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Sax Professor Hits New Highs with Altissimo Register

Photo of Noah Getz courtesy of www.noahgetz.com.

Musician in Residence Noah Getz sat in the presence of greatness nearly 10 years ago to interview the subject for his dissertation, composer Henry Brant, when the idea to write a much needed method book was suggested to him. After years of anticipation, Getz has published this method book Stratosphere: Altissimo Études for the Saxophone.

When Getz, a concert saxophonist, met the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer in 2001, Brant expressed his concern that not enough saxophonists had mastered the skills to reach higher notes on the instrument in the altissimo register.

The altissimo register is a collection of notes, which can only be played by using special techniques that differ from the way a normal saxophone register is played. “The difference here has to do with fingering combinations and it has to do with the pressure of the air that you use to blow across the reed,” said Getz.

Getz notes that composers like Brant incorporate elements like the altissimo register into their pieces to challenge the skills of musicians and to distinguish advanced performers among their competition.

However, in recent years, few musicians have been able to master this register enough to play some of these advanced pieces. Brant, for example, rewrote his challenging Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra because he could find no musician to play the piece to his standards since it was last performed in 1953 by Sigurd Rascher, whom Brant wrote the piece for.

Many musicians had asked Brant for his permission to play the original, but no saxophonist was capable of playing his concerto by his standards. However, Getz set himself apart from the rest when he demonstrated his skills to Brant himself, who then granted him permission to play the original piece for the first time in nearly 50 years.

“It was a great opportunity and real honor to meet this composer whom I’d known about for a long time, and also just to be asked to do that was really cool,” said Getz.

Having mastered the altissimo register, Getz says that more and more composers are incorporating the altissimo register into their pieces to push musicians’ abilities. Because new compositions are being written for extraordinary musicians all the time, everyone else must learn the same skills if they want to play new pieces.

“It’s almost like world records in the Olympics. They’re always being broken and then everyone else has to rise to that new level,” says Getz. It’s becoming imperative for saxophonists to learn to play the altissimo register if they want to make a name for themselves in the industry.

Stratosphere: Altissimo Études for the Saxophone features more than 30 of the most common pieces that include the altissimo register and teaches advanced saxophonists the skills required to obtain the precision needed to play the register and meet the growing demands of composers.

While the book itself took years to see from start to finish, Getz says a majority of his work was spent finding time and funding for the book to get started. With so much competition in the music industry, it’s often a challenge to receive grants or time to work on such projects. However, Getz received a DC Commission for the Arts Grant and also enlisted the help of a couple university students, which helped him put the finishing touches on his method book.

Now that Stratosphere: Altissimo Études for the Saxophone is finally published, Getz can close a chapter in his life that was inspired by such an influential figure in his career. He is currently in the process of releasing a CD in July of pieces written specifically for him. Those interested in buying Stratosphere: Altissimo Études for the Saxophone can purchase it online through the publisher, Advance Music.