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John Harle's "The Saxophone"

mpj.brennan

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You don't have to pay £48 - amazon uk list it at £38.40.
 
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Nick Wyver

Nick Wyver

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Well, anyway...
I got it. I'm a teacher so I feel I ought to keep up to date with this sort of stuff.
I sort of wish I hadn't.
I've liked John Harle's playing for over 30 years. I like the fact that he can move between different interesting styles of playing.
I didn't realise, though, that he's into the voodoo method of sax playing. The book is subtitled "The Art and Science of Playing and Performance" but there's very little of what I would call "science". He's very big on "reed fans" and "power lines" and if you understand what they're about you're doing better than me. I'd be interested to know where these arcane ideas came from - there appears to be no indication in the books (oh yes, there are 2 - in a presentation box). The extensive bibliography lists none of the scientific papers written on saxophones.
I'm not entirely happy with his use of the word "correct" when discussing the angle of entry of mouthpiece into mouth. Apparently the way I do it gives "a dull, unfocused and inflexible sound with little dynamic range". Mr Harle favours the usual clarinet angle which obviously works for him but it's a shame he wasn't around to teach John Coltrane (who knew he was rubbish, eh? - apart from @kevgermany of course).
The most interesting bit appears to be the section on using the glottal stop as an articulation technique. I've spent the last 25 years trying to persuade my students not to use it. I shall have to study what he says about it.

I would very interested in anyone else's opinion if they can get a squint at a copy.
 

Aberyscir

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Well, anyway...
I got it. I'm a teacher so I feel I ought to keep up to date with this sort of stuff.
I sort of wish I hadn't.
I've liked John Harle's playing for over 30 years. I like the fact that he can move between different interesting styles of playing.
I didn't realise, though, that he's into the voodoo method of sax playing. The book is subtitled "The Art and Science of Playing and Performance" but there's very little of what I would call "science". He's very big on "reed fans" and "power lines" and if you understand what they're about you're doing better than me. I'd be interested to know where these arcane ideas came from - there appears to be no indication in the books (oh yes, there are 2 - in a presentation box). The extensive bibliography lists none of the scientific papers written on saxophones.
I'm not entirely happy with his use of the word "correct" when discussing the angle of entry of mouthpiece into mouth. Apparently the way I do it gives "a dull, unfocused and inflexible sound with little dynamic range". Mr Harle favours the usual clarinet angle which obviously works for him but it's a shame he wasn't around to teach John Coltrane (who knew he was rubbish, eh? - apart from @kevgermany of course).
The most interesting bit appears to be the section on using the glottal stop as an articulation technique. I've spent the last 25 years trying to persuade my students not to use it. I shall have to study what he says about it.

I would very interested in anyone else's opinion if they can get a squint at a copy.
Relieved to read this post - voodoo a good description, I was going to say "drivel" or more kindly "just weird" (expensive silly price too...).
 

Andrew Sanders

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Like they say, never meet your heroes, (or buy their books).
 

Young Col

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I thought it was just me. There was a feature on John Harle in a recent Clarinet and Saxophone magazine, celebrating his 60th birthday and giving him an opportunity to promote his book. There was discussion of the Reed Fan, Power Line and other things in the book, which I didn't understand at all. There were a few quotes that were somewhat obscure to me too, but perhaps that 's just his way of phrasing things.

John Harle's sax album From Baker Street to Bach is quite a nice collection written for alto and piano. It includes David Roach's Love Is. I recall doing one of the pieces in it at ABRSM Grade 6 some years back and his arrangement of Rachmananov's Vocalise is still listed for that grade.
 
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David Roach

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I worked extensively with John at one time (as some of you probably know), in fact I would go as far as to say that there was a time when he and I were best mates. Although we don't see much of each other nowadays I still feel it's important to understand where he is coming from with these somewhat arcane ideas, and I urge you all to suspend your cynicism - because that which you do not at first understand is not necessarily either unfathomable or nonsense.

When John first accepted the job as Principal Saxophone tutor at the GSMD in London in the 1980s he very much felt under pressure to quantify his technique so that he could pass it on to his students in the form of a rational pedagogy. This was of course entirely understandable for obvious reasons, having been employed to teach at a high level and having not really taught that much before. There was a great urgency to crystallise ideas and of course to prove that they brought results.

