LYON: December 1995 - December 2020 Selected short pieces
There were three signals... (From big brother to father...) The first alert appeared in Slovenia, during a summer course in Nova Gorica. A tall, handsome young man (Aljaž Razdevšek), solidly built as one can be in this region of the Balkans, takes his lesson seriously and diligently. As usual, I teach as a "benevolent big brother" sharing as equals. I always say to students: "we are among artists, I just have a little more experience than you". Aljaž then expresses the wish to come and study in Lyon, which will indeed happen some time later. His determination is unwavering, it is a project he has fostered for a long time. He is extremely motivated since he (he tells me) "listens to my records since he was little" 😱 !!! ... Shit ! I just realized that we are indeed 20 years apart. 1 generation. This guy and his friends who I drink beers with look at me like one of those who could be their father... I already had no more hair at this time, but I think my beard really started to turn white that day ! (From father to grandfather ...) The second warning shot came at an awards ceremony after a competition in Pushkino, a suburb of Moscow. When the young girl, almost a child in my eyes, took the stage to receive her award, she respectfully shook hands with the other members of the jury. Arrived in front of me, I thought it best (in affectionate French attached to our delicate signs of tenderness), to give her a kiss (not a french one, understand me well!!!!)... I was surprised to see her face decompose and twist in disgust. It was with an air of resignation, bordering on nausea, that she bowed to my visibly repulsive custom. I suddenly remembered my maternal grandmother's forced hugs when I was little and the sticky traces of her crimson lipstick on my rosy cheeks. I understood immediately that for the kid, I was now one of those old, withered bodies smelling good of mothballs, the physical contact of which is an ordeal, even an insult to her all-powerful and insolent youth. (From grandfather to the cemetery...) The third and final decisive blow came from my old friend Jean-François Bescond, clarinetist (no one is perfect) and tireless ex-cantor of my American partner d’Addario. During a "professional" meal in Lyon for a new equipment project, he told me with a knowing air: "it will be a balanced team, I thought it was good to have the opinion of a young person like Guillaume Berceau on one side, and on the other, that of a…… SENIOR like you” !!! False brother, I almost lost my dentures.
This year, in December, I am celebrating my 25th anniversary as a saxophone teacher at the Lyon Conservatory. I am 49 years old. So I have spent more time living with this position than without it. In fact, I also have more years behind me than in front of me (as a teacher of course, but also as a man, oops).
As an anniversary, I am therefore giving a look back on this quarter century of teaching.
To tell the truth, it's more a gift I'm giving myself than anything else.
This testimony can obviously not be useful to my colleagues since they will have lived more or less the same evolution as me.
Certainly not an instruction manual for the younger ones either, since they are now extremely well trained and well informed... in educational sciences, child psychology, etc. (in addition to words whose meaning I don't really know, such as didactics or methodology).
When I think that, at the time, my old friend Gilles Tressos, now a great guru of pedagogical training at the CNSM, had obtained his CA (French teacher's diploma) by having almost never given a single course in his life, I laugh. Times have obviously changed, but for the better I think!
So I'm going to make MYSelf happy first.
Sorry for this selfish and very self-centered act.
The pleasure of writing these few lines will also serve me to make my own assessment of my competence-s (I hesitate on the plural), by putting a little order in my memories, my failures and my few good moments.
I still have 15 years to go, I might as well clean up before painting everything...
Recently, Joshua Hyde has been appointed to the Geneva Conservatory.
This was truly the position I had been dreaming of for a long time. The Conservatory is undergoing a facelift and will soon be transformed into a magnificent city of music. The projects are innovative, the pedagogical teams are very artistically active and the mountains around are not to displease me.
I was really disappointed that my profile was not even retained for the final choice. I would have liked to at least have been able to make my case. Especially since the job call stipulated to look for a saxophonist of international renown, with a soloist activity, with experience on the bachelor and master levels, composer, improviser and mastering French...so it was a really good match...my French is impeccable ;-) !
When Joshua was appointed, I was finally reassured and sincerely happy, because having been with him sporadically for a long time, I know the quality of his commitment and the strength of his creativity. I had therefore been "beaten" "on a regular basis”. I still remember a jury at the CNSM where I had been struck by the way this young Australian managed to make Bach sound beautifully...and this with a saxophone, a reed, a mouthpiece, a style, a sound...which were light years away from everything I was practicing at the time! Already a great kick in the jungle of my small certainties. This guy has always had a crazy talent.
