Friday, February 04, 2005
Finding a voice

I'd like to follow up a bit on the discussion from the previous post. The issue that emerged from the comments was one of catering to an audience versus playing (or composing) the music that one believes in. What's really at the heart of the matter here is finding and defining a personal voice.

I think this is what we're all searching for. However, when does one start developing a distinctive and unique voice? From the beginning? Only after years and years of study and attempting to re-create other voices? Is it important to "pay your dues" before arriving at a personal sound? Can one be born with it? Is it something that can be developed at all?

I believe that finding a voice is an organic process. You are the sum of your influences. And the way you channel and synthesize all of your experiences and knowledge defines your own unique voice. At least this is how I feel I arrived at my current state. As I learned to play the saxophone, I was often taken by this artist or that artist and tried to emulate their personal style. I found things in each artists' playing--the way they turned a phrase, their tone, articulation, control of dynamics or timbre--that I attempted to appropriate into my own playing. When I play now, I don't think about how so-and-so would do something, I think about how I want to do it. But if I hadn't gone through that process of discovery as a student, I don't think I could make those kinds of decisions now. The bigger issue for me at this point is not so much how I play, but rather what I play. Choosing what to perform helps define my voice as much as how I perform it.

That being said, I don't ever compromise my values for an audience. I believe that a high level of artistic integrity goes hand in hand with great musicianship and conviction as a performer (or composer for that matter). Now certainly, I want to perform for people and would never give up an opportunity to do so. Sometimes that means I play at a local Women's Club or elderhostel or retirement community. In those cases, I might modify my program a little--perhaps taking a bit of an edge off--but in every instance I always bring music that I believe in and wish to communicate to them, no matter how challenging it might be. I've found that conviction and passion about a certain music--things I'm able to project in performance--usually trump preconceived notions about what people think they like or don't like. Who knew that little old ladies could like Michael Gordon, William Bolcom, or Karlheinz Stockhausen?
Praised by The New York Times as "an inventive musician . . . fresh and surprising," saxophonist Brian Sacawa has firmly established himself as an important contemporary voice for his instrument. He is active as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States and is the co-founder of the new music duo Non-Zero with percussionist Timothy Feeney.

He has given premieres of over thirty works by both established and emerging composers, including Michael Gordon, Bright Sheng, Andrew Mead, Oliver Schneller, Ken Ueno, Beata Moon, Hillary Zipper, and Scott McAllister, among many others. Named the Baltimore CITYPAPER’s Critic’s Choice for Classical Music in 2002, he is the recipient of awards for solo performance from both national and international competitions.

Sacawa's versatile career has led to appearances with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, Harvard Group for New Music, New Music Brandeis, Bargemusic, and at meetings of the ISU Contemporary Music Festival, World Saxophone Congress, North American Saxophone Alliance, and New England Saxophone Symposium.

Brian holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, where he studied with Donald Sinta, Gary Louie, and Lynn Klock. He has recorded for the Equililbrium, Naxos, and BiBimBop recording labels.

See Brian's other blog
Sounds Like Now