New Music for Saxophones: Stacy Garrop and Marcos Balter












Blogpost by Becky Swanson

It was such an honor and privilege to work this past weekend with two world-renowned composers: Stacy Garrop and Marcos Balter. Upon receiving the music for this event, I knew my quartet and I would be in for challenging rehearsals and ensemble work, as both composers sensitively incorporate multiple extended techniques into their music to achieve their musical aims. The amount of time and energy put into the pieces was more than worth it, however, because finally meeting both Stacy and Marcos and sharing our interpretations of their pieces with them was a deeply rewarding and fulfilling experience. Stacy was so kind-hearted and warm towards us as we played Flight of Icarus, a piece she had written for the Capitol Quartet in 2012. She graciously worked with us both Saturday and Sunday, giving us feedback and truly helping us to be poised and prepared for the concert. Our quartet’s coaching with Marcos was equally enlightening; Marcos had very deliberate and specific sonic concepts for his piece, Intercepting a Shivery Light, a work that draws inspiration from (and is also an anagram of) Radiohead’s song, Everything in its Right Place. During the coaching on this piece, it was very interesting to examine the intersections between our interpretation of his notation and what his genuine sonic intentions actually were. I was truly inspired by how passionate and driven Marcos was to help us construct and refine this beautiful piece of music.

Beyond just working with the composers on their pieces, it was also very enlightening to hear them speak about their direct experiences as composers in the 21st century during the panel discussion that took place on Sunday. Both Stacy and Marcos emphasized the importance of being driven and dedicated, which, as a Lawrentian, really resonated with me. They also spoke about being genuine towards people with whom you would like to network, as well as the importance of reaching out to already established composers. It was wonderful to hear the insightful and meaningful questions that were being asked by faculty and students alike, and it was clear that Stacy and Marcos were eager to provide advice and facilitate discourse, drawing from their own experiences in the realm of composition.

Slipstream and eighth blackbird

In February 2016, eighth blackbird invited Slipstream to participate in a two-day series of open rehearsals at the Chicago Museum for Contemporary Art as a part of the Grammy award-winning ensemble’s residency at the museum. We received the email invitation during an early morning rehearsal and immediately began organizing our trip to Chicago. These open rehearsals with aspiring chamber ensembles are one component of eighth blackbird’s yearlong residency at the museum, which also includes concerts showcasing eighth blackbird’s various projects, collaborating with other artists, and rehearsing frequently in an open space that invites museum goers to come and go, interact with the musicians, and observe the ensemble’s process of preparing new music.

Over the course of the two days spent in Chicago, Slipstream worked with members of eighth blackbird to explore several of the compositions written for us with one crucial question in mind: How does the music come across to the listener? This question pushed us to think about our playing individually and as a group in ways that we might have overlooked, and to explore the possibilities of sound that we might take for granted when we are so focused on playing well. The members of eighth blackbird reminded us that performing music (and really any musical activity) is an inherently collaborative process, and as performers we should feel empowered to make changes in the music in order to achieve a desired effect—whether that means adding repeats to a vamped section, changing mallets or other equipment, or even modifying the instrumentation at a given moment. All of these ideas were shared, explored, and built upon in front of an ever-changing audience of museum attendees, who shared their thoughts and enthusiasm when something worked (or didn’t!). It was a beautiful and unique setting in which to make music. Ultimately, eighth blackbird encouraged us to invest ourselves creatively in the music to make it our own and then to pour ourselves passionately into the music to realize its fullest potential and connect with our audiences.

Lakeshore Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition

Studio member Daniel Whitworth earned second-place honors in the 2015 Lakeshore Wind Ensemble Young Artist Solo Scholarship Competition held in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

A sophomore from Highland Park, Ill., Daniel received a $1,000 second-place prize and performed Ingolf Dahl's concerto for saxophone with the Lakeshore Wind Ensemble at  the Manitowoc Capitol Civic Centre.

The Lakeshore Wind Ensemble Young Artist Solo Scholarship Competition, for woodwinds, brass, percussion and piano students, is open to musicians up to the age of 25.