After having sent him my congratulations (because I always have a blue flower side when young people that I have seen grow up take on responsibilities) he had the delicacy to answer me this :
"Hello Jean-Denis, thank you very much for your message. It's really nice. If one day I manage to have a class in Geneva of an importance similar to what you were able to build in Lyon I will be really proud. I'm looking forward to this opportunity, but it's only the beginning! (...) ».
It warmed my heart of course, but also clicked in my little head. "This is just the beginning," he says...Joshua is right. He is in his thirties and his career is (brilliantly) beginning. Mine, while not completely finished, is slowly coming to an end. I was also given my chance, 25 years ago, I took advantage of it, each in turn, make way for the young people! :-)
By observing Joshua's activities, by observing the creator, his artistic collaborations, his aesthetic choices, his communication, I can only realize the obvious: he is in the wind while I have already aged.
Of course I have experience, of course I have lived and built a certain number of things. But you don't teach at 30 like you teach at 50, and I sincerely believe that there is no added value with age, it's just "different". A class where everything has to be built, as is the case in Geneva, undoubtedly needed a "young" teacher, I am certain of it today.
They made the right choice.
I am your father
I was and always will be a simple saxophone teacher.
To put it plainly, I teach younger people how to blow into a brass pipe.
I have never been a father.
I've never even been a friend.
I've never been a doctor, or a psychologist, or a social worker.
I've never been a physiotherapist, sports coach or dietician.
Nor have I ever been a financial advisor, a love advisor, the great guru of the goddess Richnou or the fabulous Mrs. Irma.
...But often I wish I could have been!
In fact, I have very often been a "witness".
In 25 years, young people have not hesitated to confide in me their joys, their sorrows, their doubts. They have expressed themselves, musically of course, but often much more...
They told me their first loves, they told me about their painful breakups.
They told me of their illness, they told me of divorces, of the loss of a loved one. I translated intimate medical reports, I waited in the emergency room... We talked about the family dramas, the indelible after-effects, life.
I saw many tears, I hugged many of them. I listened a lot. I spoke a lot too, but above all, I kept quiet a lot. I was just the witness, the one who is there when what comes out has to come out. I can never thank them enough for the trust they showed in me by accepting my listening.
Today they continue to inform me about births, marriages, careers. An email, a visit, a phone call, a question, sometimes a final lesson. The link continues.
What link? I cannot say with precision. Probably that of a slice of life that we have in common. Nothing more, nothing less. I don't really have words to describe it. But it is strong, it is real, and above all it is beautiful. It really is.
Blue for boys, Pink for girls.
Fight mode or seduction mode.
This title is purely provocative of course.
Nevertheless, over the years, and until I was about 40 years old, piercing the intimacy of students to access the most intimate space of their identity and their creativity very often came under these 2 trivial modes of relational sense.
The man/woman relationship is very easily related to a link that I describe as seduction. It has nothing to do with a sexual or flirtatious mode of course.
It's just that I was a man (from "young" to "not too old" depending on the period), facing young women. And in fact, using the gaze, silence or trouble was a "pedagogical technique" like any other. The objective was to force the artist in the making (who often at this age hesitates to give herself over fully) to express herself in what she has most personally.
In the same way, in the male/male relationship, using the spirit of competition and physical challenge to force the young testosterone-filled males to reveal themselves in what was most instinctive and profound in them, was a triggering lever that I very often liked to use.
In many cases, during these "truth sessions", the girls would leave crying and the boys would slam the door.
Don't see anything machiavellian, sadistic, macho or vicious in these words (somewhat shocking if misinterpreted). The 20-25 year period of the vast majority of the students entrusted to me is a real laboratory, an authentic quest that these apprentices are carrying out deep inside themselves. The role of the professor is sometimes to embody a third party who forces them to react, the devil's advocate some would say. In any case, I know that these "muscular" sessions have been beneficial and that the students have come out of them stronger.
So obviously, after 40 years...the seduction is over and the sporting challenge, with the help of the belly, becomes complicated :-)
When, in the mirror for singers which is against the wall of my classroom B18, I started to see an old debris next to beautiful tall guys and an old pervert next to pretty young girls, I knew that it was time to find other tips...
Little by little, I became a very natural storyteller.
It's a temporal continuity that is quite logical after all. When 1 generation of gap was recorded, I became the living witness of a past that they (students) did not know. A veteran of sorts. It was then my turn to "give myself up", to tell them how I had lived in the past what they were living today in their present.
