Joseph Murphy - American Concert Saxophonist - 21

by Barry Cockcroft | The Barry Sax Show

About Joseph Murphy 

Joseph Murphy has been saxophone professor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania since 1987. He has also been director of bands, department chair, and taught a variety of courses. He received his Bachelor of music education from Bowling Green State University (OH), and his Masters and Doctorate degrees from Northwestern University. His teachers have included John Sampen, Fred Hemke and he also received a Fulbright Award for a year of study in Bordeaux, France to study with Jean-Marie Londeix.

His guitar and saxophone ensemble, Duo Montagnard was formed in 2002 and has performed over 300 concerts. Joseph has premiered over 90 new works and has recorded 10 albums. He has performed in all 50 states, 8 Canadian provinces, 24 countries and 6 continents, including performances at 10 World Saxophone Congresses. 

Show Notes

  • Getting started in the 6th grade.
  • Learning with the greats, John Sampen, Jean-Marie Londeix and Fred Hemke.
  • Studying in Bordeaux, France.
  • Londeix had a reason for everything.
  • Hemke and Sampen were very intuitive teachers.
  • Know how a piece goes before you learn it.
  • The importance of sight reading.
  • Listening to your body for a long and healthy career.
  • Tips on playing from memory.
  • The difficulty of teaching and practising.
  • Making your own interpretations.
  • Performing in the 50 states.
  • Working closely with composers.
  • Raising funds for international travel.
  • Tone, fingers, brain.

Show Links


Transcript of Podcast Interview with Joseph Murphy.

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: Joe, thank you very much for joining me this early in the morning.

Joseph Murphy: Thank you.

Barry Cockcroft: And a great place to start, of course, is how did you get started on the saxophone?

Joseph Murphy: I got started on the saxophone in fifth grade. In fourth grade, every quarter of the year you got to try string instruments and brass instruments and woodwind instruments. Then at the end of fourth grade, we got to choose which one we wanted to do, starting in fifth grade.

Joseph Murphy: I distinctly still remember looking through the music room window at this really curvy instrument with a lot of buttons all over, and it looked really complicated; not just like a brass instrument with three buttons, or it’s just the straight flute. So I really was intrigued by the shape of the saxophone.

Joseph Murphy: Many years later I say that it’s obvious that it was a instrument of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, I didn’t say that as a fourth grader, but I was immediately drawn to the look of the saxophone.

Barry Cockcroft: Is the fifth grade young in The States for starting?

Joseph Murphy: For band instruments, that’s around the youngest. Some might start in the sixth grade, but I think they usually say it’s because of the teeth. You still have baby teeth in the third and fourth grade. So I think that’s the normal reason given why most kids start in fifth grade, as opposed to string instrument where, as like all over the world, they start as four-year-olds, or three-year-olds sometimes.

Barry Cockcroft: I noticed they’ve started pushing the beginning age down in France, and they’re looking for new teaching resources, and they’re retraining teachers to be able to cope with the psychology of younger students.

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: They’re starting them down around six years old on smaller instruments and slightly simplified, like soprano. They’re saying it’s fine. Of course, we’ll find out about the impact on the teeth.

Joseph Murphy: Yeah. Well, of course, their system is completely different anyway, so I’m curious when they start them at six years old. What I remember from France is, even before being allowed to start saxophone, you had to take a whole year of solfege. So are they getting rid of that? If you start at age six do you have to do soul fish at age five?

Barry Cockcroft: Maybe they start in their first year, when they’re one, solfege. But I guess it’s the idea is that it puts the saxophone on an even level with some of the other instruments that young kids-

Joseph Murphy: Right, piano and strings.

Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, but I can imagine the hardest thing would be the psychology of it.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: Pretty much everyone is trained working with more mature students, so it’s very interesting to see how that turns out.

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: Now, could describe who your teachers were early on?

Joseph Murphy: Sure. Well in high school, I grew up in Ohio, and I took lessons from a university just about an hour away, at the University of Akron. Then in undergrad school I went to a state school in Ohio, Bowling Green State University. It was John Sampen’s first year there, so I lucked out. I didn’t even know how famous he was or going to be.

Joseph Murphy: Then after four years of study with Sampen at Bowling Green I went immediately to a master’s degree at Northwestern; Sampen’s teacher, Fred Hemke. At the time, that was just the one year master’s programme. Then after that I taught high school in Ohio for two years.

