Beihai park on a Sunday on a blue-sky spring day is teeming with smiling people. Bringing my kids out to take in the sights was a must, but the surprise of this particular Sunday was the glinting wink off the bells of brass instruments: the waterside saxophone club.
After having taken a boat out on the water and enjoying the swirling feeling of floating free in the middle of this dense city, we took a walk along the water. Little did we know we would be tramping into the territory of the Beijing Saxophone Club—or at least, an equivalent—in which several people of all ages were polishing and warming up their saxophones.
Technically, a saxophone is not a brass instrument; it’s a woodwind instrument. I know that. They’re played with a reed mouthpiece, like a clarinet or an oboe. Nevertheless, these instruments are often mistaken as brass instruments as a result of being made of the stuff. They shine! They gleam! And reflecting the sunshine on this Sunday morning was particularly glamorous.
These instruments—which have always struck me as dancing golden seahorses on stages under lights—seemed perfectly placed alongside of the sparkling water. They lay in the cases or dangled off of the neck straps of the participants, and no one seemed to mind playing overtop of each other as they warmed up.
A small gathering of musicians stopped to speak for awhile, each cradling a brassy seahorse, er, saxophone, and the youngest member, a boy of about ten years old (whose mother was standing behind him very studiously keeping time) was the only member of the group seemingly invested in playing anything musical. He peeped out a Chinese folk tune with a pleasing melody without much effort whatsoever, garnering him a small crowd of admirers and applause.
My kids couldn’t get enough. I had to drag them away from the experience, assuring them there would be the award of lunch imminently, which proved the only possible means of drawing them away from these shiny attention grabbers in the hands of so many diverse people.
The way Chinese people use public park space has always inspired me, but I am continually surprised by variations on this theme. A single saxophone player in a park? I’ve seen many. But a group all gathered for socializing and practicing, even if it’s cacophonous, musically? Yes, that’s the way it’s done here. Way to go, China!
Photos: Frank Lindecke (Flickr) and courtesy of Ember Swift