Alain Crepin - Belgian Founder of The Adolphe Sax International Competition of Dinant - 28
About Alain Crepin
Alain Crepin, a many-sided musician, was born in 1954 in Mettet (Belgium). He is founder of the Adolphe Sax International Competition held in Dinant, Belgium and since 2005 has been president of the jury.
At first he studied saxophone, cello and piano in Dinant and later, he went to study the saxophone with François Daneels at the Royal Brussels Conservatory of Music.
For 21 years he was the musical director of the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Air Force. King Albert II promoted Alain Crepin to the rank of major and later he was appointed the artistic director of all the bands of the Belgian Army.
He is professor of saxophone at the Royal Brussels Conservatory of Music and professor of orchestration and conducting at the Conservatory of Music of Esch-sur-Alzette (Grand Duchy of Luxemburg).
As a composer, Alain Crepin has written numerous works for symphonic band as well as many solo instrumental pieces with piano accompaniment. Many of these compositions have been recorded on CD and he is published in Belgium, France and The Netherlands.
As a soloist or conductor, he has recorded some 60 compact discs and performed all over the world.
- The development of the Adolphe Sax International Competition.
- Helping young saxophone players.
- The town of Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax.
- Sponsors and funding for large events.
- To be good saxophonist, you have, at first, to be a good musician.
- Listening to over 500 candidates for a competition.
- Conducting the Belgian airforce bands.
- A typical teaching week in Brussels.
- If you don’t have a great start, you will never be great.
- Being director of bands for the Belgian Airforce.
- Being prepared for anything at a concert.
- Keeping fit to help the saxophone playing.
- Recording 60 albums.
- The importance of playing in chamber ensembles.
- Loving the work that you do.
- The possibility of legacy in music.
- Working with Belgian composers.
- Keeping a positive frame of mind.
- Loving wine, music and friends.
- Thoughts on retirement and the future.
- Alain’s Website | Alain on Facebook
- World Saxophone Congress
- The Adolphe Sax International Competition
- Richard Ingham
- Claude Delangle
- Eugene Rousseau
- Jean-Marie Londeix
- Timothy McAllister
- Vincent David
- Fred Hemke
- Paul Harvey
- Pedro Iturralde
- Adolphe Sax Museum
- Belgium Instrument Museum
- Mi-Bemol saxophone ensemble
- Javier Valerio
- Nobuya Sugawa
Transcript of Podcast Interview with Alain Crepin
Please enjoy the transcript of this podcast episode. With thousands of words in each episode it might contain a few typos and may also have been edited for clarity.
Barry Cockcroft: Alors, bonjour monsieur. C’est un plaisir que vous êtes là ce soir.
Alain Crepin: Bonsoir, Barry.
Barry Cockcroft: And now we have to continue in English. I’m sorry.
Alain Crepin: I shall do my best.
Barry Cockcroft: Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be able to talk to you in a relaxed environment, all the way in Colombia.
Alain Crepin: Yeah. It’s very special, but I am very happy. Thank you for your invitation and for the great music we do together.
Barry Cockcroft: You know, we’ve had a chance to talk this week a little bit, and I remember we were talking about when we first met. I believe we were in St. Andrews?
Alain Crepin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For the World Sax Congress.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, for the World Saxophone Congress in St. Andrews, with Richard Ingham. And I remember, I don’t know if it was you or somebody else, but I was suddenly invited to a secret meeting with Alain Crepin. I’m like, uh-oh, what did I do wrong?
Alain Crepin: Nothing. I’m not in the police.
Barry Cockcroft: And I couldn’t think what it might be. And then we went to this café. We had some nice coffee. And then you invited me to come to be on the jury at the Dinant Competition.
Alain Crepin: Yes, sir.
Barry Cockcroft: The problem was of course it has to be a secret, because nobody is allowed to know who the adjudicators are.
Alain Crepin: Yeah. In the competition of Dinant, we keep the jury secret to the day of the beginning of the competition. And perhaps it’s more comfortable for you and for the members of the jury. Because if everyone knows that you are in the jury, everyone knows it a few months before, then you are going to receive a lot of questions and a lot of people who are going to ask to work with you. And I think, I was discussing that with other member of the jury after the competition, and they said me it was more comfortable. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: I think it’s a great idea. But it’s hard not to be excited about such a big competition, not to tell anybody. So I liked the process. It was very interesting to have a little secret for a while, and even until the day I arrived at the competition, I didn’t know who the other adjudicators were. So it was great to see my old friends.
Alain Crepin: Yeah, that’s also a special situation that some people are meeting in a congress or in master class and on some other occasions. And I am there also and I know that those two people are in the jury but they don’t know that the other people is in the jury. It’s very funny.
Barry Cockcroft: I would love to talk a little bit about the competition, if that’s okay?