By exchanging our slices of life, mine that they don't know yet, theirs that I would no longer know, I can once again break the ice, finely pierce their intimacy to help them blossom.
The relationship is less active than before, the current infuses more than it electrifies, but it goes, I think, just as far into our bodies and minds.
The privilege of teaching is that students don't age. I was a 25-year-old teacher. Then 35, then 45, soon 50, but the students are still 20 years old. It's extraordinary. Time goes by, but they don't wrinkle !
At the beginning of my career at the conservatory (I don't count the years 17-24, even though they were rich in teaching and adventures !), I had students of my own age, and a few even a little older. Today I am clearly the age of their parents. This contact with youth is THE gift of this profession.
Why ? do you tell me. Why is this daily link with youth so precious ?
Because of paternalism ? No.
By emulation ? No, it's not.
Out of nostalgia ? Even less so.
What youth reveals when we rub shoulders with it, as teachers have the immense opportunity to do on a daily basis, is beauty. Beauty. That's it, nothing else.
It is an evidence that goes far beyond physical freshness or intellectual candor. Youth shows us the way, in fact. It sheds light on what we must strive for, in our lives, in our deepest being, in our art.
I am not talking here about physical beauty in its basic aesthetic sense. Yes, youth erases many of the defects that Mother Nature will be happy to reveal and amplify with the years, but that is not the point. Any creative eye can also have fun seeing in each young person the little old man or the little old lady that he/she is sure to become. But this beauty of the devil is only a tiny part of the luminous radiance of a youth on the move.
Students are beautiful because they are searching. They are beautiful because they doubt, they discover, they learn, they are thirsty, they are hungry. Youth has this that it is in full explosion of life, ambition and humanity. Facing this beauty is like an elixir of youth. A sting of reminder.
Bizet: "We must produce; time passes and we must not die without having given all that is in us".
Youth is generous, it gives all day long. It gives itself. To have the privilege of observing a class is for a teacher to enjoy a global vision almost divinatory, a global vision of beings in becoming, a kind of condensed humanity. And because this humanity, still young, tolerant, open, creative, generous shows us the way, then this beauty has all the qualities to make us beautiful in our turn.
What could be more fascinating, motivating and nourishing for an artist, than to have permanently in front of our eyes, models of perfection?
Nature is definitely well done :-)
Is teaching at a young age a sham?
I taught for the first time at the Gap summer course when I was only 23 years old. The position in Lyon was offered to me for my 24th birthday. That of assistant at the CNSM for my 25th birthday.
Teaching is at the very least to transmit. But before passing on, it is necessary to know. But what do you know at those ages ? At first glance, not much, and yet...
I remember giving music culture lessons to adults when I was 19 years old.
- I often read, amazed, a piece of "The History of Western Music" the morning after breakfast (in Massin's book, Ed.Fayard), - I wrote a summary in the hours that followed, - I bought the records at Fnac immediately, - I enjoyed listening all afternoon, ... and I was teaching what I had freshly discovered 5 hours earlier that same evening!
Still, my amateur students seemed happy. I was spending memorable hours training music lovers and learning a lot at the same time. Our small group also had a cultural and friendly dynamic that went far beyond the limits of the music school.
So with hindsight, observing the work of my younger colleagues and recalling my own background, I come to this conclusion : the right question is not "what do we know", but "what do we transmit ?”.
And young, the most precious thing we transmit is not what we know (that would be difficult...) but what we are. Energy, ardor, appetite.
Like a father or mother who transmits by the simple fact (among others) of being present at the child's side, you have to be content to exist as a passionate role model. We transmit skills of course, but first of all we transmit a love of art, a state of mind, a thirst for knowledge, a sense of wonder, a joy of practicing music, a palpable desire to improve, a never-satiated work of research...in short, everything that by mirror effect leads the being entrusted to us to become a true "student".
And this is indeed the key : to teach well is first of all to give the other person the desire to learn !
The quality of learning depends more on the appetite of the hungry person (the student) than on the one who feeds him/her (the teacher).
Therefore, the best role model for the student is the teacher who is a student himself, either because he really is or because he has remained a student despite years of hard work.
Good news therefore, this observation relieves all young people of their doubts or possible complexes to teach early : the young teacher is not supposed to know or even find...he is just supposed to search ! :-)
The progressive displacement of the center.
