The Models of Nature
- Singing and Saxophony
When Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone around 1842, he brought into being his hybrid instrument to solve problems of the tonality and volume of military bands.
But more mundanely, he also created a tube with a vibrating sound generator at the top. The human body has a similar built-in instrument – the windpipe and vocal folds, which is also a tube with a vibrating sound generator at the top.
This similarity between the two is remarkable, and is a universal model of sound production. The model includes other single and double reed instruments, including the earliest examples we know of in the classical Grecian and Roman eras. This template of instrumental construction may or may not have been a deliberate attempt to mimic the body‟s internal sound production mechanism, but the similarity cannot be ignored.
The saxophone (and other reed instruments) are external models of the human body’s internal singing and speaking system, with the saxophone reed performing the same basic function as the body's vocal folds.
This insight can also lead one to the hypothesis that the history of reed instruments has, in the broadest sense, simply been the re- invention of the fundamental likeness of this anatomical detail – and that the oboe, bassoon, clarinet and saxophone are constant re-inventions of a wonder of human evolution.
To return to the saxophone, all is not quite so simple.The fact is that although we share the same air-supply mechanism as singers, the saxophone body is intended to be a resonator of the reed‟s vibration – not its air supplier.And of course it is a resonator of sound, but it also has another role – to direct the reed to vibrate in a certain manner as a result of our fingers moving around the keys of the saxophone to determine the pitch. In that sense, the saxophone body is partially a controller and partially a resonator – but both functions external to the body. What happens inside our own bodies is the key to finding a personal saxophone sound
So what happens inside our bodies that helps make the big, broad, spacious sound that we admire in some saxophonists?
And where does the huge vocal sound we hear from Pavarotti, Ella Fitzgerald or Maria Callas come from?
The effect itself is resonance. The difference between any floating, vocal and liquid sound and a thinner, buzzy sound is the apparent space around the sound that we perceive as listeners. This space implies that the sound is free, unhindered, unblocked and has freedom, openness and flexibility. The sound:
Seems almost amplified.
Seems to have more subtlety and an apparent ease.
Seems immediately responsive to changes in colour, intensity and volume.
Can even seem to have a source other than the performer.
So where does resonance occur in singing and saxophone playing?...
This is an extract from a chapter in The Saxophone