Joseph Murphy: After that, then I studied with Londeix for a year, and after that year in Bordeaux, came back and replaced Sampen, who was on a sabbatical for a year, and then got my current job in the fall of 1987.

Barry Cockcroft: So that’s quite a while in your job.

Joseph Murphy: Yeah.

Barry Cockcroft: Is that common that when you’re in a position in the university system, that the people stick with it, or do they move around?

Joseph Murphy: Well, I don’t know if you can generalise that. I think it has to do with the nature of the position, the attitude of the person. When I got there, I just loved my students and my colleagues, and it’s decent pay and decent retirement.

Joseph Murphy: I was married and had a kid, and didn’t want to drag them all around. So for me, it’s been good for me. But for other people, they either didn’t like their first position, or just had higher aspirations, or it’s just their personality to keep climbing the ladder.

Barry Cockcroft: So you were Fulbright scholar.

Joseph Murphy: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: Is that a scholarship that pays your way to go overseas?

Joseph Murphy: Yes, Fulbright pays the travel, and let’s see … Boy, this is 32 years ago, or maybe even more, at Bordeaux. I think they paid the travel, and they gave a small stipend for your housing.

Barry Cockcroft: For wine.

Joseph Murphy: Yeah.

Barry Cockcroft: It was amazing, you’re talking about 32 years ago, and just yesterday I bumped into Londeix, of course. He’s here at the World Saxophone Congress. He’s still coming after all these years.

Joseph Murphy: Yeah. I think he’s literally the only one left who’s been to all of them.

Barry Cockcroft: Isn’t that amazing?

Joseph Murphy: I think Sampen’s been to all but one, and I think it’s just Londeix that’s been to literally all 18 now.

Barry Cockcroft: Wow. Could you perhaps describe some of the differences you saw between your different teachers?

Joseph Murphy: Well, let’s see. I think Londeix really gave a reason for everything, and sometimes it would seem far fetched. He would refer to architecture or refer to nature, or refer to a work of art to direct you through the piece, or give you some type of reference to how to play a piece.

Joseph Murphy: As opposed to Sampen and Hemke, who I describe as intuitive geniuses. They tell you what to do, and after the fact say, “Wow, why couldn’t I think of that? How am I going to do this for the next piece, or am I going to rely on these teachers forever to tell me how it goes?”

Joseph Murphy: So they were very different in that way, and kind of like in master classes. When I give a master class I don’t like to tell a student, “It goes this way,” because they have some very good musical intuition and so does their teacher. I don’t want to say, “Do this.”

Joseph Murphy: Whenever I give a master class I try to give them different ways of practise that they can use on literally any piece that will give them different perspectives, as opposed to saying, “Do it this way.” They don’t really say, “Do it this way.” They would couch it in the terms of “Try this, and it’s okay if you don’t end up doing it.”

Joseph Murphy: Londeix always seemed so studied, a reason for everything. Hemke and Sampen were in their own way, are very, very intuitive.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you think that the French tradition that Londeix had of a very strict approach and very disciplined, did you cope coming from a different country into France? Did you cope with that?

Joseph Murphy: Well, yes, I guess for several reasons. One, I had good teachers, Sampen and Hemke, prior to that. And two, I had already finished my master’s degree, so I’d had several teachers. I’d played many pieces. I was experienced at the time anyway, as opposed to some students who maybe studied in Bordeaux, their sophomore year in college. I had already had two degrees and a couple of very good teachers, so I …

Barry Cockcroft: I guess in that sense it was more like a finishing school where you go for refinement, and the knowledge-

Joseph Murphy: Yeah, right.

Barry Cockcroft: … and not the technique, as such.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you find that your teaching now is informed by the experiences you had as a student, or have you branched out into your own way of teaching?

Joseph Murphy: I think my own way of teaching; like I said a minute ago about wow, when they say do this, and it seems so obvious and so natural. Why didn’t I think of that? How can I set up a system that I discover these things about the music without having a teacher tell me them?

Joseph Murphy: So I do have a specific way that I like students to prepare, and that I prepare a piece of music. And not only on day one, what you do on the first couple of days of a piece, but pretty much every day thereafter that I think discovers or creates one’s interpretation of a piece.

Barry Cockcroft: Could you imagine a piece sitting in front of you now, a new piece? Could you describe that process?

