The MOANIN’ FROGS give high sax appeal
By Lyndsey Wong MD – Singer
Prior to seeing The Moanin’ Frogs, I must admit to having reservations about listening to six saxophones at once, sans accompaniment. Wouldn’t six saxes be five too many?
However, I was terribly wrong.
My fear of many horns blaring loudly at me, while simultaneously blinding me with their reflectiveness, was dispelled the moment they played their first note. The Kelowna Community Concert Association brought this unique and entertaining saxophone sextet to the Kelowna Community Theatre on Saturday night, and they did not disappoint.
The Moanin’ Frogs is comprised of highly accomplished musicians, all classically-trained university professors in the field - most of whom have their Ph.D.s. The sextet features Edward Goodman (soprano sax), Gabriel Piqué (alto sax), Jeff Siegfried (tenor sax), Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (tenor sax), Jeffrey Leung (baritone sax) and Lucas Hopkins (bass sax).
The evening began with “Wedding Dance from Hasseneh” by Jacques Press, a strong choice which set the tone for the night. The bold decision to jump right into the piece without introduction was an effective one, grabbing (and holding) my attention. Their technical skills, musicianship and cohesiveness as a group were obvious immediately, with dramatic dynamic shifts and clean cut-offs to boot.
Following that, three different rags were played in a row, displaying some of their tightest and cleanest playing as a group. The next song, “Malagueña”, by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, was a majestic and polished rendition, one of the highlights of the night. The iconic “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph, played by Siegfried, demonstrated the liveliness of both the instrument and the musicians.
The second half began with more classical fare, with a beautiful version of “Danny Boy” halfway through the set. All six members joined in for an acapella verse, demonstrating their impressive ability to sing together as well. For the penultimate piece, Hulting-Cohen gave us a stunning rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a dynamic and tuneful solo that was reminiscent of Freddy Mercury himself.
Every few songs, a different member of the group would present the upcoming selections and give us a bit of history, which was endearing, illuminating and often humorous. Most memorable was their account of how the airline lost their bass sax en route to Kelowna, leaving them without one of rarest instruments today. While alto and tenor saxes are almost ubiquitous, finding a bass saxophone last-minute is no easy feat.
Local student Harmon Jardine graciously lent his bass sax (with the help of highly-esteemed music teacher Craig Thomson), an act that was most appreciated by the group. Not only were public thanks given, but they went so far as to videotape the show for Jardine, who was unable to attend.
While Hopkins’s own bass sax is a modern one, the lent model is from 1921 and fingerings have changed since. As a result, he had a mere few hours to re-learn finger placement. Quickly. While an entire audience is watching.
Luckily, Hopkins wrote his thesis on the exploration of the bass saxophone, and is credited with essentially writing the handbook on it. He gave a seamless performance and other than occasionally having to readjust the 25-pound instrument around his neck - which is often played on a stand - he gave no sign that it was new to him.
Despite the stress of the missing instrument (and therefore losing precious rehearsal time), the group performed magnificently. With a wonderfully varied programme, they kept it mostly light and playful, often employing humour and simple choreography. Each member was outstanding in their own right, shining in their solo moments. Their use of these instruments resulted in an incredibly joyful, clean and balanced sound - one to be envied by anyone that has ever attempted performing as a group.
Thank you to KCCA and Betty Skilbeck for their persistence in bringing The Moanin’ Frogs, as this group was rescheduled multiple times due to the pandemic. This was a fun, impressive show - one that I would see again. As it turns out, six saxophones really are better than one.