One of my favorite tunes in last week’s collaboration with the IUP jazz band was the Saxophone Quintet reinterpretation of “Fum Fum Fum” from my Holiday suite “Season of Celebration” — originally for string orchestra and re-orchestrated by Keith Young.

Here I am with the whole Sax Quintet after the show:  Zach Cable, Nate McMahon, Richard Firestone, Andrew Koss and Justin Mathis (I think I finally got those names in order!).


And here’s one thing I utterly loved:

As we rehearsed the piece, apparently I kept doing a jerky little hand-mouth-and-body movement whenever they played a particular note.

What I was doing was  ‘embodying’ an articulation effect I’d written in the original string instrumentation that’s called a  ‘snap pizz’ or ‘Bartok Pizz’.*

[By the way, the word “pizz” in “snap pizz” or “Bartok Pizz” is pronounced like “pits” and is short for pizzicato (which sounds kind of like “pits-a-cado” like if you had an avocado that was only pits).  And Bartok is composer Bela Bartok, who famously used that technique in his string pieces.]

I was wondering if I could create that sound on the harp, since I knew that sax players, not having strings, couldn’t do a pizzicato – snapped or otherwise.

Or so I thought.

Shortly before the final rehearsal one of the sax players came up to me and said – “I saw that movement you kept making when we played the octave note.  Do you want us to play a tongue-slap there?” 

A tongue-slap??

“Gee, I don’t know,” I said “what does a tongue-slap sound like?”

So he played it … and it was exactly the sound I wanted. Basically, a Bartok pizz saxophone-style.

Both sounds inhabit the space between music and noise, with the same character of surprise and percussion.  It all comes down to the poetic translation of instrumentation, which is something I’ve spent my life exploring … but don’t get me started talking about that or we’ll be here all day.

It made me wonder what else I could create that effect on if I had an open-enough mind.  A piece of uncooked spaghetti?  A credit card (definitely!).  The cat? (Not sure I even want to try that).

This is one of the things I absolutely LOVE about live collaborations: that attentive, creative collaborators will bring un-premeditated life and character to a piece by observing each other, interacting, engaging.

Since I’m not sax-savvy, I would never have known to ask for a tongue-slap – and if I’d only had the written music to speak for me, he never would have thought to offer me one.*

In any case, that tiny, wonderful moment became one of my favorite parts of the show … utterly satisfying and all the more wonderful because I could hear both the original and the reinvented together in my mind’s ear.

Thank you IUP, for an incredible visit, a thoroughly satisfying artistic collaboration and completely dedicated music students and faculty. I LOVED playing with you – every one of you! (Including the Arts-in-Education services and the tech crew!!)

*P.S. IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) is, as I understand it, known for training teachers.  I wonder if part of the richness of this collaboration was because I wasn’t just working with students – but students of teaching … and likewise, teachers fascinated with learning. Your thoughts?



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