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: We can come back to some other things afterwards. But it’s as far as I know now the largest and the most prestigious Saxophone Competition in the world, with some very good prizes. And the winners that I’ve seen over the years are magnificent saxophone players who go on to have really great careers. So it seems like to win a prize at the Dinant Competition can really help to develop a young player’s career.
Alain Crepin: Yeah. It was my idea to help the young people. I always have that in my mind to help young people. When I was conductor of the Belgian air force I was inviting young people to play as soloist with the band, give the occasion to people to play. And when I had the idea of the competition it was also a little bit like that. But not only for that. My idea was that in the world at the time, I speak about 1994, there was not really a competition of standing of good level, and not regular competition for the saxophone.
Alain Crepin: And so I had the chance to meet my wife in Dinant. Sorry. I had the chance to meet my wife in Dinant, and we married. And after I had the chance to be the assistant of François Daneels in Brussels. And I became, I replaced him after. And so I was living in Dinant, and I said to the authorities of Dinant, when I was appointed in Brussels in 1981, I said, “So we have to do something important in Dinant, in 1994 for the 100th anniversary of the death of Sax.” Other colleagues from European meetings for saxophonists said also to me, “Oh, yeah, we have no good competitions.” There was one or two times Geneva, okay. One time Munich, Munchen, but it’s not regular, so the idea was growing in my mind.
Alain Crepin: And I was followed by the authorities of the city of Dinant. Dinant is a very small town, as you know, but it’s living with touristic attraction. But the city was looking for a new direction, ‘elan’, in French. And the idea was to put together the image of sax and the city of Dinant. And if now you come to Dinant, you can visit the city and understand that Adolphe Sax is born in Dinant. Because in all the city, small city, but in all the city you’ll see saxophone. We have now the house of Adolphe Sax, where he was born. It’s now open as a very small ludic museum, and we have a lot of activities about the saxophone.
Alain Crepin: But the fleurant, really, we say in French, the best thing, is the international competition. But to create an international competition we were thinking we have to do it very well, we have to do it good. And so we were testing if the small city of Dinant was able to organise something international. And in 1990 we organised the European Day of the Saxophone.
Alain Crepin: I was in the APES, Association pour l’essor du saxophone. I was with Claude Delangle, Serge Bichon, Francisco Martinez, and other people. And we organised that with some reflections about the saxophone, about teaching. And some very nice concerts also. And, it was easy for us because I was conducting the Belgian Air Force so I had the orchestra for the final concert, and all the authorities, the cultural authorities, the cultural direction, were very happy with that event. That first big international event in Dinant.
Alain Crepin: And so we decided to go with the competition. And we also were thinking that the competition has to be very strict, that’s one point and, that we have to put the candidate in the centre of the competition. That’s why we were thinking to… there is not so many hotels in Dinant. It’s a very small city. So that’s why we were thinking that the candidates perhaps were going to live with some family.
Alain Crepin: And I think it was a very good idea, because people were coming from Japan, from the United States, from Australia, to play the first round. You play 20 minutes and after, if you are not in the semi-final, you can’t take the flight and go back to Japan or so. And but no, the idea was that the family, they keep the candidate, if they agree. And so the candidate can follow the rest of the competition and, all the people who are coming to Dinant, they can see what is the saxophone, how they have to play to be in the following round.
Alain Crepin: So, it was immediately a success, the first edition in 1994, was a great success, because of course, Adolphe Sax is born in the city. So only Dinant can organise with that big round, with Adolphe Sax born in the city. But also we took for the first competition, the first jury, we took pioneers of the saxophone like Eugene Rousseau, Jean-Marie Londeix, Fred Hemke, Paul Harvey, Pedro Iturralde, by example, and others. And also, so it was pioneers, so sure people and also more young people like Claude Delange in the first jury. It so the jury, the organisation, was straight. It was with a great jury, and I am very proud to say that I think that never the jury of Dinant was missing the good laureate. And after the first competition Vincent David was the first laureate.
Alain Crepin: And if you look to the other competitions of the other years, all the six people are having great careers.
Barry Cockcroft: I’m very curious to know where the money comes from for such a big event. Is it the town that helped to support or the country? How does that work?
Alain Crepin: Yes, we have … The town, so, it’s a project now of the town. And, one year ago, we changed the localization of the organisation. Now, we have an office in the Town Hall? Yeah. To show, to let, that is really a project of the town, and from all the people who are living in Dinant. We receive … It’s a great work. We have to ask, and I have to say it’s more and more difficult. But there is money from the city of Dinant. There is money from the region. And also from the federal, from Belgium, with the national lottery. We have also private sponsors, but as I said before, it’s more and more difficult each time to do it.