What characterized my young years as a professor was that I placed myself at the center.
In the teacher/student relationship, my inexperience, my ego and my will to do well made my own work (and not that of the students) the main object of my research. I was self-forming and self-feeding myself, selfishly.
So, of course, the little ones benefited from my energy and passion, but in retrospect I think that my commitment and focus on providing the best possible lessons revolved around my little self first.
In my own defense, I was 17 years old when I started teaching at the music school in my village (Genas, where I still live). So I hadn't yet left the navel-gazing of the teenage years...
With time, with the appointment to the conservatory, confidence, reflection, the first rewarding results, the process has changed. No longer feeling the need to prove my legitimacy, the student has gradually become the focus of my classes.
From now on, everything starts from him/her, his/her ego, experience, work, research, evaluation criteria etc.
As the years go by, my pedagogy seems to me more "peaceful". No longer looking for recognition allows this immeasurable luxury: giving without expecting anything in return.
It is amusing to note that for the past 3 years, I have been giving Aikido classes to children. And in fact, the process is the same. I know that too often my classes revolve too much around my own objectives, my actuality as an aïkidoka apprentice, my energy of the moment, my possible injuries (due to my advanced state of decomposition...).
I have again everything to prove, everything to learn, everything to build.
I know that I will have to learn to "feel" the energy of the moment, to adapt myself and to serve the evolution of my young apprentices and not that of the young teacher that I am.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), experience acquired in one field is not directly transferable to another.
I have to go all the way back. So I have to search. QED.
As in music, the process promises to be long.
The students are just passing through.
They are not "our things".
In fact, we are not their teacher, we are just one of their teachers...and whatever we think about it, not necessarily the most striking one.
Their years of learning are a path of which we are only one stone, cornerstone or not !
In any case, it is important to take the student's journey in its entirety and to keep in mind :
- that there have been other teachers before us,
- that there are others at the same time as us (in other disciplines),
- that there will undoubtedly be others after us.
We are part of a package.
The best teacher for each student is first of all the student himself.
He is the only center, the only common point in his entire history.
Students can be legitimately proud when they deserve it. The teacher of the moment, or of a close past, must on the other hand have the humility to be content to be happy out of selfless tenderness, nothing more.
It is beautiful to rejoice in the success of a loved one in a distant way. It would be ridiculous to derive any kind of glory from it by claiming its share of merit by proxy.
The student does not belong to us.
And being aware of this is important. It really is.
It avoids many pitfalls. I see at least 3.
1/ In his image
The classic error consists in wanting to create the student by being "the model" oneself.
I remember (and still have a bitter memory of it) committing the worst crime of being a self-centered teacher. In my entire career this is without a doubt the moment when I have been the most...perfect fool ! (there must be many others in reality but be nice to keep them to yourself, it's a bit my birthday *).
So I was teaching at the Gap workshop to Yan Lemarié who has been doing since the career we know. I was playing Selmer at the time while he was playing Buffet. Talking about Glazounov's concerto, I remember saying something like : " you can't play this work well since you don't play Selmer "!!!
Apart from the lack of intelligence that this remark reveals, apart from the lack of culture relative to all the eminent saxophonists who have shone in this repertoire on multiple and varied brands, one must understand what had led me to such a stupid and erroneous (and derogatory, and counter-productive I know I know...) remark.
The idea was undoubtedly: "with your equipment, you can't play this piece...like me". Me me me me me. I am still ashamed of it today. And without wanting to clear myself of such an act of foolishness, I hope at least that publicly admitting it will testify to my will of redemption. Amen.
Mimicry is an integral part of the teacher-student relationship. Of course it is. It is even the most natural and instinctive form of learning: talking, walking, swearing bad words... It is important, however, to let the tool of imitation take its rightful place without making it THE teaching guideline.
To do this, we must start from the student and not from ourselves.
His/her path is his/her treasure, it is what defines him/her as a man/woman and will later define him/her as an artist. We must therefore be at HIS/HER side, at HIS/HER service to take him/her where HE/SHE wishes to go. And if he/she doesn't know it yet, to support him/her so that he/she can trace his/her path, often very far from ours.
The distance with the student avoids this first pitfall: being tempted to train him/her "in our image".
The second mistake was to project myself into each student's performance. I remember experiencing their concerts as vividly as if I were on stage myself. My body reacted as if what I heard was really coming out of me.
They were playing out of tune? It was as if I was playing out of tune.