Joseph Murphy: I guess the maxim that I live by is know how it goes before you play it. For a 10-year-old, that just means, well, let’s just say the counting first. Let’s get some understanding of how this is going to go before we play it.

Joseph Murphy: For a more advanced student, or for myself, the level I’m still at, is I want to sing it before I play. I want to internalise, and I want to recompose this piece of music. A phrase I use a lot in my teaching is, in French, a performer is an interpreter. That’s a very powerful word, as opposed to in English, a performer is a circus clown. An interpreter is a recomposer.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s where I’ve been going wrong. Now I understand.

Joseph Murphy: So yeah, on day one I want to sing it. I want to literally memorise it on day one. I want to recompose this. I want to play it perfectly, even if I just play three phrases or two lines or whatever. I want to start getting to the … as Londeix would say, the fire of the music, not just the smoke.

Joseph Murphy: Even if I don’t get to the end of the piece for two months, I guess that’s one of the differences with other people, and it works for them. They’ll sight read through the piece just to see how it goes and where the difficult spots are. Then they’ll start to dig into it. But I don’t want to sight read a piece that I’m going to stick with, and I’m going to play.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s interesting. I guess, in a way, you could argue that that’s something that you believe and you use that other people don’t, or in essence, they disagree with that. They might say, “Well, we should sight read it first to get an idea.”

Joseph Murphy: Right, well, as I tell my students, sight reading is a terribly important skill, but I prefer not to sight read music that I’m going to stay with for a while. Because, whether you realise it or not, that first time through is affecting your second time through, and your third time through. It’s affecting how you ultimately play.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s very interesting. So I guess then if you’re wanting to work on your sight reading, you use other music.

Joseph Murphy: Exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: That perhaps comes back to that technique that you may remember taking classes in déchiffrage, where there’s a teacher who helps you with sight reading outside of the classes.

Joseph Murphy: Right, yeah, and it wasn’t even saxophone music.

Barry Cockcroft: Anything.

Joseph Murphy: It was déchiffrage music.

Barry Cockcroft: And there were whole books people wrote, these sight reading exercises.

Joseph Murphy: Exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: I haven’t come across that outside of France.

Joseph Murphy: No.

Barry Cockcroft: It’s interesting. I’ve found that the sight reading skill often came from particularly playing in a band, seeing so much music, and different music. And that each time you come across something new, you learnt it, and that becomes your sight reading skill.

Barry Cockcroft: Then, as I kept playing, and in a sense, focusing more and more on less and less, my sight reading became weaker. The more I played from memory the less I was reading, and therefore, my reading skill’s diminished a little bit.

Barry Cockcroft: It’s very interesting, and I asked myself is that a bad thing? Sometimes I’d have a new thing to sight read, and I, “Oh, I used to able to sight read much better.” But at the same time I feel … I spend a lot of time playing without music in front of me, and I like that liberty I guess, and that’s the sacrifice.

Joseph Murphy: Well, throughout our career things will ebb and flow. You’ll go through years and not play … Well, maybe not years, but you’ll go through months and not play bari, or soprano or whatever. So things will ebb and flow.

Barry Cockcroft: Is there a piece of advice you could give to a university student who’s just started out?

Joseph Murphy: Stay healthy.

Barry Cockcroft: Right. That’s very interesting. So what’s your advice to ,not just saying healthy as such, but being able to play for a long, long time throughout your life?

Joseph Murphy: A balanced approach. Sometimes when people are really practising a whole lot they maybe create some physical problems for themselves, whether being the throat, or the jaw or the fingers, or who knows what.

Joseph Murphy: I guess just listen to your body, and if you get a chance to do Alexander Technique or something like that, definitely do it.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you find these kinds of physical studies are incorporated into music teaching, or is it really only for people who go out and seek it?

Joseph Murphy: Oh, it completely depends on the teacher.

Barry Cockcroft: Okay. It’s quite a specialist thing you’re talking about, having some knowledge of-

Joseph Murphy: Well, the flute teacher at my school, she incorporates the Alexander Techniques or some types of things, or yoga stuff or like that in practically every lesson. So it really depends on the individual teacher.

