I feel very lucky to be starting 2023 relaxed and in practise. I took some time at the end of 2022 to rest and recuperate after a busy few months of performing and teaching. I enjoyed getting back to basics with my scales and exploring repertoire plans for the new year.
Over the past year I have increasingly been using my tablet when reading music; when I buy a piece of music I try if possible to get a digitised copy. I prefer having all my repertoire, studies, and technique books to hand when I’m both practising and teaching. This is my way of staying focussed as I can choose to work on the most appropriate technical aspects of my playing for the day. It’s much easier to see (age I’m afraid…) using a lit screen and the ability to zoom in to a page. I do have to turn the pages more often (especially in landscape mode), made easier by using a bluetooth foot-pedal. Gone are the days of struggling to read the notes and the excuses when I make a mistake!
In February the Quirk Saxophone Quartet will be bringing our eclectic sound to the newly transformed performance space at All Saints Church in Netherthong near Holmfirth. We have created a joyful mix of music, including works by Ravel, Mendelssohn, Bob Mintzer, Philippe Geiss and our own Chris Jolly. The challenge when working with my Quirk colleagues is matching our sounds as we change from classical to jazz to funk.
I’ve just changed my soprano jazz mouthpiece: I am now playing on a Vandoren V16 number 6 opening, rather than my previous V16 with an 8 opening. The smaller mouthpiece chamber of the 6 enables me to produce the sound I want with the control I need. This concert precedes our planned recording session in April. We’ll be recording Chris Jolly’s quartet Smudge amongst a few other works.
In March I celebrate the tenth year of my annual Saxophone Day. On Sunday 5th March I will be hosting a Play-Day in the beautiful St. Paul’s Hall at the University of Huddersfield. There will be four different playing sessions, each with their own music to explore. The sessions will be led by myself, Chris Jolly, Richard Ingham, and Rob Ironside. You can find out more here.
April sees my return to Greece for the inspiring International Greek Saxophone Festival. I will be giving a recital, running a workshop, and also be a jury member for the saxophone competition. I have decided my programme and I am looking forward to sharing my music with the students and teachers of the Greek saxophone community. It’s always an absolute pleasure to see and hear my friends at the festival.
My annual Saxophone Day didn't take place as usual in March 2021, it would have been my eighth annual saxophone day. I have been waiting to see if it was feasible to put on some sort of live event, but it's not possible because of the pandemic and social distancing. Instead, I have organised an online event, consisting of three sessions: a recital, a workshop, and a talk.
You can access the three sessions on my Saxophone Day page. There will be three videos, going live at 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm on Sunday 27th June. The videos will be available for a period of seven days.
My recital will take place in St Paul's Hall at the University of Huddersfield. I'm looking forward to performing music in a large space; I've had a strong connection to these works over the last year. One of the few positive aspects of being in 'lockdown' is that I (along with many of you), have been nudged to explore avenues that I wouldn't normally have the time to do so. Instead of performing with my pianist, or my ensembles, I have focused more on solo saxophone repertoire.
I've enjoyed playing The Four Elements by Victor Herbiet: it's composed by a saxophonist, and he clearly understands how to make the saxophone depict the elements Earth, Water, Wind and Fire in this programmatic solo work. Over the last few months I have heard one of my students, and an ensemble at Leeds Conservatoire play Syrinx by Debussy. This reminded me of the numerous times I've performed Syrinx over the decades, and so I decided to revisit this piece in this recital.
I love the music of Bach. I wanted to include Bach in this recital. I've chosen the Cello Suite No.1, because again, this is a piece I have played many times over the years. I haven't played it recently as the last time it was at my father's funeral; I'm ready to approach it again now and I'm looking forward to performing it on the baritone saxophone.