Ogni Suono Residency at Lawrence University

Lawrence University had the great privilege of hosting the Ogni Suono Saxophone Duo last weekend. The duo presented an exciting recital of recently commissioned work and a wonderful masterclass to our students. Joe Connor ('15) and the mixed chamber ensemble Slipstream performed JP Merz's for i believed I believed in the existence of..., Daniel Vasey ('16) performed Alfred Desenclos' Prelude, Cadence, et Finale, Daniel Whitworth ('18) performed Joan Tower's Wings, and Colin Parsons ('16) performed Judd Grenstein's The Sirens

The Lawrence University Saxophone Studio with Ogni Suono (Phil Pierick and Noa Even). You can find out more about Ogni Suono by visiting their website at

How I found pieces of myself in Haiti

Ally Kurihara

"When we fall apart, we pick the pieces back up, put them together and try again.” One of my first nights in Haiti, after a particularly bad rehearsal, Miss Anthony told me this and I felt that throughout my time in Haiti this idea developed with me. The first rehearsal was my initial falling apart and the rest of my time in Haiti was spent reassembling the pieces and discovering new things about myself in the process. Haiti forced me to look at aspects of myself and my teaching that I might not have noticed or developed until student teaching or later in life. Haiti helped build my confidence, humbled me by giving me a new perspective of the world and how difficult it can be to learn another language while allowing me to see how beneficial it can be, and helped me become a better teacher all around. 

Haiti was the best place for me to grow and learn as a teacher because the music camp environments are safe and welcoming. The students were incredibly patient while I was learning to speak Creole as well as find teaching techniques that fit the ensemble. Students would sit patiently while I would fumble around for the right words to explain a concept to them. If they did not understand they would simply ask me to explain it again. The music camps were a place where I could make mistakes and have people who were patient enough to let me try it again. Knowing that I could make mistakes every now and then made me feel assured that my students understood I am only human too. My mistakes were a growth experience rather than something negative, which made me grow as a teacher and person exponentially. 

Throughout my time in Haiti I also found confidence within myself. Since my first rehearsal had not gone how I wanted it to, I was timid about rehearsals the first few days of camp. After receiving advice on rehearsal techniques, each rehearsal I found new things that went better than the day before. The improvements were simple and small, but when added together they were very rewarding. Seeing the improvements in my students under my instruction as well as building a strong relationship with the band as a whole allowed my confidence to build daily.  

Haiti showed me music making in a different part of the world. The staff, students, and volunteers combined showed me that music can both transcend culture and class. Students from a wide variety of backgrounds and volunteers from around the world and attended the camps. Together we made music and where we came from did not matter. Being in Haiti gave me a real connection with people and allowed me to see a culture that was different than my own. I feel like I have made personal connections with people who I will be able work with later in life or even call my friends.

July, 2015:  Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet performs at SaxOpen - World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France

The Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet (Joseph Connor, soprano; Garrett Evans, alto; Daniel Vasey, tenor; Colin Parsons, baritone) and Sumner Truax, our Conservatory's Instructor of Saxophone, performed at the World Saxophone Congress Fringe Festival in Strasbourg, France.  They presented their project -- Silent Sound: improvised soundtracks for silent films -- for a large and enthusiastic audience at the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs on Monday, July 13.  With assistance from the Mellon Foundation Senior Experience Grants and the Jordheim Fund for Musical Exploration, the four seniors traveled to Strasbourg to perform and to attend the weeklong festival of concerts, lectures and presentations on new music for the saxophone. 

Photo:  At Frankfurt, Germany airport on the way to Strasbourg

Getting Around: blog post by Sumner Truax

It only seemed fitting to start a series of blog posts by discussing one of the first issues we ran into while in Europe—getting around. After landing in Frankfurt, due to some scheduling errors and difficulty with the Deutsch Bahn system, we ended up hanging out at the Frankfurt airport for quite a while. We then quickly learned that traveling by train is not the prompt, "works-like-clockwork" that it is cracked up to be.

Our first train being delayed by fifteen minutes meant that we couldn’t make our connection, which meant that we had to exchange our tickets for a different itinerary. Naturally, that train was also late. By the time we got to Strasbourg, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was exhausted and cranky. Truth be told, it was a rough start to the trip.

Upon arriving at the apartment and meeting our host, the mood totally changed. Céline was incredibly gracious and gave us a glass of traditional Alsace Cremant (their superior version of champagne), some brioche and a tour of the lovely little apartment in which we’d be spending the week. Our apartment was wonderfully located as it was about a five minute walk to the Cité de la Musique where most of the events for SaxOpen took place and a two minute walk from the tram which took us all around the city. We were also about a block away from a boulangerie and a wonderful little grocery store where we were able to buy some Nutella!

Our travels in Strasbourg were initially limited to the locations of the conference events. This was primarily walking to the Cité, and taking the tram to the Palais where the larger evening concerts were held. On several evenings we would walk back through the city from the Palais back to our apartment, about a 30-minute trek. Between stumbling into kebab restaurants, cafes and cathedrals, we were able to get a great sense of Strasbourg.

