Humans create art to reflect the human condition.
Over the course of my education in music, I’ve often been asked to justify why I am pursuing a career in the arts. The questions I’ve received, coupled with the cultural devaluation of artistic work, have led me to consider why humanity creates art. I believe that people create art to express what it means to be human at their particular moment in history. This driving purpose of artistic creation informs how I conceive of practicing artistic creation and engaging in arts education.
Art is inherently political, so as artists, we are engaging in political acts.
Given that art is made to reflect the human condition, it is inherently informed by the political context in which it is created. Therefore, the creation of art is a political act. Arts education in academia commonly operates under the guise of “art for art’s sake,” but I do not believe that such a thing exists. I view the political nature of art as one of its greatest strengths– art has the power to start dialogue and build community by virtue of its politics.
We are humans first, artists second, musicians third, and saxophonists fourth.
Since we create art out of an impulse to express what it means to be human, and that art reflects the political realities of our time, we must view ourselves as citizens of the world alongside the artistic identities we hold. We must also view ourselves primarily as artists, rather than as musicians, with the same creative impulses as visual artists, dancers, actors, and others. Once we narrow our scope to the musical field, we again must resist the urge to view ourselves as saxophonists only. We are musicians who have chosen the saxophone as our tool for music-making.
The saxophone is a translator of expressive thought into sound.
The saxophone, like every other means of artistic expression, is a medium through which the artist communicates their expressive thoughts. Therefore, the saxophone acts as a translator of these expressive thoughts into sound, which the listener experiences and interprets. The efficacy of a performance can be judged by the extent to which the listener is able to interpret expressive intent from sound.
The techniques we use on the saxophone are in service of our communicative intent.
If we view the saxophone as a translator, then technical mastery of the saxophone can be likened to increased accuracy and processing speed of a translator. The usefulness of a translator relies on the speaker having something to say– Even the most high-powered translator is useless when it has nothing to translate. By this logic, technical mastery of the saxophone is meaningless without clear communicative intent when we perform.
If saxophone technique suffers, the translation of expressive intent to sound suffers.
By the same token, poor technique on the saxophone can be likened to a translator with low processing speed and an outdated dictionary. Even if the speaker has profound things to say, a low-quality translation prevents the listener from interpreting any significant meaning. In this way, communicative intent and technical flexibility are of equal importance when we perform.
My experience teaching early childhood and elementary students has revealed to me the importance of general musicianship.
Teaching the fundamentals of musicianship to children as young as 3 months old has shown me the value of these concepts when applied to saxophone performance. I was trained in the Music Learning Theory methodology of general music instruction, which views music learning through the lens of language acquisition. Another tenet of MLT is the concept of audiation, wherein one hears music inside the mind when sound is no longer or was never present. MLT also intersects with the Laban movement elements of flow, space, weight, and time; the development of bodily awareness and control lends itself to the development of metric and rhythmic ability.
The implications for this methodology on saxophone performance are significant. When we connect music learning and language acquisition, we reflect the roots of music-making as a means of communication. When we ask students to audiate, we underscore the importance of clearly conceived thought in music-making, as opposed to mindless imitation and repetition. When we engage with the intersection of music and movement, we explore a new means of creativity and expressivity.
It is crucial to develop artistic citizenship alongside mastery of the saxophone.
I define artistic citizenship as a holistic view of artistry, its role in society, and its role in dismantling systemic barriers. Citizen-artists strive to diversify their artistic skills and influences. They understand the power of art to build community and effect change. They are also aware of how systemic forces enact barriers to and within the art world. Above all, citizen-artists use this knowledge, coupled with their artistic mastery, to engage meaningfully with the world around them.