Alain Crepin: And, we are supporting by Selmer about new music … They give us the six prizes, six saxophone. It’s, I think, we are the only competition who is receiving six saxophones for the laureates. And different private sponsors, also composers, not company composers, Union of Belgium. Because we help also, we are always asking to some Belgian composers to write something, and so they help us with that. Yeah, but it’s each time a great adventure, and each time we have to go and keep knocking at the door and to look for different doors, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: You’ve been involved with the competition for many years, of course, but more recently you’ve been also the president of the jury.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you have, after seeing hundreds and hundreds of saxophone players compete, maybe more, could you think of one piece of advice you would give the competitors while they’re preparing for the competition?
Alain Crepin: You have to prepare more than one year before, and be hard working every day, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think the candidates become almost obsessed with the music to learn it so well? To memorise and to play always perfectly? Do they drop everything else and they just focus on Dinant?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, you can have focus on Dinant, but it’s not because you are going to work … A lot that you are going to be the first laureate. There are some, also, I think, some natural elements who are playing in your performances. But, we try that the competition gives us a complete musician. That’s why the three rounds are different in the programmation. The first round is more, should I say, more classical. The second round is more for contemporary music. And the third round is more a performance of a concert.
Alain Crepin: And so, we hope to find the complete saxophonist but first, a musician. To be good saxophonist, you have, at first, to be a musician. And before to be a musician, probably, if you are a good people, a good person, you have more chance to be, to become a good musician. And, not all the good musicians can play the saxophone, but, it helps.
Barry Cockcroft: What’s the largest number of competitors that you have had enter into the preliminary round?
Alain Crepin: It’s 166. And then we say it’s too much. We have to do something to change, so we are victims of our success. Yeah, I have to say that, for this edition, for this year, we had 544 people who were submitting online, who were asking to, to apply, yeah. Yeah, tried to apply, and in those 544, we received 306 complete applications with the video. And we were listening with a preliminary international jury to 306 videos during the beginning of April to do the selection.
Barry Cockcroft: That must take days to listen to everything.
Alain Crepin: Yeah, it’s one week work from night to … But you are invited in the jury but not for the selection. But that’s, we have three offsite people coming from great countries or great continent, I can say, yeah. And we are two Belgian people for the selection, with five people. And also, the committee of arbitrage was working when we have a student. Because in Dinant, perhaps you know, yes, you know, you, that when some people are in the jury and is the teacher of a candidate, of course, yes, no vote for that candidate. But, we have a committee who is with teacher from our institutions in Belgium, and they vote for each candidate. But when someone is the student of a teacher who is in the jury, that’s the vote of those people who is going to the candidate. Each one, each time there are 11 votes.
Alain Crepin: What is great advantage because we leave the highest vote and the lowest vote always out of the counting for a candidate.
Barry Cockcroft: And then you take an average of the last nine? And then I guess statistics decides the result. There’s no discussion?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, there is no discussion. And I think that with a great jury like that, and with that system for the teachers, you cannot say that in Dinant there is some mafia with organising. That this one is going to be the laureate.
Barry Cockcroft: Very good.
Alain Crepin: Also, also, I’m sure that all the people that we invited are great humans, but who are doing the job with a lot of respect and very honest.
Barry Cockcroft: Well, that’s a wonderful story, and congratulations on creating such a great competition. Both for the candidates, but also for the jury. I mean, I had a wonderful time being part of the jury. I made some wonderful friends. And also I got to experience Belgium, but Dinant, which is a delightful town. And I can see why it attracts the tourists, because it’s very beautiful.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: In the winter, maybe there’s some less tourists, but in the summer it’s beautiful. And also, you took us on a trip to Brussels to show us the Music Museum, which is amazing. If anyone gets a chance to go to Brussels, at that stage there was an entire floor of the museum dedicated to Adolphe Sax and seeing all these instruments. And the development of the saxophone. It’s a fascinating country and town to visit for a saxophone player.
Barry Cockcroft: Anyone listening, if you haven’t been, I would advise to go to Dinant and also to Brussels.
Alain Crepin: Yes, I think that all the saxophonists have to be like pilgrims to Dinant. And, but I say that I am the most happiest saxophonist in the world, because I live in the city of Adolphe Sax. For me, it’s a great dream. I, sometimes, I, myself, I am surprised by the importance and the great things we could do, we can do, in a so small city for the sax.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, this year, something very important is happening for you. In September, I believe, you are retiring?
Alain Crepin: From Brussels.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, from Brussels, from Brussels. Now, this is compulsory in your country, you have to stop teaching.
Alain Crepin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: In some countries, you’re allowed to teach until you’re 150. But for you, you have to stop at 65?
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: And I’m sorry I just told everybody your age.
Alain Crepin: I’m not a woman.
