Sunday, June 25, 2006
Sunday confession

I have a confession to make: today was the first day I played my instrument in a month. Hard to believe? There were a variety of reasons for my not-really-forced hiatus from the saxophone, including the conclusion of a tiring concert season, the stress of a job search while still teaching full-time, and a much-needed, extremely wonderful vacation to South Korea.

I'm not upset about it. Nor do I feel guilty. In the summer I usually take some time off from the saxophone—and I mean completely away from it. I do this 1) so I can recharge my mind and 2) ease off from all the hectic music-learning I have to do during the year. However, it's nice to come back to it—after having time away—because I can just take it slow, at my own pace, with nothing pressing, and it also gives me time to really focus on what are the problems with my playing. I like that a lot. A chance to rebuild and make myself a better player. So often during the year I don't have the time to really "practice" because all the time is spent learning new music for the next concert or series of concerts. This is magnified because I am mostly a new music performer, meaning it's hard to just fall back on repertoire I already know—I am constantly learning new music that has no performance history or precedent. I have to make the performance history. And often I have to make it with just one week to learn the music! It's all fun and exciting (and sometimes very stressful, like SPARK festival preparations) but I always like the time to dig back in to the basics of my instrument.

I learned this lesson of balance rather early on in my musical career. It happened the summer after my junior year of college. That year—and the two years prior to that—I lived, breathed, ate, drank, slept, and dreamed about the saxophone and its music. I practiced compulsively, until I was kicked out of the music building at night, swallowing my meals whole because time eating meant time not in the practice room, fingering through my music while riding the bus, not walking around without a set of headphones on, avoiding any sort of extracurricular social activity that didn't involve listening to or making music, waking up in the morning feeling like I hadn't slept at all. I had also just spent a year on the competition circuit, which meant keeping nearly 90 minutes of music memorized and at my fingertips all year long. Needless to say, at the end of that year I felt like I was headed for burnout. I was just sick of it all.

I realized pretty quickly that what I had been doing was a little unhealthy and that I needed to have some balance in my life—another interest to stimulate my mind and to transport me away from music. For me, that came in the form of tacking Japanese language and literature—a subject I'd already been doing coursework in—onto my schedule as a full-fledged academic minor. That summer I read Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji and got my wish. I was transported away, completely absorbed and engaged in the book. to make a long story short, I went on to write my senior honors thesis in Japanese literature on The Tale of Genji, but more importantly, I learned that achieving a sense of balance in one's life is not only healthy, but necessary.
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

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