They lacked energy? MY fault.
They had a ugly sound? MY sound was ugly.
An unsuccessful contest? I probably hadn't prepared them well.
A weak technique? Well OK that's me...Etc. Etc. etc. etc.
The contests were an ordeal, the auditions a torture. Retrospectively, even if it was not obvious, I think that as a teacher I lived what we see on certain videos, this teacher or these parents who gesticulate at the back of the room mimicking the rhythm, the gesture and the attitude that their protégée is supposed to execute perfectly on stage.
It's unbearable. For everyone. We have to stop with this, never do a transfer. It's actually harmful to the teacher, but to the students as well.
For his part, the teacher loses the foresight to set up an axis and a work plan over time.
Because This is the real criterion of an effective pedagogy: the level before training, the level after training. Take the novice from where he is now and take him higher into a better future.
Today, all my students have a high level...but they already have a high level in the entrance exam!!!
Quite honestly, the work is easy.
If you want to measure the real quality of a training you just have to compare how it sounds before and how it sounds after.
And to do this, one must not be drowned in the devouring emotion of the immediate projection. You have to see and consider things... "coldly", in the long term.
I would add that it is useless to get sick because of too much involvement in this exciting work. Teaching is a privilege and an honor. But you don't have to get an ulcer to be a worthy teacher. Unfortunately, life takes care of this kind of mess...
On the students' side, the stress generated by an overly intrusive pedagogy is often harmful. A well-rounded adult can take a very high dose of pressure. He can manage it and even transform it into positive energy.
Young people, on the other hand, don't need us to feel bad... so we might as well not add fuel to the fire.
Passionate yes, invasive no. Persevering yes, fighting for it no. Everything comes at the right time who knows how to wait.
You even have to know how to give up from time to time. Letting go and accepting the fact that a progression that doesn't come was simply not ready to hatch yet.
The distance with the student avoids this second pitfall: making everyone "sick".
I like the idea of the tribe. I like the idea of recognizable style. I like the idea of the clan, the common good across generations and the spirit of promotion year after year.
But in the spirit of Romain Gary's famous quote "Patriotism is love of one's own, nationalism is hatred of others"; I have always been careful to build (I have tried in any case) a "school spirit" without favoring a "school ego".
Cultivating a common identity and values seems to me to be a beautiful thing. The school in Lyon is at the same time a place, a sound, a phrasing, an educational heritage, a repertoire and above all decades of students who have spent hours perfecting their art.
I have always wanted young artists to be proud of their school. I've also always wanted them to be able to clearly identify what makes them special by knowing what other choices are being made in the rest of the world. There is as much to be learned by observing what brings us similar as by observing what makes us different.
Between the ages of 18 and 25, the trap is to think that one's teacher holds THE truth and therefore everyone else is wrong.
This way of thinking is undoubtedly a natural reflex (who said "specifically French"? ;-) ) which allows to cultivate a form of confidence necessary to progress by evacuating all possible doubts.
The balance consists in not doubting the training one receives, without cutting oneself off from training that is practiced elsewhere. Openness, curiosity and change as much as stability, roots and heritage.
It is naturally the critical spirit of the teacher that will guide the student's good (or bad) way of thinking about his relationship with other schools.
In order to keep a free, clear-sighted mind, to maintain a neutral vision which alone allows one to "fill one's cup", here again the teacher must maintain a distance with the students.
Teachers and students are not 1.
There is nothing worse than inbreeding ;-).
The teacher must be the lighthouse that guides and serves as a reference, but also the lighthouse that illuminates other practices and invites to travel.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with motivating, encouraging and making students proud of what they do and who they are. There is a real "well-placed pride", a source of confidence and therefore of progress.
One can grow by simply thinking you are good ! But you never grow by thinking others are bad. Never.
To avoid this mixing of genres and to encourage an open mind, there again, each of the 2 parts (teacher and taught), must remain in its place. Only one brain for a whole class and it is the single thought with all its guaranteed drifts.
The distance with the student thus avoids this third pitfall: "sectarian" confinement.
The first 10 years were spent building the class. Jean-Yves (Fourmeau) himself told me "you'll see, the first 10 years, you have to say yes to everything". And that's what I did (honorably of course...).
So I was first of all an honest teacher, passing on the repertoire, taking care of the instrumental mastery, repairing technical shortcomings, motivating the troops, etc.
