Music Reflection Example

North American Saxophone Alliance Region 5 Conference

The North American Saxophone Alliance Region 5 Conference was one of the most influential events so far in my career in saxophone performance.  I attended many performances, through which I was able to observe trends in saxophone music.  I also learned a little about jazz music, which is something I am just beginning to learn.

At this conference I attended a master class, a lecture, and approximately 65 pieces in 8 recitals.  I also premiered a Grand Valley student’s composition with my saxophone quartet.  The sheer amount of music that I heard over these two days has opened my eyes to concepts and trends in saxophone playing.  There were two main observations that I made that will make an impact on my future as a performer: a new trend in sound in younger performers, and a trend in music composition.

There was a sound trend difference between the younger and older saxophonists at this conference.  They older players (those over about 35 years old) played with a more “French” sound.  This means that there was less vibrancy, tighter and faster vibrato, and an articulation that matched the duration of the note in dynamic.  The younger players (those old enough to have a solid concept, but not older than about 35 years) tended to play with an exaggerated “American” sound.  The “American” sound in saxophone playing has wider, slower vibrato, a “bouncy” articulation with a heavy front end, and a very vibrant tone rich in low overtones.  Through my training at Grand Valley, I have been taught about the differences between the French and American sounds, and the advantages of each.  I had not, however, realized that the American sound was a newer movement in saxophone music, and I am part of one of the first generations to employ this sound.  I now know that the future is in “American” sound, and that is the sound which I will strive for.

New concert saxophone music tends to be atonal.  This means that the music does not have a tonic, or “Do” (Classical, Rock, Jazz, Country, and most other genres are usually “tonal”; it is what sounds normal to our ears).  This atonal music not only does not have a tonic, but it often lacks melody, and includes large spans of silence.  I have always been told that if I listened to enough atonal music, eventually my ears would be accustomed to it.  I am now a senior, and this has yet to happen to me; the music does not appeal to me at all.  During this conference, I realized that I do not like the direct in which saxophone music is going, and I resolved not to base my career upon this music.  At the end of the first day, I was heartbroken, thinking that I may have to choose a new career.  I thought hard about what to do, and I decided that I did like most of the quartet music that was performed, because it had harmony, melody, and less open space.  I decided that my options now are to have a quartet be the focus of my career, play in a military band, or wait out this trend that people are bound to tire of.  As heartbroken as I was, I am glad that I found this out now by attending this conference.

This conference was for a very particular profession, and there did not provide much for my liberal education.  There was one thing that I learned about at the conference that I did not already know a lot about: jazz improvisation.  This semester is my first semester in jazz band since high school.  After attending a lecture at the conference about jazz improvisation, I was inspired to go home and practice the skills that the lecture taught.  I plan to practice all of the things that I learned about in the lecture, and to eventually apply it to solos I will have in jazz band.  Although I doubt that this counts as enhancing my liberal education, it is something that is outside my usual area of study that I will apply to my education.

The things that I heard and the observations that I made will be extremely influential on the rest of my career.  At this conference, I played one of my first premiers, and heard about 65 pieces of music for saxophone.  I learned about repertoire in a master class, and about jazz improvisation in a lecture.  The things that I learned at this conference, particularly about the “American” sound and the direction of contemporary saxophone music, will influence the choices I make in my career.

Page last modified July 22, 2011