Barry Cockcroft: You’ve now … You’ve now taught in Brussels, for, is it 43 years?
Alain Crepin: It’s 44 years. I had the great chance that, when I was a student by François Daneels, after two years, he said to me, “Alain, next September, you become my assistant.” And I said to him, “Oh, no, Mr. Daneels, I want to continue to study with you for the high diploma.” There was no, in that time, it was first prize and then high diploma, so no bachelors or masters. And he said, “Oh, it’s not a problem. You may continue to study with me, but you became my assistant.”
Alain Crepin: It’s a great chance that Mr. Daneels gave to very young man, because it was in … I was 21 when I became his assistant. That’s perhaps also because I received from him, that he helped me very young that I want to help the young people with what I do. And so, after he had to leave also in ’81, 1981, and I had for the job we were also 23 candidates, but, okay, I was chosen. And, yeah, after I was, so six-year as assistant, and 38-years as professor, so it’s 44 years that I am teaching in the Brussels Conservatory.
Alain Crepin: In fact, I never left the conservatory. When I was, I became student, and sometimes I’m thinking, oh, I’m always learning in that institution. Not every day, but you learned so much. Teaching, teaches you a lot, and I find I have the great chance. I received so much things from young people, because when you are teaching you have to ask yourself some important things. And, perhaps it helps also to stay young and to stay playing. Because you have to show, to defend your teaching and your opinion and that and that music. I am very happy, but perhaps now it’s time to try and begin to think of my family.
Alain Crepin: In my life, some administrations sometimes was deciding for me. And it was the same, I was bandmaster of the Belgian air force, so but the officers are graduated very young, so I had also to leave the Belgian air force. And so I was very happy there, very, very happy. Not only because I did some flights in an F-16, but also for the music, fantastic musical moments. Yeah, we speak about saxophone and one of the most of the nice, so many in my career, about saxophone and about Belgian air force is that, with my band, we were invited by Eugene Roussea in Minesotta to be the band, the orchestra, for the World Sax Congress. We had some fantastic moments. We played, we’d create great musicians like Sugawa, Claude Delangle, Timothy McAllister. That’s very nice.
Alain Crepin: But he came back to my past and so the Belgian air force. At the moment it was okay. The rules are the rules, you have to stop. But, it was, in fact, yeah, I was a little bit sad, but I was also happy, because I could be more engaged for the saxophone and for writing music for my compositions. And, now I think that I am going, staying do different Dinant and to organise and to work a lot for the competition of Dinant. It’s a little bit a musical baby for me, the jury, and so I should be very sad if we are to stop because the money’s not still there. So I am going in the future for the next competition, looking to the doors to find the money.
Alain Crepin: But not only that, I have also a wonderful family, and it’s time that I do a lot of trips and musicals trips, but my wife was also working and so very often she was not following me. Only during the holidays she can be there for the Congress. She’s also a musician, as I said already, I think. But, that’s, yeah, that’s a new life. That’s not for me to … Not the end of something. That’s a new life with beginning for other things. And also, I am very happy when you leave and that you know that what you did in the past is going to be probably continued in the best way. It’s very good.
Alain Crepin: As you know, it is Vincent David who is going to follow me in Brussels, so it’s a very good choice. But I was very, very happy that it was Vincent. The competition to replace me was open internationally, and in the shortlist we had laureates of Dinant. So, I am very happy that I created the competition of Dinant, and Vincent was the first laureate of Dinant. And now he’s going to follow me in Brussels, so I think that the circle is complete. I am very happy with that.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, you’ve given me a lot to think about. The first one is, what is your teaching day, or perhaps your teaching week, like? How many students do you teach each week at your …
Alain Crepin: We have for there for the moment, 18 students in Brussels, but I have three assistants. And so the system was that each one has a lesson of one hour with one assistant each week. And I am working, I see nine people on a week. And, I am working always with the pianists. We have also three pianists in the class, and the pieces for solo saxophone are more studied with the assistant.
Alain Crepin: Before the examinations, before the evaluations, I listen also those piece naturally, but mainly, that’s part of their job. And I am working a lot with the piano, because I was conductor so I like to have a complete vision of the music. I regret that too many saxophonists only think about their line there to play, and too many saxophonists don’t know what is happening under, in the piano, of in the orchestra. If you want to be a musician, some things said that to me when I was very young, if you want to be a musician, you have to try to be a complete musician. A saxophonist who don’t know what is happening in the piano, is for me, not a good musician. I am very strict also with … I was very strict with my students. Probably it’s what I received from François Daneels. But, I think, when you are a student, you must have good basis. If the beginning of the way is not good, the way shall never be good.
Alain Crepin: Was that the answer to your question?
Barry Cockcroft: Thank you. Now, is that … All of that happens in two days? That’s right, isn’t it?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, for the teacher, it’s in two days.
