bar, skipping over the missing half beat simultaneously with the soloist.  To all intents, the swan swims on serenely, all paddling concealed beneath the surface of the stream.

However, once we get into the exam room, all bets are off.  The poor old swan paddles away with any number of beats between four and seven in a bar, and my life as an accompanist becomes a nerve-stretching mixture of improvisation and concatenation.  I slosh along in the swan’s wake, desperately trying to maintain the illusion of a smooth and stately swan drifting effortlessly downstream.

So there you are.  Please!  Not “the Swan”.  Even if you are sure that your student can count to six!


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