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Saxophonist Dickson plays classics, pop and saves lives too

By Francis Maguire

LONDON (Reuters) - After winning a Classic BRIT award in 2013, proving the saxophone can be an important classical instrument, Amy Dickson is taking it to more familiar pop territory on her new album.

"A Summer Place", released later this month, is a crossover that includes vintage pop songs ranging from Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" to Andy Williams's "Moon River".

The Sydney-born saxophonist told Reuters she wanted to evoke a time and mood one might associate with Audrey Hepburn's 1967 film "Two for the Road". 

"I just thought that the most amazing, summery setting would be in the south of France in the 1960s by a pool - hair down properly and in a gown," she said in an interview. "And so we were really inspired by that setting and tried to find a sound world that would capture that."

Trained at the Royal College of Music in London, Dickson proved her classical music prowess on an earlier album that featured her own arrangements of a violin concerto by Philip Glass and piece by John Tavener.

That and her work on other albums and with orchestras around the world led her to win the Breakthrough Artist of the Year award at the Classic BRITs - an award whose previous winners include violinists Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova.

Dickson started learning the saxophone when she was so young that she had to work out a quirky way of holding such a large instrument. Ten years later she made her concerto debut.

"I started playing the saxophone when I was six and it was enormous ... I sat on a chair and I had a pillow underneath my foot and I had my saxophone on my heel and kind of propped it up. I loved the sound of it from a very early age and I guess that's why I stuck with it."

Dickson's playing has been helped by use of "circular breathing". It took her six months to master inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth at the same time while playing.

"I taught myself to circular breathe really and it's not actually that difficult. It's hard to master it on an instrument, but the concept isn't so difficult," she said.

"It's really just you breathe in through your nose and you store air in your cheeks and you're using your lung air to push air out through your mouth at the same time."

Dickson's talents are not limited to music. In her youth she acted as a lifeguard at a beach near where she grew up in Australia.

"When I was at school I was a surf lifesaver because that's what we do for sport in Australia. And, yeah, I was in the rubber dinghy out the back one day, in the boat, with my best friend and one of the other guys in the patrol, we saved three men," she said.

As for the future, Dickson believes the saxophone - a relative newcomer and rarity in the world of classical music - offers endless options.

"I don't have any limit to what I want to do musically. I keep discovering there's such an enormous range of options for a musician out there and for somebody who plays the saxophone which is just an instrument which can dabble in so many genres it's just an infinite world of possibilities."

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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