Barry Cockcroft: And, is that what allowed you also to work in the armed forces?
Alain Crepin: Before, yeah, but I was also … The air force was working in Brussels, and so when I was at the air force, now, I am teaching on two days. But when I was at the air force, it was three days is because very often in the morning I was at the rehearsal of the Belgian air force, and in the afternoon until very late in the evening.
Alain Crepin: But what I want to say also, that we do also, we have a very good saxophone ensemble in Brussels, and that ensemble, that’s, we work with projects. There is not like the Mi-Bemol each week. But when we have concerts, we prepare a concert, obligatory three or four concert each year. And also, for the end of the examination, the evaluations, the candidates, the students, may play with the saxophone ensemble.
Alain Crepin: Perhaps they play in the saxophone ensemble, and then 10 minutes later they play as soloist with piano for the evaluations. But I think they have to learn also to be very supple, yeah. To be complete musicians, you may play very well in the ensemble, and after play very well as a soloist, I think. It’s possible, and they did this year also. I think the ensemble is very important, because you learned that’s also in the ensemble that you learned that the music is complete, and that you don’t play alone. That you are not living alone and you are not going on the way alone.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think us, as saxophone players, spend too much time in our practise room playing solo? And not enough with others?
Alain Crepin: Yes, perhaps, yeah, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Glad to talk to you about the air force, because I think, if, correct me, but you were a major.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: And following that, you became responsible for all of the musical groups in the country?
Alain Crepin: Yeah. But we are in a … Dinant is a very small city but Belgium is a very small country, also. Yeah. We have three bands, three military events, yeah. And, after conducting 20, 21 years the Belgian air force, I was artistic director of the three bands. And it was a good thing to have some changes in my life, because if you stay 21 years with the same band, it’s, in fact, I was thinking it’s too much.
Alain Crepin: But I was not looking for that. Some other people also, as I said before, decided that for me, they propose me to do the examination to became a higher officer. And they propose me the post. It was a function was not existing in Belgium. We had a real military who was director of the three events, but not an artistic conductor. And, it was very nice because the end of my career, I had a chance to connect the three bands. And I did concert with the three bands. And I did recording also with the three bands for the five last years of my military career.
Alain Crepin: And I say sometimes it good that you change perhaps your job. Also, my wife, at the same … She was teacher for piano at the music academy in Dinant, and for the ten last years, she became the directress. It was also a great changing in our life, and it was a very good moment because it was the moment that I was leaving the Belgian air force. And, so my wife was still working out for me when I was composing. She was putting everything on Sibelius on the computer. And when I left the air force, she became the directress, and she said to me, “Now, you are going to learn on the computer or you can write the music.” So, it was changing my life.
Alain Crepin: And, that’s what is now going to happen for me, for when I’m retiring in September, it is to be a change of life. But, yeah, in my life, I was changing jobs. I was not resting but I was changing jobs, sometimes three times each day. And, I find it very, very enthusiastic. It’s very, engaging and gives you a lot of force, power, yeah? To engage.
Barry Cockcroft: By doing several different jobs at the same time, even though you were very busy, it kept you energetic, motivated, enthusiastic?
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Some people do the same job for a number of years and then change and do a different job. And they can get tired.
Alain Crepin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: Even to the point where they have to stop. But, I’ve seen you many times now and I can’t you as someone who could stop. You’re very motivated. You’re always doing something.
Alain Crepin: Absolutely.
Barry Cockcroft: Whether that’s going for a job in the morning, or staying up late talking at night, you’re always doing something.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: I do admire that. I think it’s a very good trait. And of course, keep you young, which is good. Because, two days ago, I got to hear you play. You played a concerto that you had written.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: First of all, it was a magnificent performance. And so thank you for sharing that with us.
Alain Crepin: Thank you, thank you.
Barry Cockcroft: You played your own composition.
Alain Crepin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: You played from memory. And, you also played with really one rehearsal.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: There was a lot of, let’s say, challenging conditions to play. What do you do that allows you to play at your best when there’s so many changing conditions around you?
Alain Crepin: I try to be very, very well prepared, always. But it’s not always possible. And, I try to be prepared for different things that may arrive in a concert. But, the first thing is to be in good physical condition, I think. That’s why I do jogging.
Barry Cockcroft: And not, I’m very sorry that I couldn’t come with you jogging each morning.
Alain Crepin: Yes, I know, but we have a long time to share, I think, in the future. You can change.
Barry Cockcroft: I mean if you didn’t keep me up so late drinking wine, maybe but …
Barry Cockcroft: Just before the performance, I mean, I was in the warmup room with you. You were, I noticed on your music stand, although you had the basic music you were going to play, you had some other exercises or something.
Alain Crepin: Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: What is this?
