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Friday, November 18, 2011

"You play the sax?"

Yes, it's true -- I play the sax. I have dubbed myself as the
world's coolest deaf-blind soprano saxophonist. Here's the
whole story...

I started playing alto saxophone in 5th grade. I wanted to play
trombone, but my family pushed me to pick sax. Eventually, I
was glad they did. At first all I could do was "honk, honk,
squeak!," but I later learned to love that instrument.

I played the big baritone sas in 8th grade. I was this tiny
little thing and could barely hold the instrument. I played in
the jazz band. Oh, I loved that music.

Then I started losing my hearing, and it became much harder. I
enjoyed playing so much. I refused to give up. In high school
marching band and concert band, I played a mix of alto, tenor and
baritone sax. All I wanted was to be in the jazz ensemble.
That's another long story... it begins with "discrimination."
Still, I kept on playing.

These were the days of Kenny G. Remember "Song Bird?" I wanted
a soprano saxophone so bad. They are rare and it's hard to find
music. But the sound of that instrument set my soul on fire.
In 10th grade, my parents finally gave in and bought me one. I
never got to perform in public on it. I worked on jazz songs
during private lessons. When we did harmonies, it was just

I still took lessons in college. Something weird was happening.
I'd practice until I nailed each song. But then I'd struggle
during lessons. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. My
teacher graduate from school and stopped working at the music
stole. That's when I quit. Now I understand... my central
vision was getting cloudy from cataracts. I couldn't see the
music well enough when we shared a stand during lessons.

Over the years, I got the idea to start playing again. It
wouldn't last long. I guess I couldn't get into the habit. Yet,
no matter where I lived, I always had my two saxophones with me.

After my illness, I began screwing around on the alto to
exercise my hands. I'd just blow and play random notes. It was
boring, but Joseph liked it. He was a toddler then. We have
the cutest pictures of him trying to play that saxophone.

He did other things with it, too. One time I couldn't get a
single note out of it. I did all the troubleshooting I knew
of, but nothing worked. My husband looked at it. He thought
we'd have to take it into the shop. Then he got an idea. Using
a flashlight, he looked down into the horn and found an object
jammed inside. It took some hard work to get out the duplo
block. You see, Joseph liked playing basketball with the sax
bell and his blocks.

My parents bought me a book about how to read braille music. I
kept it handy, but never read it. Once I even ordered some
music from the National Braille Library. I kept it for months
and never touched it. Finally, I just sent the music back.

It was Joseph who brought the music back into my life. Last
year, his best friend was learning to play saxophone. When
Joseph learned I had one in my closet, he insisted I take it
out. He really liked it and didn't want to wait until 5th grade
to start. We put him in private lessons at the same music store
I used to go to. His teacher was impressed with how quickly he
learned new notes and concepts.

I'd sit by him while he practiced. I could hear it some and also
feel the vibrations. He'd tell me the songs he was playing and
talk about what was hard and easy. I was so excited for him. I
felt the sax calling to me again, but this was Joseph's time.
I swallowed those urges and left it alone.

Joseph took private lessons for six months. Although he knew
he'd be ahead of his group, he really wanted to take lessons at
school. He wanted to play with other kids. I could understand

When he went to sign up for 5th grade band, he was heart broken
to learn they wouldn't be teaching sax this year. He tested
high on clarinet. The band director told him to start with that
and changed back to sax in 6th grade. It didn't seem fair, but
he had no other choice.

He kind of likes the clarinet. At first he was talking about
maybe staying with it, or even playing bass clarinet. Since
clarinet and soprano sax are in the same key, I brought out my
special horn to practice with him. Two things happened -- the
beat returned to my heart, and Joseph fell in love with the

I started reading the book to learn about braille music. It's
totally complex. I have to learn a new form of braille codes
and a new way of reading music. It's challenging, but I'm
doing it.

I can play "Ring Around the Rosey," "Row, Row, row Your Boat"
and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." It takes a lot of work
because I have to memorize the music.

Now I'm starting on a song book with beginner tunes. Next up is
"London Bridge is Falling Down" and "Pop Goes the Weasel." I
want to learn to play these songs so Joseph and I can practice
them together.

For me, it's such a thrilling feeling to be playing again. The
music isn't something I just hear. I can feel it in my whole
body. It's an energy that makes my heart beat faster and my
spine twitch and tingle.

As for Joseph, he has a plan. He already stole my alto sax. Now
he's got his heart set on my soprano. We are going to have a
problem one of these days... And the band played on.

1 comment:

  1. I totally get this! My bachelor's degree is in music with piano as my instrument. But ever since I was little I wanted to play two instruments: the sax and the banjo. I think musicians do experience music differently. We feel it everywhere inside, like you said. It literally makes my heart beat faster! Not only are you the coolest deaf-blind person that plays saxophone, you are (quite possibly) one of the coolest people, period! Good Luck with your instrument!