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An interview made by Theofilos Sotiriades to Dr John Sampen, distinguished professor in Bowling Green State University, official guest of the 7th International Saxophone Festival in Larissa,

Greece 19-22 April 2019


1) According to your professional experience, artistically and educationally, do you notice elements of saxophone’s evolution the last 5 decades?  If yes, could you please analyze the factors of evolution? if no, why? 


Yes - there is no question that many aspects of saxophone education and performance have evolved in the last fifty years.  A host of new techniques and expectations are now part of the saxophone's repertoire and pedagogy (e.g., slap tongue, double tongue, circular breathing, altissimo, microtones, etc.).  Some of this evolution may be traced to the remarkable etudes of Christian Lauba who has challenged and "stretched" students and professionals in every possible way.  But there also has been an "explosion" of new works composed specifically for the solo saxophone and for the saxophone in mixed chamber ensembles.  A few of these compositions will enter our saxophone's ouvre, but many pieces are perhaps not of substantial quality that would allow inclusion in our primary repertoire.


Along with contemporary compositions which push the technical limits, the 21st century has also seen an opposite conservative movement which embraces the performance of transcriptions and older music. One may simply study the programming at recent World Saxophone Congresses to appreciate the growing interest in transcriptions.   In addition, the threatened financial situation of our world's best orchestras has encouraged conservative programming, leading to fewer concerto opportunities and fewer works calling for saxophone in the woodwind section.


Of course there has been an interesting shift in vibrato, perhaps because of the pedagogy of Claude Delangle.  This has encouraged a much more analytical approach to the use or non-use of this technique.


2)  ‘Technic vs Musicality’  or “Technic and Musicality”…

Νikos Skalkotas, a famous Greek composer (1904-49), member of the 2nd Viennese School talked about two categories of musicians: musicians of being globally cultivated (“universell gebildete”, musiciens de "L'éducation oecuménique,Universel) and musicians being specialized (“specifics Muskier”, musiciens specialisees). Do you agree with this categorization?  what you would suggest to the students to be more “musical” in their interpretation in order to sing better, to be themselves while singing? 

There are several questions here:


a) "Technique versus Musicality"


This is always a problem with students--so many work first (and forever) on learning the notes without considering all aspects of musical performance.  I constantly discuss the technical aspects AND the musical ideas simultaneously so that the music becomes a blended  final product. 


There is another aspect of this question "technique versus musicality" as we move forward in the computer generation.  With all of its benefits, technology may ultimately overwhelm our basic creative thought.   Of course there has always been the "mechanics" of playing an instrument (fingerings, scale work, accidentals), but with new technology, we have added components such as interactive computer music, the ipad music screen and the coordination of multimedia experiences.  For the composer, there is a great temptation to create directly on the computer, bringing advantages but also unique limitations and restrictions.  Each computer "advancement" offers interesting changes and challenges but also offers additional expectations and requirements for saxophone performer.


b) "Global Musicians versus Specialized Musicians"


This is an interesting question.  Certainly a performer's personal characteristics will vary depending on his/her education, nationality or teacher.  While there certainly are schools of thought that support specific ideologies (e.g., the allegiance to the performance of transcriptions or the predilection for antique instruments or the preference for non-vibrato), perhaps the very best musicians are both "global" and "specialized."  In other words, these artists consider, accept and/or modify customs and developments from all musical communities in defining a new excellence of quality and virtuosity.   While one may be considered a specialist in contemporary music, he/she may also enjoy the study of Baroque literature, thus grounding, broadening and deepening one's artistic perception.

c) "Suggestions for Singing Musically"


Before discussing a "singing tone," it is important to consider what sound is appropriate for a particular composition.    An important trend today is "noise based" music -  the use of percussive sounds, timbral alterations, speaking and yelling, and/or imitation of computer-like sounds.  Also, many new works focus on driving rhythms and extreme repetition.  Such styles and techniques do not always require a beautiful, singing tone.


When a "singing sound" is appropriate on our instrument, I have heard descriptions from prominent pedagogues who suggest "imagining a soaring tone", "a spinning vibrato", "an arching tone",  and "a warm sonority." Or one could seek to visualize a tone which fills all corners of the room while focusing on the production of an intense beautiful sound.

3) “Hellenic School” of saxophone has been created the last 15-20 years (though there are still flutists, clarinetists etc who are teaching saxophone in the country). What are the things educators should have always in mind in order to inspire their students and enrich their profession? Do you believe in the idea of being part of a “school”. If yes, what are the factors and characteristics that contribute to this notion?


a) Inspiring Students and Enriching the Profession


Often music students have complicated musical and personal lives which require special consideration.  It is exciting to discover the uniqueness of each student and then to enjoy the process of enhancing his or her best qualities.  I have always sought to create an environment for “life-long learning” and I love to see saxophone students support each other as a “family” of musicians.


For me, the most important teaching goal is to promote “specialness” in each student.  This is accomplished in part by respect and interest in the individual as well as the creation of a student/teacher “team” for jointly solving problems.  There are so many opportunities for shared experiences within our profession and I am constantly inspired and enriched by the process of working with students.

b) Schools of Saxophone


Extended saxophone studies with any one teacher will certainly lead to tendencies of taste, tone and musical approach.   I don't believe in a nationalistic concept of "schools" (e.g., a French school, an American school, a Greek school).   With the sharing of ideas and sounds through facebook, email, itunes and facetime, it is possible to have immediate interchange of ideas from all over the world. 


Frequently my own BGSU students have studied abroad and upon their return, they have shared fascinating pedagogical information.   And in my fifty years of teaching, I have welcomed students from Taiwan, China, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus and many other countries.  This opportunity for exchange has brought a global partnership of learning, thus enriching our personal lives as well as blending our musical concepts in the creation of a truly  "international school" of saxophone performance.

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