Alain Crepin: That’s some mechanical exercises. I didn’t do it in the past, but now became-ing older and older, sometimes my hands are not responding like I want. But, with those exercises, I, before the concert, I practise. I have a regimen. A short plan to play each scales for 15 minutes, all the scales with. And then I have those exercises, mechanical exercises, which are special for your fingers, for your fourth finger, which is not always good.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, there’s still a lot to talk about because I believe you have recorded something like 60 albums of music.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s a little crazy.
Alain Crepin: No, it was the job.
Barry Cockcroft: Of course, some of these albums are your own compositions, which we’ll talk about later. But, was this also recording with the military bands?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, we did a lot of recordings with the Belgian air force. Some recordings for artistic choice, and a direct recording because of the military authorities. They wanted those things, okay? And other recordings for music publishers, also, to be a good example for the amateurs who are playing in the band. And, I never refused that because I was beginning in an amateur band, and it’s the bandmaster of the band that said to my parents, “Perhaps you have to send Alain to the city of saxophones today for the college and to go to the music academy.”
Alain Crepin: And so, I have to say thank you to the amateurs band. And I think it’s a good, good formation. It’s, if you are going to the music school, the music academy, and as we said before, that you practise only your line in your room, music is not that. No. You have to go in the band, in orchestra, in saxophone ensemble, in saxophone quartet and chamber music, and to play with other people.
Alain Crepin: And so, I was very happy when I was 12 year to be playing the band in my village, and to learn … I had my ear opened and probably … Not probably, for sure, it’s because the guide said to my parents, “He has to go to Dinant to learn the saxophone correctly.” And it was a good idea, because the music academy was very, very lovely, and there were good activities. And Mr. Daneels, was coming for concerts two or three times when I was in Dinant. It was very interesting to go to a concert and to listen to great people on the saxophone. No, it was a great chance for me. We did, yes, I did a lot of CDs with the air force. And later, when I was artistic director of the three bands, sometimes I was conducting and sometimes I was the musical supervisor. Yeah. A lot of experience.
Alain Crepin: But this afternoon, also for me it was wonderful experience. Yeah, yesterday we had together the concert with the band, but now this afternoon we had a rehearsal with a saxophone ensemble, and you as a soloist. But that’s great moment because we have, we play very good music of yours, and we had great people, and we are great friends, so you are two old members of the jury of Dinant who are playing in the sax ensemble. I know the people of Sonsax very well, because the idea like Sugawa to celebrate the 20 anniversary in Dinant, they wanted to be in Dinant for their 20-year anniversary. After Javier Valerio was a member of the jury, and also one month ago, Nobuya Sugawa contacted me to come to Brussels and to Dinant, for his 35th anniversary of his career. That’s very nice occasion because you are in contact with great people, and great musicians, but so I said before, also great people.
Alain Crepin: When I began to play the saxophone in my small band in my village, I never could imagine that the saxophone was going to bring me around the world like that. I have a lot of chance but I was also working a lot. And I worked always. Today, I have no concert. Tomorrow, I don’t play as a soloist, but today, I was practising what one hour for my saxophone, because I think to the next concerts that I have to do. And, yeah, a lot of chance, but a lot of work also.
Barry Cockcroft: That makes me wonder, was your career planned? Or did it evolve organically?
Alain Crepin: I was at the right place at the right moment. Yeah, because, I was learning with François Daneels, I never planned that he was going to ask me to be his assistant. But, when he had to leave, it was normal that I became a candidate. And, in my time, in Belgium, we had to do the military service. And I didn’t want to do my military service, to lose my musician time. The only solution was to go three years in a band, to do examinations and to be selected, and you signed for three years.
Alain Crepin: And I was signing for three years, and when I was in the band, I say, “Oh, that’s a nice job.” And, two years later, there was opening for candidate bandmaster. And the conductor of the band said, was calling me to his office, and he said to me, “Alain, you are assistant in the conservatory. Why you play well the saxophone?” He said, “It is your responsibility. You play the saxophone very well. Why should you not try to became conductor of the band when I am going to leave?” “Oh,” I said, “Perhaps.” But, but, after it was working in my head, “Okay, I’m going to try,” yeah? But I was motivated, but I was also curious. Because it was not necessary my plan. And then I did, and when I was at work, I was really happy to do that.
Alain Crepin: And so, the occasion also come, that in that time it was so that the bandmaster, like Sousa, is to be also composing military marches and so on. They asked me to compose some piece for some occasions, and I was beginning to write music, when I was beginner bandmaster. I think I was entering to the three aspects of my career. And, yeah. Also, I wanted to play as a soloist with my band. And so I wrote a piece for me to play with my band as a soloist. And so, perhaps you can find pretention, but so I could say to the musician, “I conduct you and I want that you play like that. And when, if you want to listen to me, I can do it. If I can do it, you can do it well also.”