I also wanted to acknowledge my previous saxophone days in this online event. I'll be playing Trilog by Philippe Geiss, who was my guest at the University of Huddersfield Saxophone Day in 2016, Mrs Malcolm by Richard Ingham (my guest in 2018) and Solstice by Charlotte Harding, who was my guest last year in March 2020, just a week or so before lockdown.
In November I worked with saxophonists online in a workshop that I created called Faster, Longer, Higher, Louder. The aim of the workshop was to explore how a performer might develop techniques, and reinforce basic concepts, in order to develop confidence in their playing. I'm happy to share this workshop with you on the 27th June.
The online event will finish with a conversation with Jérôme Laran, exploring what we have learnt from this difficult period, and how we might start to return to a more usual music world. Jérôme is an internationally renowned saxophonist based in Paris, we have worked together many times and I value his opinions and expertise very highly. He was my very first guest at my annual Saxophone Day in 2014.
My academic year is almost over and I've been spending some time reflecting on the year and planning my saxophone awards. This is the seventh year I have made an award to a graduating student; I'm very proud of all my students and, although I enjoy giving special mention to some, all my teaching is rewarding. The new Ralph Markham award, created in memory of my dad is particularly special. He was a great support to me, my brother, and the students that he taught. We did not have to be the best, but he helped us to find our own path, be independent, and do what was right for us. I have many students who work hard and have an exciting future ahead of them in music as performers and also as peripatetic woodwind teachers or community leaders. I enjoy encouraging them to find their own voice, just like my dad did.
Rianna Henriques is the 2019 recipient of my Sarah Markham Saxophone Award. Rianna has been studying with me at the Royal College of Music Junior Department since 2015. Rianna is an outstanding musician, performing successfully on both saxophone and flute. As well as my award, Rianna has also been awarded the junior department’s Sally Wainwright Woodwind Prize 2019. From September Rianna enters the senior department of the Royal College of Music as a BAME scholar, studying saxophone and flute as joint first study.
Last year I established The Ralph Markham Achievement Award in honour of my father’s life and the endless support he gave me during my musical career. The 2019 recipient is Megan Broadley. Megan has just completed her second year at the University of Huddersfield studying flute, also taking saxophone lessons with me. She is a key member of the University of Huddersfield Saxophone Ensemble. Megan studies privately with me alongside her regular university studies and will this month take her ABRSM diploma. Megan has earned this achievement award in recognition of her independent study, consistent work and huge improvements to her playing in a relatively short space of time.
Both Rianna and Megan receive a cash award from me, reeds of their choice from Vandoren, a voucher from the Yamaha London shop, and a piece of solo saxophone music from Saxtet Publications.
I'm finalising details of my fifth annual saxophone day at the University of Huddersfield. All the details and the day's programme of events can be found here.
It's great to have Richard Ingham as my featured guest, he was my first specialist saxophone teacher. We've known each other since he began teaching me in 1987. We've worked together many times, including in the Northern Saxophone Quartet. We've performed many times as a duo, including performing Lauba's Ars at the World Saxophone Congress in Slovenia. The saxophone day will include a rare performance of Dialogue de l’Ombre Double (Boulez) by Richard, alongside Pete Stollery (sound diffusion). My saxophone quartet Quirk will also be performing, and helping run the workshops.
Sarah is a Yamaha and Vandoren performing artist.
Sarah Markham's teaching practice welcomes students of all ages and abilities. Focuses include preparing students for music college, and helping amateur musicians get the most from their playing. Sarah is a specialist in helping students with performance anxiety issues.
The Quirk Duo is saxophonists Sarah Markham and Kenneth Wilkinson. Between them they have a performing career spanning sixty years, enjoying many genres including solo recitals, opera, orchestral, jazz, pop and chamber music. The Quirk Duo is a distillation of those experiences, an exploration of possibilities.
The.Quirk Saxophone Quartet is made up of like-minded saxophonists:
Sarah Markham - soprano
Kenneth Wilkinson - alto
Chris Jolly - tenor
Sarah Hind - baritone