Barry Cockcroft: The third aspect of health that I see in musicians is mental health, and being able to sustain a long career. I see people drop off from time to time, and I think sometimes it due not necessarily to the stress of playing, but being able to cope with self criticism. And to be able to stand on stage and enjoy the moment, instead of being critical of the things that didn’t work.

Joseph Murphy: Well, I take that back to what I said 10 minutes ago, is really understanding the piece of music, really recomposing this piece of music. As opposed to standing up there and playing great, but really not understanding it, really not defending the composer, really not telling the story.

Joseph Murphy: The more that you understand the piece of music and talk to the composer, and be able to play it by memory, even if you choose not to in performance, the more mentally engaging that is. It engages your soul, as opposed to I’m just a performing monkey up there. Yeah, I’m playing great, but it’s not nourishing my soul. So I think that’s an important aspect.

Barry Cockcroft: So, in a sense, if music does nourish you, then that’s going to contribute to your well being.

Joseph Murphy: Oh yeah!

Barry Cockcroft: And we’re spending hours doing this every day.

Joseph Murphy: Right, and if you’re just a performing monkey you’re going to potentially get depressed.

Barry Cockcroft: I guess that’s the important thing you described of using the word interpreter. It gives you a completely different perspective on how you approach performing.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: But also preparing for performance.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: Is memory something that you … First of all, do you like to perform from memory? Is it something that you do often? Do you have any special techniques for performing from memory?

Joseph Murphy: Maybe between seven and 15 years ago, I was pretty much performing everything by memory, solo stuff, stuff with the piano. Lately, I’m not performing a lot by memory. Mainly, I’m playing with this guitarist, and we don’t play by memory. Although, in my practising , like I said a minute ago, I practise so that I have it memorised, even if I choose to not perform by memory.

Joseph Murphy: You asked about techniques for memory. It goes back to what I said about day one, that you start to memorise the piece of music on day one. By doing that, you’ll discover the interrelationships of the piece of music. It takes a little longer to get through the piece, but each piece you do will go a little bit quicker, and you’ll see more interrelationships.

Barry Cockcroft: I like that idea because often memory, the process of memorization is the source at the end. For example, if you spent one month practising a piece, and then one month memorising a piece, you’ve effectively lost one of those months because-

Joseph Murphy: Right, whereas you could probably do it in six weeks, as opposed to the eight weeks.

Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m always curious why people feel like they need to do it last, and not first. In terms of memorization, if you have music inside of you, in your mind, then you’re processing that all of the time, even when you’re not sitting at your saxophone. It’s just there. It’s knowledge, and therefore your brain is-

Joseph Murphy: As opposed to sight reading forever.

Barry Cockcroft: Yeah, sight reading forever; nice. Would you describe your career as a stage by stage event, or something more organic?

Joseph Murphy: I’d say something more organic.

Barry Cockcroft: Yeah. I guess a way to describe that is did you go from opportunity to opportunity? Is that how it worked? For example, you didn’t say at age 18, “I’m determined to go and study in France,” and things like that.

Joseph Murphy: Well, after my undergrad, which I did get in music ed, I really didn’t feel ready to teach high school. So I did my masters, and then after my masters year, which was the ’82 ’83 school year, the Geneva Concord was in the fall of ’83, and I was practising like crazy that summer.

Joseph Murphy: There was four or five of us from Northwestern who were preparing to go to Geneva in the fall of ’83. We were probably practising eight hours a day, and other people came in from out of town. Jim Umble] came in for some Hemke master classes.

Joseph Murphy: Then one morning I just woke up in Evanston … It’s about August 1st … and said, “What am I going to do in the fall? I don’t have a job.” Psychologically, I couldn’t practise anymore, so I didn’t go to Geneva.

Joseph Murphy: I went back to Ohio to find a high school teaching job. Then I taught high school for a couple of years. During that second year I applied to go to France and got accepted. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have gotten accepted, or not gotten the Fulbright, I probably would’ve kept teaching high school, or maybe eventually gotten the doctorate. So things just fell into place.

Barry Cockcroft: As a high school teacher, how do you maintain … Or perhaps you can remember back to those two years, but how do you maintain a high level of playing while you’re so busy in high school?

Joseph Murphy: I didn’t.

Barry Cockcroft: You didn’t.

Joseph Murphy: There were sometimes as many as at least two weeks, maybe sometimes as many as three weeks, where I didn’t touch my saxophone when I was teaching high school. So I didn’t maintain my level, which was why I was good as only two years.

