Chien-Kwan Lin Discusses Opportunities for American Saxophone Players

by Matthew Younglove

The American Saxophone Academy at the Eastman School of Music is quickly becoming a premiere summer destination for collegiate saxophonists looking to hone their skills with world-class saxophonists.  This unique opportunity was created in 2013 through the vision of Vandoren artist Dr. Chien-Kwan Lin, Associate Professor of Saxophone at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Dr. Lin is also the director of the Eastman Saxophone Project, an ensemble that has developed a fantastic reputation in the saxophone community by bringing attention and new audiences to the instrument through adventurous programming and non-traditional concert opportunities.



WAVE: You are the coordinator for the American Saxophone Academy, which brings in some of the most active teachers in the country for a week of intensive saxophone study. What was the motivation for the creation of this unique opportunity, and what makes it uniquely “American?”

CKL: There are multiple reasons the five of us decided to create the American Saxophone Academy.  At the heart of it all, was to find ways to contribute to the development of saxophone playing in this country in the most efficient way.  Over the years, we have all been traveling to far corners of this vast country to perform and teach.  I'm sure you can imagine the cost for a university to bring any one of us in for a simple two-day residency.  Yet when all this money is being spent, it basically benefits only the few students in that one program.  Now, imagine that university doing this for any five teachers — which realistically will be spread across at least five years — and you'll see how costly and inefficient this mode of teaching can be.  In addition, so much traveling can also take a toll on the teachers' schedule during the course of a semester.

So after discussing with my friends and esteemed colleagues — Carrie Koffman, Tim McAllister, Otis Murphy and Kenneth Tse — we decided to put aside one week each summer, to consolidate our resources and do something that will benefit many more students across the country.  It also becomes much more cost effective for students, as we have found that many of them have been traveling to our cities to take lessons with us individually.  This way they no longer need to spend thousands of dollars making separate trips, since we're all here at the same time!

As for what makes this uniquely "American," I'd say the only common thread is that we're all Americans.  We were all trained here, and it is being held in this country.  We have had students from Asia and Europe, just like the European University of Saxophone in Gap, France, which welcomes students from all over the world.  The study of our instrument is such an international affair nowadays.  So think of it as more of a geographical description.  Of course, majority of our students come from within America, but it is not meant to be exclusive in any shape or form.


WAVE: What is your favorite aspect of the American Saxophone Academy?

CKL: Can I pick TWO favorites instead?  The first is seeing how close-knit and supportive our community is.  Every evening during ASA, we all hang out in local establishments.  We bond and create new friendships.  We exchange ideas in very informal ways.  It's very heartening to see younger generation of saxophonists being so committed to their art and to one another’s progress.

My other favorite aspect is being able to spend time with my four wonderful friends and colleagues.  Without the ASA, we basically see each other once every two years at the NASA national conference, where we're often too busy running around anyway.  But now for one week in the year, we get to spend quality time together.  We meet during meals and evening social hours, and we talk about our day of teaching, compare notes, share our philosophies, and of course we also occasionally complain about students, (laughs)


WAVE: You are the director of the Eastman Saxophone Project (ESP), a saxophone ensemble renowned for its high quality performances. What is this ensemble?

CKL: ESP performs roughly ten concerts a year, with some being more high profile than others.


WAVE: ESP has used social media quite effectively to share its performances with those unable to attend the concerts. How did the idea of using social media so effectively arise?

CKL: Honestly, I’m not a big social media guy, I’m not even on Facebook.  But my students are very good at using this powerful tool to create excitement for ESP.  When I created the ensemble, one of my primary focuses was to expand the audience base for our instrument, especially audiences outside of the regular saxophone community.  Together with my students, we wanted to generate a high quality product that will make people go “Wow! I didn’t know saxophones could do that!”  All my students understand the importance of creating our own market for our instrument, hence we continuously brainstorm ideas to get people into the hall.  We make all our performances available on YouTube, and utilize social media to get the buzz out.  Ideas such as ‘live’ streaming was also derived from this mindset, because believe it or not, some people became genuinely disappointed with missing out on a saxophone concert!  How exciting!


Visit ESP Facebook Page 


WAVE: Vandoren is very proud of its relationship with artists, both emerging and established. You were recently one of the judges for our Emerging Artists Competition. What can you tell us about the future of the saxophone based on your experiences judging these kinds of events?

CKL: We are seeing more and more young players that are very well trained, who are curious about our instrument, and possess very impressive technical proficiency.  We live in a world of Facebook and YouTube, so knowledge and instructions on how to play the horn are spreading at an amazing rate.  We keep hearing stories about these 12 or 14 year-olds performing amazing technical feats that are truly spectacular.  At the same time, we have to be careful not to allow our younger players to take short cuts, and confuse saxophone pyrotechnics with musical maturity.  Not that there is anything wrong with trying to explore and expand our instrument’s capability, or obsessing about our equipment.  But as long as we constantly remind ourselves, that it takes time and patience to cultivate musicianship, to study our traditional repertoire in depth, as well as music that came before our instrument’s invention, then I definitely think that the future of the saxophone is a very bright one.


Follow the link for more on the Vandoren Emerging Artist Competition


Join the conversation