Joseph D'Cruz is probably the only saxophone teacher in Kochi. He speaks of his special love for the sax and the peculiarities of the instrument

Joseph D'Cruz is a teacher who belongs to the old school of teaching. This music master is probably the only person in Kochi who teaches the saxophone. The piano, organ, guitar, clarinet, keyboard, mouth-organ etc are just some of the other instruments he teaches.

Classroom is the rather spartan first floor of his rented house. Patchwork sheets cover a keyboard and a digital piano. A few music books, a couple of pictures of Jesus and a few knick-knacks arranged neatly on a table are the other equipment in the tidy room.

Experienced

The septuagenarian reveals interesting aspects of teaching and learning music. He has been teaching in Kochi since 1975. He started with Cochin Arts and Communications (CAC) before moving to Dubai in 1992. He taught at a music school there, till he returned in 2000.

The masters who taught him, in the 50s, were Italian priests of the Sacred Heart School and College near Jolarpettai. He started with the clarinet and then moved on to the saxophone. The other instruments? “It is not too difficult if you know the notes and where to find them on the instrument,” he says in impeccable English. Learning the guitar and the keyboard is popular, he says, but the saxophone has few takers. In fact, he has just one student who learns the saxophone.

The saxophone, or for that matter all reed instruments, requires effort and hard work. “Initially the sound which emanates from the instrument is just a squeak. Needless to say it requires a lot of practice,” Joseph sir says. All that blowing a wind/reed instrument requires can put off anybody who is not committed to the instrument. He doffs his hat (imaginary) to Kadri Gopalnath. “Quite an effort!”

Jazz

As the conversation veers to jazz music and the five kinds of saxophones (soparano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass) he offers to show his saxophone (an alto). He gets his saxophone, tenderly holds it and asks, “Want me to play something?” He strikes a pose and warns, “Be prepared for a few decibels of sound.” Sound? No, music yes. And then the clarinet. The years disappear when Joseph sir starts playing. The piano will have to wait, as he has injured his wrist and it needs rest. Then there is an accordion, but broken, somewhere.

Committed teacher

Teaching is something close to his heart. “I turned down offers to perform or join a band because I'd rather teach.” The Trinity College of Music had awarded him with a certificate for Proficiency in Teaching (music). Most of the students he taught and sent for the exams cleared them. He, however, does not do that anymore. At 74 , teaching young kids would be an effort, but not for Joseph sir. As long as he is able to ‘communicate and make the child understand the abstract concept'. Therefore he has set Standard 3 – 4 as the suitable time for kids to start. And for the saxophone? “Be bigger than the instrument,” he says with a soft laugh. He conducts classes from home.

Chatting with Joseph sir is going back and forth, the old days and the now. Is his approach to teaching different from that of his teachers? “Not every much. Only that the fundamental nomenclature for music has changed. For Western Classical music (vocal) lessons still use ‘do-re-mi-so-fa-li-ti-do' but for instruments and others it is ‘c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c'.” Rather than teaching particular songs he teaches the old school way, concentrating on Western classical musical notation of teaching. He is, he confesses, classically oriented. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven among others figure prominently in his syllabus, which he designs to suit his individual students. That is not to say that if a student asks to be taught a song he refuses. He indulges once in a way because when ‘they play a song, they feel they have a sense of achievement'.

His being classically-oriented doesn't come in the way of being tolerant of current musical trends. “If youngsters are enjoying some kind of music, then it should be appreciated,” he says.