When I inherited Serge Bichon's class, I naturally had a certain form of pressure, the major challenge having been: to get people into the CNSM in Paris. The Gap summer camp clearly served me as a recruitment agency. Foreign students began to join the class and with them its share of small successes. With time, I was able to afford the luxury of taking distance. Today, I think I am living my relationship with the students very serenely. And seeing the alumni come and say hello in B18 reassures me both that my early years were not just a frenetic race towards efficiency at all costs, and that the distance I preach today does not engender any lack of human warmth either.
L'Artisanat Furieux (our saxophone ensemble) helped to form and weld the group together. The strength of an ensemble practice that can unite an entire class is immense. It largely counterbalances the solitude of instrumental learning in which students are locked up daily. It was the site of many new works and many arrangements. Many students made strong friendships there, continuing the history of the “Ecole Lyonnaise”.
The weekly work with piano in group lessons gives a semblance of a mini-concert each week. The memorization and transposition of the Ferlings has brought a bit of new blood. A listening.
The first decade saw foreigners from all over the world flocking in, and with them the discovery of new cultures, new repertoires, new languages, new musical and human sounds...
At the time, I did not realize the enormous impact that the position of assistant at the CNSM in Paris had had. Being absolutely impervious to awards, chocolate medals and titles of all kinds, I did not see what this part-time job paying for my composition studies (even if exciting and unexpected) could have been monumental in the minds of some, seen from the outside. I understood it 4 years later, when I finished my studies, I logically decided to give up. In the opinion of many, my decision was incomprehensible.
"Professor at the CNSM at the age of 25 and you stop? Madness ! ».
Yes, but here it is:
1/ I was not a teacher but an assistant
2/ I didn't have a full time job
3/ I did Lyon-Paris every week for 10 years.
4/ I had enough to do with my Lyon class
5/ The Parisian subway, really, it stinks.
Nevertheless, for the first 10 years it was that: The prestige effect of the CNSM, the talent market during the Gap summer course, and an antechamber of the CNSM for many. Claude (Delangle), for having trusted me so early on, had quite a dose of nerve and confidence. I will never be grateful enough to him for what remains to this day, one of my most prestigious feats of arms.
From being a teacher, I gradually became a coach.
The students arriving in Lyon were more and more brilliant and perfectly trained even before entering the class (what do you do for 4 years with a saxophonist who plays the Sequenza VIIb by heart for his entrance exam ?)
So I started to stop teaching scales and study books to become a kind of preparatory class for international competitions. The training time went from 4 years to 3, then from 3 to 2, sometimes only 1 year for the luckiest ones succeeding in their competition in the first year.
And the students started to parade...they were getting stronger and stronger and staying shorter and shorter. I was sort of in a permanent master class. Not the one that trains and educates in the long term, but the one that produces electroshock, the one that shocks and sets things on fire. I didn't design the fireworks, I just lit the fuse.
This mission suited me perfectly since, at the same time, I was enjoying many concerts coupled with the traditional master classes and therefore I was proud to be what is pompously called an artist-teacher...in my case, someone who doesn't have enough talent to live only from his art and/or not enough balls to leave the guaranteed comfort of a tenured teaching position.
Still, I lived 10 years as a traveling teacher,
- refining my lessons on the major works of the repertoire (and sometimes repeating them almost word for word in the 4 corners of the world)
- perfecting my technical advice to the same mistakes that were bound to happen at the same places ...
- repeating the same jokes in a fresh and appropriate way in an English that is always as approximate as ever...
- delivering with increasing efficiency the ultimate infallible trick to triple-detach quarter-tones in the altissimo register when you don't have any teeth...
I have taught Desenclos, Glazounov, Ibert and Berio hundreds of times. I had become a kind of mercenary of the master-class/concert formula. As the number of requests was quickly far greater than I could accept, those glorious years generously inflated my ego (which didn't really need it) as much as my wallet (which benefited greatly from it).
But as Messiaen said: "A teacher who talks a lot can only either contradict or repeat himself”.
The teacher who doesn't renew himself enough, just like the creator struck with creative diarrhea, dies little by little. This is the danger of doing too much. You end up playing your own role, just like actors who end up being only what you expect them to be.
The master class is a special exercise that requires a real willingness to put on a show.
To seduce the student while entertaining the audience to interest both. This was little by little my routine. And I loved it to be honest.
Over the last few years, I've had a single shortcoming, but it was a big one: my master classes were little by little much brighter than my concerts themselves! The teacher had eaten the artist, I had created pedagogy by stopping creating art itself.
