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Utah Sax Quartet improvises new music

The Utah Saxophone Quartet tried something new at its performance at Weber State University on Thursday, March 22. The members of the quartet relied on their eyes and ears in order to sight-read a piece of music that they had never seen.

David Feller, a professor of music at WSU, is the director of the quartet and plays the tenor saxophone. He said he wanted to try something new this year and surprise the quartet with a piece of music it had never seen.

“It is kind of like controlled improvisation, and one of the hardest things to do in music,” Feller said. “We have to rely on a whole bunch of skills to put that together.”

When Feller passed the music out to the other members, they began asking him a number of questions.

After a minute of debate, Feller joked, “Okay, maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”

The quartet played the waltz movement from “Diffusion for Saxophone Quartet.”

Natalie Iverson, a student at WSU, said that she was really impressed with the quartet’s sight-reading skills.

“It was super amazing,” Iverson said. “You can tell that they know their stuff and have played forever.”

While the quartet tried something new, it also stuck with an activity that Feller called an audience favorite. Feller asked the audience to shout out different emotions, such as happy, sad, or angry, and the quartet improvised a song that matched the emotion.

The two emotions requested from the crowd were melancholy and joy. The quartet then presented a series of long and sad tones followed by lighter tones that it improvised on the spot.

Caralee Wallentine, a student at WSU, is currently in Feller’s introduction to music class. She said that the improvisation “was really cool.”

“It was amazing, (and) I could never do that,” Wallentine said. “It is amazing how they know their instruments, and they can just play it.”

The quartet was created in 1989 by Brigham Young University School of Music alumni, one of whom was Feller. It uses traditional French saxophone quartet instrumentation with Feller on tenor saxophone, Ray Smith on soprano sax, Daron Bradford on alto sax and Gaylen Smith on baritone sax.

While all of the quartet members attended BYU, they later went their separate ways to study and teach. After a few years back in Utah, they decided to collaborate.

“We all went off to study . . . and eventually worked our way back here,” Feller said. “Darren and I saw each other and decided to put this thing together.”

While all members of the quartet can double on many different instruments, this particular concert featured the saxophone and clarinet in the jazz and classical genres.

As part of the Utah Performing Arts Tour, the quartet usually performs at WSU every other year. Feller explained that while they do not perform often, there are multiple levels to their purpose.

“First, is basically for us to have fun because we know each other, it’s fun to get together, and we see each other at a lot of different things . . .” Feller said. “We like to do our own thing, rather than what we are hired to do. It is just such a great diverse group with such great musicians. Part of it is just to entertain people, educate people and to show people basically what can be done.”

The first piece that the quartet performed was “The Junk Food Blues,” arranged by Smith.

“It’s got some elements of rock and roll and some blues, so it is just a mix of different musical styles,” Feller said. “It is contemporary, not classical.”

The quartet also played a French piece written by the composer Eugene Bozza, titled “Adante et Scherzo Quatuor de Saxophones.” Feller explained that the French created the saxophone quartet and composed a number of pieces for small groups.

“It is just a great piece of music because you really see how beautiful the saxophone quartet can be and how emotional it can be,” Feller said.

While Feller said he did not have a favorite musical number of the night, Alice Gittens, a student at WSU, said that “The Junk Food Blues” was her favorite.

“I really like blues and it was just kind of–I would say random, but it was very unique. They just kept taking turns playing,” Gittens said.

The quartet also played three pieces by Dan Higgins, one of the main composers for the television show The Simpsons and other various movies. The music ranged from classical to contemporary.

The Utah Saxophone Quartet’s next performance is Monday, March 26 at the Orem Public Library. It is free to the public and starts at 7 p.m.

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