Photo:  Strasbourg


Five Days of World Premieres:  blog post by Joe Connor

My experience at the 17th World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France was a week full to the brim with inspiring performances, new friendships, world premieres, reconnecting with friends from all over the world and exciting travel. I have participated in summer saxophone programs in France and Germany and at the Eastman School in Rochester, New York and it was such a joy to see so many familiar faces and hear about their successes in the past few years. Also it was a thrill to experience another historic European city, Strasbourg, with its cathedral (celebrating its millennial in 2015!), beautiful architecture, general walkability and delicious food.

One of the primary objectives of the World Saxophone Congress is the creation and expansion of the repertoire for saxophone, and thus I was fortunate to hear a lot of world premieres of new music for saxophone in all kinds of combinations and settings. During the 2014-2015 academic year at Lawrence, a few friends and I founded a new music ensemble called Slipstream that is focused on working closely with composers to create new repertoire for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion, and piano. Having the opportunity to hear so much new music premiered at the WSC was invaluable and also brought to mind an experience with my friends in Slipstream. When prompted with a question about commissioning new music, a visiting chamber music ensemble at Lawrence responded with the reminder that, “When you commission a composer, you are not asking them to write the last piece they wrote, or one of their works with which you are familiar. Rather you are asking for something new, and there is a lot of risk in this...but also potential to expand your musical boundaries.” At the Congress I was reminded of this message again and again after hearing premieres of music that I thought were exceptional, and also some that I thought were ineffective.

It is clear to me that hearing so many world premieres in the span of five days is a rare experience and one I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t attended the Congress. I am very thankful to have had this experience that enriched my studies and pursuits at Lawrence.

Photo:  Cité de la Musique et de la danse, Strasbourg

"You're studying what?!" : blog post by Colin Parsons

This question has haunted me for the past 5 years every since declaring to pursue degrees in Saxophone Performance and Biochemistry at Lawrence.  Family and friends (and sometimes even I) are baffled as to why someone would pursue multiple “entirely unrelated” areas of study and see no apparent connection between the two.  My trip to the 17th World Saxophone Congress provided me with the opportunity to meet a composer whose works aim to bridge the gap between the sciences and music.  A work by Stephen Taylor, professor of composition-theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, entitled “Indian Hedgehog” (named after a protein crucial in development) was premiered at the Congress and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  This particular work is a sonification of DNA and protein structures (turning DNA code into music).  After the performance I was able to talk with Stephen and discuss how he used the DNA sequence for the gene along with the protein structure to create his piece.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see Stephen’s face light up upon hearing that I share similar passions for music and biology.

Photo:  Rehearsal in Strasbourg

Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet at World Saxophone Congress

Photo:  At World Saxophone Congress

Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet at World Saxophone Congress


Studying in Paris:  blog post by Garrett Evans

Following the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, I traveled to Paris to study with Lucie Robert, composer of many works for the saxophone.  My work with Madame Robert was an interesting, exciting, and rewarding experience.  When I arrived at Lucie Robert's apartment, we began working on Tourbillons in her studio.  Her studio is a soundproofed box in her apartment and - as Paris had been unusually hot for the past week - the room was sweltering.  Tourbillons is not a breeze, either, so my sweat levels were venturing into uncharted territory.  Madame Robert's English was rocky (which is okay because my French is essentially non-existent), so a lot of her comments were given as demonstrations rather than put into words.  For example, when she wanted to draw my attention to a desired affect in a phrase, she would simply say, "No, like this," or "Listen!" and sing it.  This was a great way for us to bridge the language barrier. However, the language barrier was more challenging when working on my compositions.  I brought to her an art song and a piano trio, both of which I'd composed last year.  Her comments included phrases such as "I like this part; this is good," and "This is not very interesting."  Since this approach to pedagogy is not uncommon in European conservatories, I was expecting such comments.  Perhaps the most interesting comment she gave me was a reason that she didn't like a section of one of my pieces:  "It is very harmonic."  I'm still not sure what she meant, but I'll be sure to meditate on it as I go forward in my composing.  I think the greatest thing I got out of working with Madame Robert on my compositions was that - as a listener - she got the most out of the sections with which I was most comfortable as the composer.  So, as I continue composing, I can leave nothing in my pieces about which I'm hesitant.  In working with Madame Robert, I learned a lot about her music and a lot about my music, too. 

Photo:  Garrett Evans and Lucie Robert

June, 2015:  One new ensemble; 4 new pieces

Slipstream, a new ensemble comprising saxophonist Joe Connor, guitarist Ilan Blanck, percussionist Dan Reifsteck, and pianist Matt Blair, presented its first full concert of works composed for the ensemble:  Light and Shade by David Werfelmann, Slipstream by John Mayrose, for I believed in the existence of ... by JP Merz, and leaf  by Patrick Marshke.

Photo:  Slipstream in concert














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