Five AM Friday, March 16th, the alarm wakens me in time to finish preparing for the flight to Phoenix; it’s the North American Saxophone Alliance Conference weekend and things are already in full swing at Arizona State University. Professional Saxophonists, College Professors and students are gathering for a wide range of events held every two years by the nation’s premier saxophone organization. Featured are five competitions for ages fifteen through twenty-six, showcasing the artistry of performers from High Schools and Universities throughout the nation. I’m attending the conference and coaching my private saxophone student Andrew Nelson, Andrew is a finalist in this years’ Young Artist Classical Saxophone Solo Competition to be held on Saturday afternoon March 17th at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts School of Music. As luck would have it the Nelsons are sitting across the aisle from me as I type.
The flight has begun unremarkably (which is how I prefer it), we quickly ascended through the clouds and are cruising comfortably with blue sky visible out the cabin window. The flight gives me time to reflect on our musical journey together and the amazing transformation Andrew has undergone. He came to me a young and eager teen, and has developed into a confident young artist about to perform in his first national solo competition. Andrew’s abilities have matured from those early days of searching for the notes on his instrument to command of its’ highest extremes, from awkward finger movements to smooth and sure technique capable of shaping the most challenging musical phrase, his tone transformed into a rich and resonant voice able to express the grandest aspirations of the human spirit and the most delicate of human frailties. This performance marks Andrew’s official entrance onto the national stage and the end of his musical adolescence.
The flight, now most of the way over, draws a parallel to the student/mentor relationship that Andrew and I share. Through minor turbulence and blue skies we are about to bring our musical journey to its conclusion. Our time together has been rich and rewarding as we’ve navigated the challenges students face and overcame them together. With tremendous pride I reflect on Andrew’s rapid development, rising through the levels of musical literature from early high school pieces to graduate level material. Andrew’s growth has been rapid, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to guide him on his journey and take part in this seminal moment.
Though there are competitions awaiting Andrew upon his return, our roles have already begun the shift from student/teacher to colleagues in the endless pursuit of musical artistry. This weekend underscores Andrew’s arrival as a young artist and the maturity he has achieved. Saturday’s performance is upon us, the fruition of his dedication and hard work, I'm looking forward to it with tremendous admiration and excitement .
Robert H. Wilson, Bellevue School of Music