I regret nothing. Really I lived extraordinary years with all these young people. But the question of the artistic mission remains central. We must imperatively remain artists who teach, and not teachers who may still eventually make music. Except in the case of those who have lived exclusively on stage for decades and switch to teaching as a career-end retraining (in classical saxophone ???...), art must retain its central place. In my case, teaching without really creating had gradually emptied my practice of its profound meaning.
And then it still persists this feeling of being an impostor.
Expert, yes, no doubt. Over the years I have become an expert. OK. But a Master ? Come on !
As a student, I've always expected a master to bring tears to my eyes on stage, or to change the course of my life and my world view in one lesson.
Not just someone who has more flying hours than me and whom I plan to match one day with hard work and skillfully constructed technique.
No, someone who gives me a glimpse of something else, something that escapes me, a world that is not accessible to my reasoning abilities or logical approach. A world that I can only access through sensations.
I have met masters of all kinds, through language (Levinas), through the aura they give off (Stockhausen), through their science (Brendel).
But me, legitimate in a "master class"? No. Words have a meaning that must be respected. Moreover, I prefer, as Claude recommends, to speak of “public classes”. It's nothing more than that. That doesn't prevent me from claiming quality public courses ! But you have to know how to stay in your place.
Of course, during the 3 hours of public classes, all the eyes of the audience are turned towards you, and you selfishly take advantage of this extra attention in full solo. During the concert, during the 30 minutes in front of the orchestra as well, you are the little star of the moment, solo !
...But during the 10 hours of the outward flight and the 10 hours of the return flight, it's solo too. At the hotel, at night, during off-peak hours, backstage, when the others are rehearsing...it's solo again and again. Even in the most beautiful of palaces, a "solo" breakfast is always something pathetic.
Of course, I have always transmitted with passion, enthusiasm and comfort to anyone who wanted to hear it. I never cheated on stage.
But that was largely insufficient.
Especially since I swore to myself some thirty years ago that I would never become one of those teachers who play less well than their students. And quite honestly, the line not to cross was getting dangerously close...
When I realized that I didn't compose much, that I had stopped improvising and that I wasn't commissioning or creating new works, I took a year's sabbatical. 0 concert, 0 master class. Cash. 2015.
After not being on stage for a whole year (which even lasted a little longer), I gradually had this tremendous revelation (which pop artists usually have around 14-15 years old, that is to say if I'm ahead of the game...): I had to play MY music.
One day my old friend Nicolas Prost told me: "what killed you was the repertoire, the Desenclos, Ibert and company". Considering the countless number of undigestible pieces that this idiot had ingested throughout his career, I had allowed myself to express serious doubts. But Nico was (once again) right (he shares a kind of innate instinct for insightful prediction with the late Serge Bichon).
So I hit the road again, to play Shams, The Dark Side, Songbook, Kokoro and Inner...
Cool. I started working hard on improvisation, the goal being to really compose in real time. It required a huge amount of work to rework my scales and intervals in quarter tones, to rethink all my playing and reflexes in overtones. I made good progress, but not far enough, and above all with too little consistency.
Starting over at the age of 45 in a field where one is already supposed to be an expert requires an extraordinary motivation. I didn't have it. Too lazy, no doubt. Moreover, another truth has gradually revealed itself...even when you play your own music, airports are always so cold, rehearsals always so short and selfies always so murderous ;-).
Moreover, I must admit that my brain is slower and slower. As for my work capacity, it has a clear tendency to diminish. Composing and playing takes time to do it at a high level on both fronts. It is an energy that escapes me and I am forced to make choices.
Another 15 years...
Considering all these young people who finally play largely as well as me (or as badly, question of point of view),
Considering my inability to nourish and renew my playing as an interpreter,
Considering also the number of undrinkable works that flourish in world saxophone congresses (that’s mean but...),
Considering personal events beyond my control that have undermined my motivation,
I came to the conclusion that my mission now should be to create a repertoire and stay at home.
To tell the truth, I am not at all convinced that I am an honorable composer. I even think that I find it easier to write literary texts than musical texts. But, well, life has decided otherwise.
So my project now is to compose, and to orient my work more specifically towards chamber music. Sharing (and not only between saxophonists) is my key. We are still too orphans when it comes to playing with string quartet, duo with clarinet, trio with flute and piano...I will try to remedy this lack.
