Sunday Reflections

As I sit here on Sunday AM, contemplating the week ahead, and thinking back to yesterday’s performance, I realize that as much as I love the sound of my Martin Handcraft, (it has an amazing depth of sound that is perfect for Blues and R&B) the ergonomics are just killing me at the moment.

Ever since I got slammed with this weird neuro problem in November ’06, I’ve also had fine motor skills problems with my fingers. After the initial severe attack, I worked really hard and managed to get a lot of my dexterity back, but I’m still struggling with deficits. Deficits that if I weren’t a musician, or someone else who needed extremely refined, fine motor skills like a watch maker or a neuro surgeon, wouldn’t really be problematic. I asked my neurologist about these deficits a couple of months ago, and she didn’t have any answers. She said that there was nothing she could do to help me with them. She suggested that the condition might be made worse by the medication I’m on, but since the problems started before the medication, it’s hard to say for sure. So I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of frustration.

Before getting sick, the ergos of the Martin were no problem. I played the horn regularly, and just knew that while it didn’t have the quick key action that my Mark VI did, it could play what I wanted it to play nearly as fast. The trade off for the slightly slower key action however, was that the altissimo register spoke much easier and freer than on the Selmer.

My repair tech in Halfax, Layne Francis, added a front F key from a YTS-23. Since then, using the front E, F, and F# are as simple as playing regular notes. They set up going higher into the altissimo range with no problem at all. The horn nearly plays itself. All you need to do is hear the note you want, finger it, and it speaks. It’s not at all like the Selmer, that I have to fight with in order to get something close to resembling the note I hear in my head.

Because with Deception I spend a lot of time in the upper range of the horn, play a fair amount of altissimo notes, as well as use a great deal of effects and even more distortion, (playing directly opposite a guitar player will make you do that) the Martin is the natural choice of horns for this band. But playing the Martin just takes too much out of me at the moment. By the end of the performance yesterday, my fingers were trembling so badly from working so hard, that I couldn’t wrap up the the wire from from my cordless mike.

The only reason I’m not using my Selmer at the moment, is that it needs to have its Eb keyguard resoldered, and I haven’t been able to get it in to the repair tech yet. I finally found a new repair guy, since Jamie Clark moved to Ontario. Dave’s shop is in Surrey, and I’d hoped to get my horn in there last month, but it just didn’t happen. Now I won’t be able to before this flurry of shows is over, and we break for the month of August.

I do have another horn in the wings however, that I have some hopes for. It’s a late model 10M with an under slung octave mechanism. The neck had sustained some damage in the past, and was repaired (with ugly results). It needs to be regulated and have a couple of pads replaced. When I go to Seattle at the end of August to visit Jim Glass and his wife Suzy, I’m going to make arrangments to drop this horn off with Sarge at World Wide Sax so that he can fix it up for me. I don’t need it to look pretty, since I’m a player, not a collector…Despite what my 15+ saxophones might say about me ! 😉  I am hopeful that this 10M will be a good bridge horn for me. It should be a blend of better ergos with a more gutsy sound.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2008 – 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

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