The Saxophone is the Story


Yesterday was a big day in the Swardstrom household. 

The sorting hat was placed upon my daughter Molly’s head and chose…the saxophone. Except there was no sorting hat. And it wasn’t chosen for her. Molly chose the saxophone, but in a way it was her destiny all along. After all the saxophone has been though, how could it not be?

The instrument she brought home yesterday was the same instrument that I took to elementary school on my first day of band when I lived in Arizona. 

…and it is the same instrument that my brother, Paul — eight years my elder — played as he learned the intricacies of music as well. 

It’s just a simple Yamaha alto saxophone. Nothing fancy, but a decent horn nonetheless.

ImageBut…its history in our family goes back almost 35 years. My brother started on the alto sax and used the instrument to soar to new heights. By the time I was ready to play, my parents purchased him a new, more professional model, and I inherited the original. A few years later he went on to college, majoring in music education. I still remember going to his senior recital at Arizona State University and thinking how amazing it all was. He’s taken that degree and used it to teach music, choir, and band at schools in three different states and instills the love of music in children still today. None of that possible without the companionship of that first saxophone. 

As for me, I started under the direction of Mr. Yunker in elementary school and kept it up into junior high and high school. I was never as good as Paul, but I can’t even imagine my life without the love of music and where that saxophone took me. I still keep in contact with a few of my high school band directors (looking at you, Mr. Timmins and Mr. Jones) and have lifelong friends from high school with relationships forged in the heat of summer band camp. I eventually switched to the baritone saxophone in high school, but the old standby served me well for pep band and the occasional jazz band gig. 

That alto saxophone is international — I took it along when my high school marching band was invited to the London New Year’s Day Parade my senior year. Coldest parade in 20 years, we were told. Trombone slides were freezing shut and trumpet valves were stuck, but the saxophones weren’t having those problems. As long as we had hot air, we could play. And we did. 

That saxophone came with me to college. I didn’t sign up to be a music major like my brother, but the desire to play stayed with me and I played all four years in my college’s concert and jazz band. I may not have been a music major, but my girlfriend (then fiance, then wife) sure was. Also a saxophone player, but a tenor player, not alto. 

All of those experiences. All of the friends I made. The love of music. The love of my wife. None of that would have happened had I not picked up that saxophone and took it away from my brother. 

For years this saxophone has sat in storage. I played a little after college, but it has been relegated to its case for a long time. That is, until the fourth graders had to choose their instruments. The wife and I had a suspicion she might go for saxophone (kinda runs in the family), so we had it fixed up — new pads, new springs, shined to perfection. It looks better than at any time I ever played it 20+ years ago. 

So Molly chose the saxophone.

Of course she did.

She brought it home and immediately took it out of its case and began to play. (If you can call that “playing.”) Right now she sounds a bit more like me than my wife or brother, (really, she sounds more like a dying goose) but I’m sure with practice she can eclipse her old man. With practice, she too can make memories with that saxophone. For her, the saxophone is just the beginning of a story. For me, we’re somewhere in the middle.

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