The integration of the saxophone in the world of classical music will not be done by the orchestra, I have a deep intuition of this. It will be done by chamber music.
I think that my writing, very classical I must admit, can invite other artists to join us, where more complex contemporary music can (sometimes legitimately) put them off.
I don't claim quality, but I feel capable of writing well-structured works, if not brilliantly inspired. At least I will have tried.
The "Sonata in Blue" dedicated to Maria Nemtsova and Vitaly Vatulya will be my foundation stone. The two movements already composed for the duo had something incomplete when they were created. It appeared to me during a turbulent night that this sonata had to be a trio. Everything now made sense. The sonata in blue will therefore be a piano/alto saxophone/violin trio. I still have one movement to write before putting it on line...to be continued!
This is the goal now...until the next one of course :-D
Like many others, I have an innate ability to enact great rules and noble principles that I am unable to follow for more than 3 weeks...(my next diet starts on Monday ;-))
I would add that this decision to leave the stage for a (long) time will greatly improve my carbon footprint :-), “chic planet” will be delighted.
Gratitude (limiting myself to my French colleagues)...
to Claude (Delangle). He taught me constancy, mental strength, the power of work. He trusted me from my early age. He was always there at the key moments of my career...by a curious chance, which of course was never one.
to Jean-Yves (Fourmeau). He taught me that being happy makes others happy too. He showed me that seeing beauty in people makes them beautiful and good. It is a pedagogical evidence that he transmitted to me without having been my teacher. Magic!
to Vincent (David), whose brain, even slowed down 8 times will still far surpass the average speed of the lambda individuals I am. Faced with such an alien, I always feel small and slow. And it is in fact a wonderful gift to move forward no matter what happens.
I would like to take this opportunity to testify here and bet on the future: if Vincent is undeniably a very great saxophonist, his talent as a composer is even greater, which is no small thing to say. The more I teach his music in class, the more it is obvious. This is very good news for the so-called "classical" saxophone...and very bad news for future students who will have to take their technique to a crazy level to play his repertoire :-)))).
to Fabrizio (Mancuso), the most gifted among us, he truly transforms lead into gold. Give him a pan, a broom, a cauliflower or anything, he will make music for you...and good music! It is inexplicable.
When I ask myself existential questions about the usefulness of music, I think of him, and everything becomes clear.
to Jean-Charles (Richard), who after having studied classical and then jazz at the CNSM told me: "the hardest thing is not to climb a mountain, but to come down to climb a second one". When I see the emotion I get from the music coming out of his saxophones, I tell myself that it's really worth questioning myself, again and again.
to Christian (Wirth), whose playing quality is a reference that serves as a calibration for me so that I don't forget what "playing wonderfully" means. One can never be the best of course. At best, one is among the best. But you can be someone's favorite. And without a doubt, of all the classical sopranists, Christian is for me the greatest.
To Nicolas (Prost) finally, whose 2-ball humor, toilet tastes, chronic hyperactivity, exotic passion for turtles, organizational bulimia, constant euphoric state, remind me that one can have two diametrically opposed characters...and yet love each other with a lasting, tender and sincere friendship.
I do not forget my other friends from the Habanera quartet, my older brothers from the Diastema quartet, and my first companions from the Argan quartet. They all accompanied me during its 25 years and even if my hermit character makes me somewhat asocial (no I still don't have a cell phone), they must not doubt the constancy and gentleness of my fraternal thoughts.
Many students contact me by email before coming to Lyon.
Many are foreigners and nevertheless make the effort to write in French.
Experience proves that you have to be wary of 2 things: semi-automatic typing and google translation.
1/ A Japanese student writes me a letter (in French) in which she tries very respectful formulations. As she knows that I welcome students before the entrance exam to listen and advise them, she wants to take a class a few days before the competition.
Victim of the semi-automatic seizure, her last sentence "could we meet so that you can teach me how to prepare the competition" turned into "could we meet so that you can teach me how to prepare the...couscous! » :-).
2/ A Spanish saxophonist wishes to end his email with a friendly and not too formal formulation. He probably found what French people write to each other between close friends and/or family "je t'embrasse" (litteraly “I take you in my arms”, more usually a kind of mix between friendly kiss and hug).
By I don't know what grammatical sleight of hand, the very affectionate "je t'embrasse" has unfortunately become..."je te baise" (I fuck you) .... :-D
Couscous and sex. Isn't life beautiful?