Smooth sounds of the sax

Each section of saxophone – alto, tenor and baritone – had  a moment to shine in the piece.

By Kaleigh Jerzykowski

The outfits were sharp, but the saxophones were oh so smooth.

Oakland University’s saxophone soloists took to Varner’s Recital Hall on Wednesday, March 18 to perform their perfected pieces for an intimate crowd.

“We have a saxophone studio recital each semester to provide an opportunity for our students to perform as a collective studio,” said Dr. Jeffery Heisler, assistant professor of saxophone at OU.

And perform they did.

The saxophonists came onstage as a group to play what seemed to be, initially, a set of warm-up scales, but transitioned into something much more dynamic.

Each section of saxophone – alto, tenor and baritone – had  a moment to shine in the piece, with Heisler vibrantly conducting and leading the group.

The musicians hung on his every count, with their collective breaths audible throughout the theater as they moved in complete, symphonic unison.

After performing as a group, each student executed his or her individual solos with the piano accompaniment of Dr. I-Chen Yeh, applied instructor of piano at OU.

Senior and music education major Eric Essler – saxophonist of 11 years – said that as a member of the saxophone studio at OU, expectations for personal dedication are high.

“We expect our saxophone majors to practice between two to four hours per day,” Heisler said.

“[That’s] just about the least you can practice while still making progress,” Essler said of this daily commitment.

“I have been preparing my solo, in total, for almost a year,” Essler said. “As performers, we don’t only work on one piece at a time. At any given time, we can be working on four different solo pieces.”

“All of our students are training to become professional musicians, band directors, music teachers, arts administrators, composers or sound technicians,” Heisler said. “The preparation for being a musician is extensive.”

While two to four hours of daily instrument practice may seem like a lot to handle, for Heisler’s students, that effort seems to pay off.

Heisler said that students from OU’s saxophone program have won competitions like the Oakland Symphony Concierto competition, the OU Band Concierto competition and the Birmingham Musicale competition, with invites to the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference.

All work and no play is certainly not the case for OU’s saxophone students, and Essler said that in addition to taking classes together, the saxophonists are good friends outside the studio, as well.

“[It’s] more than a studio. We’re a family,” Essler said, being the foremost reason that he enjoys being a part of the music program at OU.

In addition to the important social support system that Essler has found in the saxophone program, he said that the other crucial component to having such a great studio environment is Heisler himself.

“We have a fantastic, full-time professor on campus,” he said. “Many other instrumental studios do not have a full-time applied faculty member.”

“If we ever have any questions or need help during a practice session, we have the comfort of knowing that Dr. Heisler will be there to help us,” Essler said.