2006 Season • Article/Feature
All Sax and no Violins
June 16, 2006By Paul Omundson
Wait. Something is different here at the University of Oregon’s Kincaid Street bus stop. Suddenly, the air is filled with sweet sounds coming from two sax players. They’re on the steps intently playing selections from Bach’s 15 two-part inventions. A crowd of backpack-burdened students takes notice. Some unhook their iPods to listen to the live music. It’s a small gesture, yet an ultimate compliment to the two musicians.
But music students Chris Clark and Alex Misar hardly notice the crowd. They are immersed in their magic–weaving a dynamic pulse and crafting fresh vitality to one of Bach’s most renowned works.
The bus riders are drawn to the scene. They drift over to Chris and Alex and give them hearty applause in between the selections.
Then they see the Oregon Bach Festival banner and the box of flyers and get a hint at what this unexpected delight is all about. “Oh yeah, the Bach Festival, it’s coming up, isn’t it?” asked one student as she grabbed a flyer and leaped into her bus at the last second.
“That’s exactly what we want,” explained George Evano, festival marketing director. “The whole idea is to meet potential audiences where they’re at, or at least where they are ten minutes before departing, and give a little taste of what this music is all about.”
After their set, Chris and Alex noticed that all the flyers had been taken so they judged the mini concert a success.
“We love doing this,” Chris said. “What can be better? We really don’t have a lot of opportunities to play Bach on sax in relaxed outdoor setting like this. And the people that hear us seem to really appreciate the music.”
The two are among 14 School of Music students performing at 22 bus stop events around Eugene. The impromptu concerts began May 15. After a break for finals and graduation, they resume for four days June 26-June 29, 4:30 pm at the downtown LTD station.
They play in various combinations of duos, trios and quartets.
“There are different ways to do it,” said University of Oregon sax instructor, Idit Shner, whose students make up the forces for the campaign. “For the duos we choose two altos, two tenors or two baritone saxes, or a duo of alto and tenor or alto and baritone. The trios are made up of two sopranos and an alto. The quartets have one of each kind of sax–soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.”
Idit, an accomplished jazz saxophonist, observes her students performing at the bus stop concerts on the nights they play at her bus stop. She is pleased at the buzz they create. “This truly is a unique marketing approach,” she said with pride. “It catches people by surprise and they are drawn to the music. We hear them talking about it afterwards and asking when the students will play next.”
One unexpected gesture of appreciation is people taking out bills from their pockets and throwing them into the basket of flyers.
“We’re not looking for handouts,” Idit said with a smile. “We just want them to take a flyer and maybe buy some festival tickets.”
She said the sax, invented 100 years after Bach’s death, is an ideal instrument for the campaign.
“First of all it’s loud and distinctive enough to be heard above the din of traffic noise on the street,” she explained. “Bach has been successfully adapted for a whole range of modern instruments, including sax. For the bus campaign I chose the Brandenburg concerti, because the music is so well suited to sax, and Bach’s two-and three-part inventions for piano, where one sax plays the left hand and the other takes the right hand.”
Among the biggest fans are the LTD bus drivers who give enthusiastic thumbs up when they see the players at their stops.
If enough Bach-on-the-bus fans turn into Bach-in-the-concert hall fans, keep an eye out next year for more public transit sax.
Blogger Paul Omundson is a music fan who writes for Los Angeles-based Idea Hall.
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