Joseph Murphy: It was a very small school, and I did band and choir and theatre. So I was really the only music person at that school.

Barry Cockcroft: So it was all-encompassing, and it didn’t allow for-

Joseph Murphy: Practising.

Barry Cockcroft: … practising , which must’ve been-

Joseph Murphy: And I didn’t know any French at the time. Once I found out that I was going to be going to France, I started studying French on my own, which is another funny story.

Barry Cockcroft: Did you have some French when you got to … not really?

Joseph Murphy: Well, what I studied on my own, yeah. Londeix arranged people’s housing, and he arranged for me to stay with Marc Chisson. Marc Chisson is a saxophonist who lives in Bordeaux. When I discovered that, I wrote Marc a letter in French. I said I wanted to introduce myself, and that reflexive, which means to physically introduce oneself to somebody else. He got a bit laugh over that.

Barry Cockcroft: How important has recording been, first of all, to your career, but also to your development?

Joseph Murphy: Probably development much more than career. I always describe recording as a very expensive practise session. As I tell my students, there’s some things you can only learn in recording sessions, some things you can only learn in performance, some things you can only learn when you teach. Some things you can only learn when you play by memory, some things you can only learn by performing a piece 20 times.

Joseph Murphy: So there’s just situations that you need to put yourself in that you’re only going to learn things in those situations.

Barry Cockcroft: How does that go now when I see every time someones gives a recital, the recording’s online, pretty much either immediately or live? Do you think that’s a change in the way the recording … Obviously, it’s a change, but do you think, therefore, the function of recording has changed because it is so accessible?

Joseph Murphy: Right. Yeah, it’s really just part of the social media again.

Barry Cockcroft: I see people, of course, looking for other interpretations when they come to a new piece. Now there’s a proliferation of interpretations, but often, because they’re not perhaps one recorded by the highest level … They may be a developing player, and also, they haven’t been through that rigorous recording process.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you think that people are listening to more recordings, but recordings that are of a lesser quality?

Joseph Murphy: Yeah, I’m sure that’s true.

Barry Cockcroft: So, what would the impact therefore be on people’s interpretation?

Joseph Murphy: Well, I’d still say it’s better than not listening. So yeah, they may have a slightly altered or warped sense of how a piece goes, but I think it’s fine. It’s better than not listening.

Barry Cockcroft: I have this idea that you should listen to a recording of a piece after you have learned it.

Joseph Murphy: Make your own interpretation.

Barry Cockcroft: Exactly, because what happens if your interpretation is the best ever, or the best for you at least?

Joseph Murphy: Right, I agree with that.

Barry Cockcroft: And the risk, of course, if you listen to other recordings is you just copy them.

Joseph Murphy: Exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: And your own ideas are pushed aside.

Joseph Murphy: Right.

Barry Cockcroft: But at the same time, it’s so easy to listen to other recordings. It’s a temptation. I’m not talking about discovering music, but really, well, how does this go and-

Joseph Murphy: Exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: I see people struggling with it. They can’t help have a peak. It’s like opening their Christmas presents early.

Joseph Murphy: Right, exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: It’s a shame because I think coming up with an interpretation that works for that person is a real big challenge. It’s one of the most important things, and it’s a real shame if it’s lost.

Joseph Murphy: Right. I agree.

Barry Cockcroft: Your travel has taken you, really, to a lot of places, many countries, of course.

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: I believe 30 countries.

Joseph Murphy: Yeah, that’s about right.

Barry Cockcroft: Six continents.

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: You’ve played in some unusual places too.

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: I think you may have performed throughout The States.

Joseph Murphy: Yes, all 50.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s amazing.

Joseph Murphy: Eight Canadian provinces.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s amazing. I, of course, got to hear you play in Australia on one of those tours. I guess playing with Matthew has formed a big part of that, in your duo.

Joseph Murphy: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: Could you talk about how that duo came to exist because a guitar and saxophone duo is obviously less common than piano and sax?

Joseph Murphy: Right. I think it’s just simply he was the guitarist at the school where I taught. I’ve always been interested in playing with other instruments other than piano. Other than piano, the only other cordal instruments would either be a mallet instrument or a guitar.

Joseph Murphy: I was aware of a couple of pieces, like the Hovhaness, and things like that, but I wasn’t aware of a lot of material. So the first year or two we played a lot of flute and guitar transcriptions. But then since then we’ve commissioned a lot of music.

