Friday, 11 June 2010

Review - Cambridge Clarinet & Saxophone Day with James Rae

With many thanks to Stephanie Reeve for writing it, below is a review of our Clarinet & Saxophone Day held in February this year

We are also extremely grateful to Peter Lefort for producing a video of the event which can be found on our facebook page or on youtube (Video). As can more photos!

Cambridge Clarinet & Saxophone Day, 28th February 2010

Cambridge is historically a city of culture and education attracting thousands of students and tourists each year and on a quiet Sunday in February 120 single reed enthusiasts descended on the city sporting clarinets and saxes of all different sizes all set to take part in a day packed full of playing, rehearsing, advice and enjoyment directed by James Rae. Sawston Village College hosted what was possibly the largest ever gathering of single reeds certainly in Cambridge, possibly in East Anglia. As well as Cambridgeshire and surrounding counties participants had also travelled from as far away as Kent and Stafford. The star attraction was of course Jim Rae and as the main tutor Jim was supported by course director Trevor Barlow and a team of ten local clarinet and saxophone tutors. The main focus was the single reed choir and the day began with Jim expertly guiding players through a wide range of his own pieces and arrangements as well as other specially commissioned arrangements from Jon Halton. Parts were arranged for grades 1 and 2 right up to grade 8 so there was something for everyone. The sound was quite incredible with the theatre organ effect of ‘Organ Interlude’ from Jim’s own Cinerama effectively reverberating around Sawston’s hall followed by News Reel from the same set. James rearranged his Toccata Brilliante, to accommodate all abilities and instruments, whilst Jon Halton’s arrangement of the last movement from Mozart’s 40th Symphony, St Louis Blues and Carol Taylor’s arrangement of Bizet’s Carillon gave everyone a substantial and varied session.

After the break saxes divided into two ensembles, grades 1 to 4, and grades 5 to 8. Local tutors led these groups rehearsing up to three pieces covering a variety of techniques. Jon Halton’s own pieces and arrangements were used here and were very enjoyable. At the same time clarinettists saw an informative presentation by Thomas Dryers-Beers of Wood Wind & Reed on how to choose reeds and mouthpieces. This inspired several participants to upgrade their basic mouthpieces, while others were given confidence to start experimenting with different reeds. Wood Wind & Reed were available throughout the day for participants to try out instruments, buy sheet music and accessories and seek advice.

The lunch break was also packed with activity and the main attraction was the excellent live jazz with Alex Merrit and Josh Ison in the main hall. Those that wanted something a little quieter were able to watch either of the two videos on display in the foyer or refreshment room. The masterclass followed lunch and six students (three each of clarinet and sax) at different levels performed to Jim, ably accompanied by Ralph Woodward. Two played Jim’s own pieces so it was great for them, and for us observers to be able to hear the composer’s own suggestions and advice. Time felt a little short as the six students were heard in an hour but there were some useful suggestions and hopefully all six gained from the experience.

Saxes and clarinets then swapped around with clarinets put through their paces in small groups while saxes watched Thomas’s presentation. It was then back to the large ensemble for a final rehearsal and preparation for the performance. During the last break sax and clarinet quartet Simply Reeds performed in the refreshment room, this time not just hearing Jon’s arrangements but hearing Jon play as he is the bari saxophonist in this quartet. Friends and family were invited to the final concert which featured most of the pieces that had been rehearsed in the massed ensemble. There were a few tired looking players, especially some of the younger pupils but this took nothing away from the enjoyment and fun time had by all.

Jim’s experience and the enthusiasm that participants bring with them ensure that these days are always a success and the musical side of things was the highest standard expected. However a few extra things really stood out for me. Firstly the age range was something like 8 to mid-70s and the general balance of young and not-so-young was something rarely seen in a musical, let alone any other leisure activity. Some adults I spoke to were impressed by the confidence and ability that their younger counterparts demonstrated. Children were not as forthcoming with their views but appeared to be at ease with the mix and I know of at least one younger player who was reassured to see that adults do not always get it right and can struggle with similar difficulties!

Secondly the overall thought and consideration that had gone into every detail of the event made this an exceptional day. The ACE Foundation is already experienced in running a whole host of educational activities but musical events are a new venture for the organisation. Trevor Barlow deserves special mention as course director along with Paul Barnes and Rosemary Bangham whose combined skills, experience and forward planning made sure everything ran smoothly with military precision while enabling the atmosphere to continue buzzing the whole day. The delicious homemade flapjack was yet another memorable touch! The ACE Foundation already has plans well underway to develop an arts centre in Stapleford, just south of Cambridge but in the meantime is continuing to hold events at various venues across Cambridge. Next year’s Clarinet and Saxophone workshop has already been confirmed and will take place at Sawston Village College on 13th February with Jim again directing. Jazz players will also be interested to know that there will be a course featuring Alan Barnes on 4th July. If it is anything like the Clarinet and Saxophone Day both are highly recommended! 2011 plans include courses for many other instruments which will be published on

Related Websites

Simply Reeds

Jon Halton has a catalogue of excellent Clarinet and Saxophone Ensembles.

Wood, Wind & Reed