Alain Crepin: I know that there was a lot of respect of my musicians for me, because I did that, and I was writing music, I was playing the music, I was conducting, yeah, so …
Barry Cockcroft: Is it common that conductors don’t play anymore?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, it’s very common, yeah. Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, I would like to ask you some more questions about your composition, because, I’ve noticed over the last few years you’ve been travelling more. And you’re now performing your own compositions as a soloist, and other things, of course. And, you’ve really been in a lot of places. I mean, two weeks ago, I saw you were in Chile, and I thought you might come from Chile to here, we’re in Colombia. But no, you went back home, because there was something important back home and then you’ve come back here. You’re really travelling a lot now. Do you think after September, after your retirement, that travel will grow even further?
Alain Crepin: No, I think it’s going to be less, probably less, yeah. Yeah, because there are so many people, so many people, also young people who play very well, who play better, a lot better than what I can do. And, yeah, everyone has his time. But, perhaps, I think I should continue more perhaps with conducting and with judging than with playing, because I don’t want to stop on that experience. If I am going to feel the moment to stop to play, okay, I shall … It’s not a big problem, I think. I am prepared for that.
Barry Cockcroft: I had, yesterday, I was doing some practise in a room, and there was a wall with pictures of famous musicians. And, as I looked, they played the violin, the cello, the piano, everything. This is a whole wall of famous musicians. And you know what? I didn’t know any of them. And I’ve been thinking about this idea that, when you play music, it’s a little bit for the moment. You play the concert, it’s live, you enjoy that moment, and maybe that goes on for a few years. But, eventually, you are forgotten, because other people come along.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: But, at the same time, composers are not forgotten. Now, the interesting thing I think for you is, of course, you may keep playing and your music, however, will continue as with other composers, well beyond your lifetime. Do you think the idea of leaving a legacy behind of your composition or your recordings, do you think this is a nice thing?
Alain Crepin: If I come into the history of the saxophone, it’s perhaps with my pedagocical pieces that I wrote, and perhaps because of the competition of Dinant. I hope so, I hope so, but yeah, you never know what’s happening after, when you passed away. Nobody knows it. But, yeah, I’m sure that some young people are going to play my music after, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Is that a good feeling to know that, in a sense, you will continue?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, it’s a good feeling, yeah, yeah. I will happy with that, because not everybody can say that and can think that. No, because I have a chance that some pieces are played everywhere in the world, yeah? Well, it’s not because the pieces are played that you … Some people think that you receive a lot of money but it’s not true. I have to explain that. As I said, I can buy two or three boxes of very good wine, because one year, on one year with my royalties, yeah. But, when I am someplace and that I hear my music, it’s always a very nice feeling.
Alain Crepin: I remember, I was in Belgium in a place where some band was playing my music, and I was arriving, it was outside, and I was arriving to the … And some old person was there, and he didn’t know me, and he said to his wife, “Oh, that’s really good music for band.” When you have some impressions like that, you have a feeling, a special feeling. Yeah, because he didn’t know it was my music. But, he was feeling good in there. And, it’s not the only case of such decoration.
Barry Cockcroft: Maybe the best compliment is one that comes from a non musician.
Alain Crepin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because we have to say that musicians are complicated people sometimes. And that a lot of people are jealous about your career. But I always say, if you are jealous, you have to do the same that I did. Yeah. Why did you not do what I did if you are jealous?
Barry Cockcroft: Now, I’ve been thinking, your teacher was François Daneels …
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: … and he was also a composer.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: When I was a student, I played his music. It was quite popular in Australia, to play the music of Daneels. Now, I didn’t know too much about the context or anything, but I enjoyed playing the music. Do you think the fact that he was your saxophone teacher and he composed had some influence that you also became a composer?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, I am sure, yeah. And also, the fact that the bandmaster before me was writing music also. Because when my bandmaster said to me, “You have to try to become bandmaster,” he asked me to, “What do you do on a Tuesday in the afternoon?” I said, “Well, nothing special, commandant.” He said to me, “You come in my office and we are going to work on orchestration with you, for to prepare the examination, therefore to be bandmaster.” So, it’s an influence for sure, yeah.
Alain Crepin: Then, but to do the examinations with bandmaster, I must have a diploma in harmony counterpoint and fugue, so I am someone practical. If I have to study that, why did I not use it in my life?
Barry Cockcroft: Besides your own composition, how important has it been for you to work with other composers?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, I think it’s a mission of a teacher of conservatory, of high institution, to ask the composer, to write for our instrument. And it’s also the mission that we have choosed in Dinant, that we asked. But in Dinant, some people trying that we don’t have to ask only Belgian composers. I can accept that some commission work of Dinant were not always great for the evolution, for the future or the repertoire of the saxophone. But, as you know, you never know what a composer is going to give you if you ask him to write something.
