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Who was Adolfe Sax?

Or why I posed with 30 giant saxophones in Belgium!

Just over an hour from Brussels, is a beautiful town called Dinant in the Walonia region of Belgium. The town is nestled along the river, up against the rock side of the valley. The earliest settlements date back to the seventh century. This gorgeous and unusual spot is home to fascinating history, including that of an 11th century citadel and the Church of Notre Dame.

I happened to be visiting my daughter during a study abroad stay in Belgium a few years ago. She hadn’t yet been to the Namur and Dinant region and showed us the photos. We had to go! We piled in the rental van and enjoyed the countryside of Belgium as we entered the town of Dinant with its homes along the river and tucked into the mountainside.

Perhaps because I was in vacation mode, or perhaps because I had been drinking too much Belgium beer and eating too much Belgium chocolate and fries, I forgot that Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant! We literally drove into town and saw a bridge ahead crossing the river. Along each side of the bridge were giant, brightly colored saxophone statues. Lots of them! My family and I all shrieked simultaneously. It was, in fact, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax and there were saxophone statues and images everywhere. On every corner, in front of every store, on the lamp posts, on the crossing lights, everywhere.

We enjoyed the day strolling through the Adolphe museum, taking endless photos with the horns, and posing with Adolphe himself. I later learned that artisans crafted in Dinant for centuries because the river allowed minerals and supplies to be delivered. Brass came and people like Sax’s parents were designers and inventors using such minerals for their instruments.

Adolphe Sax was born in 1814, and by the age of 15 had entered some of his own instrument designs into competition. He later studied flute and clarinet at the Royal Conservatory. By age 24 he had patented his first design of a bass clarinet and moved from Brussels to Paris where his saxhorns became widely used and revered by composer Hector Berlioz. The saxophone was patented in 1846 and this most famous of Sax’s inventions secured him a position teaching at the Paris Conservatory in 1857. Sadly, multiple lawsuits over his patents drove him into bankruptcy over the course of many years. Sax died in complete poverty in 1894 and is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

I honor Adolphe Sax and the legacy he left for all of the horn players out there. I won’t forget where he is from ever again!

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