Barry Cockcroft: Therefore, you have worked with composers.

Joseph Murphy: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: How important has that been, obviously to create repertoire? But how important has that been, artistically, to work with a composer in a slightly different art form?

Joseph Murphy: Well, I think it’s great. I have so much respect for the process of composition. I wish I could do that. So, like I said, I’ve got so much respect for composers that I really enjoy working with them.

Barry Cockcroft: In general, do you work with the composer on a new piece, a collaboration as such, or do you get the finished score and off you go?

Joseph Murphy: Well, that really depends on the composer. Some who don’t have a whole lot of familiarity with the saxophone will, throughout the process, ask, “Can you do this multiphonic? Can you do this technique? Can you play this note at this dynamic,” or whatever.

Joseph Murphy: Some who have a familiarity with the saxophone will just present the finished … So it really depends on the composer.

Barry Cockcroft: Out of the pieces that you have commissioned, are there particular pieces that stick that you play over and over again, and therefore, are they pieces that perhaps you play some, and then leave?

Barry Cockcroft: If that’s the case, is there something that you’ve found either in the process of the composition being created or the music itself, is there something that you can see that would help a piece stick in the repertoire and become played by many people?

Joseph Murphy: I guess there’s a couple of answers to that. Certainly, yes, we have had pieces that we’ve just played once or twice and then left behind. And yes, there are pieces that we continue to play over and over again, and I’ll get back to that in just a minute.

Joseph Murphy: A while ago, you asked had things evolved organically or have I planned things. One thing that really has evolved organically is we’ve found, when we’ve commissioned maybe 40 pieces, and we find these trends amongst them.

Joseph Murphy: Last fall we played at Northwestern with a whole programme of Northwestern composers. This coming academic year I will play at Eastmont with all Eastmont composers. So it’s just developed organically that we can put together these themed programmes. Also, next year we’ll do a concert at the University of Michigan with all University of Michigan composers.

Joseph Murphy: You also said, or asked if there are things in a composition that will allow it to stay in the repertoire. First of all, there aren’t that many guitar and saxophone duos. So to actually stay in the guitar and saxophone repertoire, I’m not really sure.

Joseph Murphy: There are three others at this congress; Alfonso Padilla, and then I think Preston Duncan is doing some stuff with guitar. Then there was one yesterday morning that I think I missed because I wasn’t here yet, but I think we’re one of four duos at this congress.

Joseph Murphy: Something inherently in the music that’s going to allow … I think it’s mainly the interaction of the instruments, the interplay that I really like from a composition. As opposed to where you think a wind instrument and a guitar, you think okay, background strumming, and then you get this melody over the top.

Joseph Murphy: Well, I think it’s really the duo nature, the interaction of the instruments that makes it interesting.

Barry Cockcroft: Perhaps it wasn’t a goal, but how did it feel to have, so far, have done all 50 states there?

Joseph Murphy: Well, that’s another organic thing. I didn’t set 50 states a goal until Matt and I did a tour in Texas eight or nine years ago. Then after that tour I said, “Huh, I wonder how many states we’ve played in.” And then just checked them all off and said, “Wow, we’ve played in 20-some states. I guess we could make it a goal to play in all 50. So it really wasn’t a goal from the beginning.

Barry Cockcroft: A lot of people would love to tour like you have done. Is there something that could help them, one, finance their touring? Is there something in your experience that’s helped to be able to, one, fund, their touring, the travel costs I guess on one aspect? And then to be able to sustain that.

Joseph Murphy: It really depends on what situation they’re in, but I guess a very broad piece of advice would be just plan well ahead, and do a lot of research. If you want to play in schools, you do the research and find out when their spring break is. You do the research and find out when their semesters begin and end, and suggest to the teacher a day that would work, or a span of time.

Joseph Murphy: With enough planning and research … And from their school also … They’re teaching a college … with enough lead time they can probably get some travel funds for it. At my school I’m on the Faculty Professional Development Committee. You’d be surprised the number of faculty who just don’t get it in on time, or get in a proposal at the very, very, very last minute. They have misspellings in there.

Joseph Murphy: Just be prepared. Just work a year ahead. That’s the easiest piece of advice.