Alain Crepin: But, I was very happy to have some contact with Belgian composers, and to help for the evolution. Also in the conservatory, there was also a compulsory work. And I asked some friends to write. It’s a nice mission to help the saxophone, I think.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, I have some rapid fire questions. They’re short questions with perhaps a short answer. Is there something that you believe that other people disagree with?
Alain Crepin: No.
Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one piece to play, from now on, which piece would that be?
Alain Crepin: Difficult question, because I am defending the original music. But, when I am searching to be peaceful in my heart, I play Bach.
Barry Cockcroft: I know that you practise, you practise hard, prepare well, but if you just had one hour to practise, what would you do?
Alain Crepin: Scales and the concerto slowly for the rapid movements.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, if we learn from our mistakes, is it okay to make mistakes?
Alain Crepin: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Barry Cockcroft: Okay. Are you okay if you make mistakes, psychologically? Can you just forget about that and keep moving?
Alain Crepin: I can live with that, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think some people find it difficult to forget about the negative things and to remember the positive things?
Alain Crepin: Yeah. It’s a pity but, yes.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there any solution that you use to stay mindful of the positive?
Alain Crepin: It’s in my mind, be positive, yeah. Also, you can always find people who are more happy than you, but there is a lot of people who are less happy than you, I think. You have to learn to be happy with what you are, and stay positive, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: This may be funny, but, what’s the most unusual situation you have been in, in a musical performance?
Alain Crepin: We were playing in a sax quartet in Tunisia, and the stage was not very secure, in fact. And during one piece, I was on the chair, and my chair was going, and it was going like that. And my colleague grabbed me and put me back on the chair, but we didn’t stop the music.
Barry Cockcroft: Nothing stops the music.
Alain Crepin: We didn’t stop the music. I had the same experience with the air force band, but it was … We were at a concert outside in Italy, and we were playing music of Moricone absolutely. And so the lights of the outside, the outside lights, were stopping. It was not more possible to read the score, but the band kept playing, and I kept conducting. But, it was funny. And after three minutes the lights come back, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there some advice you would like to give yourself when you were just starting your career?
Alain Crepin: Difficult question, because I am very happy with my career. Perhaps I had to … No, I don’t find, sorry.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s fine because, of course, we can be happy with the way things went.
Alain Crepin: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: We don’t have to say, “Oh, I wish I did this or I wish I did that.”
Alain Crepin: No, I have no regret. And I think it’s a manner to stay young also. Don’t do illusions for the future, but don’t regret the past.
Barry Cockcroft: It sounds like that’s connected with your positive attitude.
Alain Crepin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: You’re looking for the good things.
Alain Crepin: Yeah, and the wines are good things that I am looking for.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, that was my next question. I know from personal experience that you’re a connoisseur of fine wine and also of great food. Is that a hobby for you? Is it something that you love to do outside of music with your friends, to share these things?
Alain Crepin: Yes, really, it’s a great passion, with the music and with my family. But, why? Because a bottle of wine is like a good piece of music. You can share it with other people. And that’s important. We had so nice, so nice moments after a concert or at home. People we invited. Not because of the good bottle of wine but it helps.
Alain Crepin: And I was very happy to share such nice moments. I am an amateur of wine but I’m not an alcoholic! I have to be clear. As you said, as you have seen. Also, here, before the concert, I always stay three or … One week or three days without drinking some alcoholic drink.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there a project that you’re working on at the moment that you would like to tell us about?
Alain Crepin: I have a lot of … Yeah, I want to write some special music. I have commissioned for a special orchestra, where there are strings and so many wind instruments, also. It’s a special combination for a French organisation, who want to put some people together who are not going especially together. That’s a special project.
Alain Crepin: At first, I’m going to finish my year at the conservatory, to do deliberations, to take some rest with my wife. And then I should be very busy with the competition of Dinant. And then we share, we shall see.
Barry Cockcroft: You’ve made such a great contribution, not just to the world of the saxophone, but to composition, to conducting, to drinking wine, no, no. To many aspects of music. Is there something in music that you haven’t done that you would like to do? And what do you see for yourself post September into the coming years?
Alain Crepin: Something important, I think, is that, I have three children and seven great grandchildren. And now, really, I would like to help them to cross their life. Not only by perhaps giving sometimes some money, but also, and it’s most important, by sharing my different experience of life with them. That’s one thing I wish to leave to my children and grandchildren.
Barry Cockcroft: You have an enviable capacity to always look at the bright side, the positive side. And I think people can learn a lot from that, so thank you very much.
Alain Crepin: Thank you for your invitation, dear Barry. It was a great pleasure for me, also.