The soprano saxophone is an end-blown single-reed aerophone invented in Belgium around 1840 that is now distributed throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is heard today primarily in the following contexts: military/marching/concert bands (rarely today, more frequently in the past), as a solo instrument in recital settings or with a concert band, in mixed saxophone ensembles (see Saxophone Ensembles), and as an auxiliary solo instrument in jazz combos and jazz big bands. The soprano saxophone is performed both by amateurs and professionals, males and females. School-age children can learn the tenor saxophone as part of school music programs and choose to continue their study in the university setting with lessons and/or ensemble participation, or even earn degrees in saxophone performance at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Amateurs can also find musical outlets in community concert and jazz bands. Professionals operate in one or both of two general spheres: the classical/educational domain, centered in academic institutions where performers teach, present formal recitals, solo with school ensembles, and direct student ensembles; and the jazz/commercial domain, where they perform at concert and club venues as members of established bands/combos or as back-up musicians for other performers, produce commercial recordings, do studio session work (recordings for movies, television, and commercials), and free-lance as teachers and clinicians. A substantial body of solo literature that is performed primarily in the classical sphere for soloist competitions and student and faculty recitals has accrued since the latter half of the 19th century. This repertoire grew exponentially in the course of the 20th century. Today, at least in the United States, the soprano saxophone is most strongly associated with jazz idioms. Description The soprano saxophone is basically a conical tube that is constructed in two sections, the neck and the body, with a single-reed mouthpiece attached to its narrow end. Made from drawn brass, the tube is straight with a slightly flaring bell. Twenty of its twenty-one tone holes are located along the length of the body, the twenty-first on the neck. These holes vary greatly in their size, but in general start out wider at the bell end and become narrower near the mouthpiece end. All have raised rims (called collars) and are covered and uncovered with leather- or felt-padded keys controlled with a complex system of buttons, rod-axels, and springs. The single beating-reed (of cane) that is used to generate sound on this instrument is affixed over a flat rectangular opening (called the table) on a plastic mouthpiece (can also be made from wood or metal) with the aid of a screw-tightened metal ligature. The base of the mouthpiece is slid over the end of the neck, which is lapped with a thin layer of cork to make the joint airtight and to allow for the fine-tuning of the instrument. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production The player, either standing or seated, holds the instrument vertically in front of him- or herself. A neck strap attached to the back of the instrument supports most of the instrument’s weight, assisted by a thumb rest for the right hand thumb. The thumb and all the fingers of the left hand and all the fingers of the right hand are used to operate the keywork. The tip of the mouthpiece is inserted into the player’s mouth and pressed upon from the top with the upper teeth and from beneath (the reed side) with the lower lip; a tight seal around the mouthpiece is produced with the player’s lips using the embouchure muscles. The instrument functions acoustically as an open conical tube, meaning that it overblows at every harmonic partial (starting at the octave above the fundamental). With all the finger holes covered the lowest sounding pitch on the soprano saxophone in B-flat is A-flat3; the upper limit of its range depends on the performer, but E-flat6 is usually given as its nominal highest note. Its compass is therefore about two-and-one-half octaves, and over this range it is fully chromatic. It has a rich, full tone over much of its compass, and a wide dynamic range. Jazz saxophonists and avant-garde musicians in particular often challenge the conventional limits of sound production: by extending the instrument's upper register; through the bending of pitches; and by producing expressive timbral effects achieved through overblowing, multiphonics and other forms of intentional distortion. As with all B-flat and E-flat saxophones, notation for the soprano saxophone is written in the treble clef between B-flat3 and F6; it sounds a major second lower than notated. Origins/History/Evolution The soprano saxophone is a member of a family of like instruments invented around 1840 by the Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax. A patent for the saxophone family was awarded to Sax by the French government on 22 June 1846, but the actual invention of the instrument may have been as early as 1838. He designed two lines of saxophones each in seven registers, one set for orchestral use (all but one model in this line are now obsolete) and the other for military band use (of which four registers, including the soprano saxophone in B-flat, remain in common use today). Sax’s original concept and design of the soprano saxophone has held up fairly well over time, although numerous changes to his key-work system and the addition of more tone holes have been made by subsequent makers over the years, some of which have been retained, others not.
The se-p’iri (‘slender oboe’) is a Korean double-reed aerophone used primarily to accompany classical vocal music genres of kagok, sijo, and kasa. It is also used in a limited number of pieces of chongak, which during dynastic times was instrumental music for aristocratic entertainment similar in style to hyangak, or native Korean court music. It is very similar in design to the hyang-p’iri (‘native oboe’), another Korean oboe that is utilized in a totally separate set of musical contexts. Description The se-p’iri is an end-blown cylindrical bore double reed aerophone. It is made from a straight length of thin bamboo that has no natural nodes. Seven anterior fingerholes and one posterior thumbhole are drilled into the pipe. The reed (kaltae) is quite large, approximately a quarter of the length of the instrument's bamboo tube. Much shaving, slicing, shaping, and tying (using copper wire) are necessary to produce the finished reed. Its base is beveled so that it can be inserted into the top end of the pipe. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production The performer, usually seated on the floor, holds the pipe in front of himself with both hands at about a 45-degree angle so that his fingers can cover all the fingerholes and the thumbhole. The tip of the reed is placed inside the mouth and the lips are pressed firmly on the top and bottom of the reed just above the wire loops. Considerable airstream pressure is needed to sound the instrument, but because of its very narrow bore the se-p’iri has a relatively softer dynamic than the hyang-p’iri. At its full acoustical length (with all holes covered) the fundamental pitch produced is approximately an A-flat-3; with all holes opened a C-5 (approximately). With manipulation of reed pressure a few further pitches can be sounded to extend the range upwards about a fourth. The timbre of this instrument is considered to blend nicely with classical Korean singing. Players can produce subtle ornaments, a wide vibrato, and a wide dynamic range, features that allow it to effectively mimic Korean singing style (in the audio clip the se-p’iri is heard in combination with several other instruments and may be difficult to pick out; listen for the wind instrument with a nasal timbre heard most prominently in the left channel). Origins/History/Evolution Korean p'iri are related to the Chinese guan and the Japanese hichiriki, all of which are thought to have descended from a precursor originating in western China in the early first millennium CE. Reference is made to p'iri being part of a Korean ensemble in residence at the Chinese Sui dynasty (581-618 CE) court, and the first mention of p’iri in Korean sources is from the early 11th century CE. Some early p’iri had nine fingerholes instead of eight, but in general it would appear the present day p’iri used in South Korea differs little from its antecedents. Perhaps the greatest period of design transformation for the p’iri has been the last half of the 20th century in North Korea, where different sizes of the instrument have been introduced, as has keywork; these changes do not appear to have caught on in South Korea where a sensibility of cultural preservation is strong.