Barry Cockcroft: Now, I’ve got some rapid fire questions for you, where you may like to give a brief answer, not compulsory.

Barry Cockcroft: If there was just one piece of music that you could play now forever, perhaps the desert island scenario, what piece would that be?

Joseph Murphy: Huh … Well, I guess it would either be Glazounov or Rock Me.

Barry Cockcroft: I was worried you were going to say long tones. Well, that’s great, thank you. I don’t know if my music’s been compared to Glazounov before.

Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one hour to practise how would you spend that hour?

Joseph Murphy: Huh … I guess it goes back to some other teaching things that you asked before and I never gave you this answer yet. No matter what level of student I’m teaching, or even for my own practising , I just think of three things; tone, fingers, brain.

Joseph Murphy: Depending on where you’re at, tone could be two minutes or 10. Fingers could be five minutes or 20, and brain, who knows. Brain, it could be, without the saxophone, brain could be just writing down the piece of music.

Joseph Murphy: That’s one particular technique for memory, is I have my students write it so they don’t have the physical cue of I can play it if you let me finger my saxophone, but can you write it down? So I guess it would be just the generic tone, fingers, brain.

Barry Cockcroft: Who do you consider to be one of the most successful contributors to the saxophone?

Joseph Murphy: Well, definitely Londeix. Even now, even that he’s not playing anymore, that bibliography of all the literature is terribly important. Every saxophonist probably has that book, or every library. Yeah, I say Londeix.

Barry Cockcroft: A lot of people, pretty much everyone, refers to one of their teachers as that influence. It is interesting, at the time … It’s probably something you realise after you’ve left the teacher, and at the same time, their teacher probably has no idea that they’re having such a profound effect on the future of the student; very much in the moment, so it’s an interesting … It’s a bit with hindsight, isn’t it, to know?

Joseph Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: If we learn from our mistakes, is it okay to make mistakes?

Joseph Murphy: Certainly, yeah, it’s fine to make them, Like you said, if you learn from them, sure.

Barry Cockcroft: Are you good at coping with a mistake if it happens?

Joseph Murphy: I think so, yeah.

Barry Cockcroft: I heard a story about someone who, if they made mistakes in performance, it led to substance abuse, and I guess that’s not coping with the pressure of the mistakes.

Joseph Murphy: Right, that’s not.

Barry Cockcroft: It’s certainly not learning-

Joseph Murphy: It’s not communing with the composer. You’re up there defending this composer.

Barry Cockcroft: You’re performing at a world event this week. Is there something that you do before you walk on stage that allows you to perform at your best?

Joseph Murphy: I guess I like to just review the music in my head, and maybe even sing it a little bit and just get my ears and brain working, or fingers. Some people like to put almost Vaseline … I like my fingers to be completely dry. I use alcohol on my fingers, and then even put some baby powder on so they’re nice and dry, and those couple of little things.

Barry Cockcroft: Looking back, is there a piece of advice you could give to your younger self that you would’ve like to have heard?

Joseph Murphy: I guess we all have regrets or things we wish we could be, or have done. I guess I really never have had teachers that have pushed improvisation, so I guess I wish I would’ve done more improvisation. I guess I would’ve done more composition, but I guess there’s still time.

Barry Cockcroft: Good answer, there’s still time. Now, your contribution to the saxophone has been extensive and ongoing for many years. What do you see for yourself over the next 10, 20 years as a saxophonist?

Joseph Murphy: Probably still working with composers. I’ll still come to these events. I really don’t view these events as me being able to put on a show. I think it’s very important for me to go hear other players, other pieces and support them. So, yeah, I want to support other saxophonists.

Barry Cockcroft: Now, are there any recent projects that you’ve been working on that you would like to tell us about?

Joseph Murphy: Yeah. Well, Matt and I continue to record. So we just wrapped our, I think fifth CD, and already starting to record some new for the next. So, like I said, we have about 40 commissions, and we record them all. So we’ll just continue to commission and record.

Barry Cockcroft: Where can we find out about your recordings and your activities? What’s your preferred method of communication?

Joseph Murphy: Yeah, we do have a website, and it’s From there you can see our five CDs and our concerts, and contact information and stuff like that.

Barry Cockcroft: Joe, thank you very much for your time today.

Joseph Murphy: Thank you.

Barry Cockcroft: I wish you best for the week.

Joseph Murphy: Thanks.

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