His efforts, although to my mind rather self-conscious, did produce spectacular results of a particular sort. Imagine producing a year of stunning players (nearly all of whom registered at the GSMD to study with him personally) that included Simon Haram, Christian Forshaw, Bradley Grant, Chris Caldwell, Paul Stevens, Will Gregory (of Goldfrap fame), and others! No other saxophone teacher in the UK has ever had such an extraordinary output of stellar players in such a short time, and not all of whom are primarily classical players

John had a very particular insight into his own technique whist he was recording his 'Concertos' CD. We talked often on Nyman gigs about technique and I came to understand that John's entire focus was to do with achieving his personal technical challenges, and not about fitting in with the status quo. If you listen to that CD you must remember that it was recorded in one, or at the most two, days to minimise the cost of the orchestra. This is by any standards was an extraordinary achievement. Not something 99.99% of saxophone players could ever achieve. John understands that - on certain particular levels (not all) - he is quite simply miles ahead of most other players.

This book - which although I have not actually read it I do feel qualified to talk about John himself - is the culmination of over 40 years of playing and teaching at an extremely high level. If he uses unfamiliar terminology to help to free himself (and hopefully others) from what he sees as unhelpful habit patterns then from that point of view alone it should not be denigrated as 'voodoo'.

Not to criticise Nick, but if he will forgive me the quote, here's a good point:

....... on using the glottal stop as an articulation technique. I've spent the last 25 years trying to persuade my students not to use it. I shall have to study what he says about it.
Quite right Nick! The glottal stop is not really good technique in the main and shouldn't be encouraged in beginners, but it is actually very useful in learning the altissimo because it removes the tongue - which tends to alter the shape of the vocal tract - from the equation! Whether that is actually what John is saying, I don't know; my point, and John's, is that there is a world of possibilities to be explored.

My overriding feeling is that John regards himself as a Musician who just happens to play the saxophone as his main interface to the world. NOT as a saxophonist with generations of other players against whom he might feel the need to prove himself. And as such it's not really a case of his ideas being correct or incorrect, but more to do with whether you accept or reject them in terms of your own playing.

I do not personally agree with his ideas on the angle that the instrument enters the embouchure, but then I do not play the Ibert Concerto or the Berio Sequenza or stand up for 45 minutes at a time playing technically extremely difficult repertoire. But then I do not agree with dipping the head and playing at an angle lower than 90 degrees either. The reason for this is that my physiognomy is different, my ear is different, my needs are different and my goals are different from his. BUT I do not reject his ideas and never have done simply because I do not understand them or because they threaten my status-quo, self-conscious and occasionally mystifying though his ideas may be.

John has been criticised for his forays into Jazz. I think this is because his technique is (or has been) if anything rather rigid at times and to my ear he does not sound comfortable in that medium. But so what? He has achieved such a huge amount as a musician he deserves our attention.
 

brianr

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PS I'm happy to let anyone have my copy for a donation - just need an address

.
if this offer is still open, I would love to give this a try and happy to make a donation.

Let me know how this works, and we can go from there.

thanks
 

BigMartin

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BUT I do not reject his ideas and never have done simply because I do not understand them or because they threaten my status-quo, self-conscious and occasionally mystifying though his ideas may be.
Thanks for your insights, and the time it took you to set them down. I, too, consider John Harle to be a fine player and had considered ordering his book. But I don't think I will now. It's not a question of feeling threatened, it's just that my preference is for language to be as plain as possible so that I have more chance of understanding and applying the information I'm receiving. I don't find it helpful to visualise things that aren't really thereI know some people do, though, it's a personal thing. I also don't llike teaching to be over-prescriptive (I have problems with Larry Teal in that respect, too) and prefer to be guided to find what works best for me. To be honest, I'm sure most of the techniques in the book would be way over my head anyway, and I have no intention of attempting the sort of repertoire that JH plays.
 
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mpj.brennan

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I bought this book after seeing John play for the first time just last week. On reading through I was a bit puzzled, and must confess that I had doubts about the wisdom of my purchase. The reed fans concept gave me the most concern - it seemed to be pseudoscience to put it bluntly. But then I worked through some of the exercises, and found that I really did feel the effects he was describing. I'm going to stick with it and see where it leads me. At the end of the day, when a guy who has so much talent says "This is how I do it" I'm going to take notice. It's the result that counts, even if the explanation is less than convincing.
 
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