Discovering New Saxophone Compositions and the Rise to Avant Pop

with Sarah Roberts

Date Posted: May 04, 2016

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Sarah Roberts is a Vandoren Regional Artist. The goal of the Vandoren Regional Artist program is to enhance the quality of the music experience in your school. This is made possible by Vandoren and a network of woodwind professionals around the country with a passion for music education and performance. 


VandorenUSA: Do you see any trends developing in the classical saxophone world?

Sarah Roberts: Above any other instrument, I feel saxophone literature is growing at an exponentially greater rate for the simple fact that we have the shortest history of any instrument and have had to seek out composers to write for our instrument. Furthermore, the level of playing continues to reach new heights. When I was in high school, it was a rare occasion that we were expected to play in the altissimo; however, it seems as if most high school students are fluent in the third register – and that is the tip of the iceberg. 

The trend Jacob Ter Veldhuis (JacobTV) has set is that of how to incorporate electronic music into the saxophone repertoire in a meaningful way that still has the ability to highlight the saxophone and challenge the performer. His repertoire requires command of the instrument, knowledge of stylistic characteristics from various genres, and an ability to execute extended techniques – all while performing with the recorded track and rhythmically syncing the two. There’s a saying in Texas (especially where I live) that if you don’t like the weather, just wait thirty minutes and it will change. The body of repertoire for the saxophone seems to imitate that sentiment in that it is constantly changing and adapting based on the performer and audience.

Your dissertation takes a look at the “Avant-Pop” style of contemporary composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis. What attracted you to his music? 

SR: In an effort to narrow down a dissertation topic, I decided to examine literature I had performed on previous recitals. It came to my attention that while I had played many pieces by JacobTV, there was not significant scholarly literature regarding his works. In addition, JacobTV’s willingness to be interviewed made the idea of digging into his compositions even more appealing. 

Anyone who has performed JacobTV’s works can attest to his utilization and interest in American popular culture. The sources of his art are utilized to elicit emotional responses: when coupled with the digital manipulations and compositional elements, his music reaches new levels of complexity. In addition, his music is influenced by various styles of music including classical, jazz, rock, rhythm & blues, and hip-hop. Therefore, performances of his works require the knowledge of various performance practices from those idioms. 

With enormous depth of not only the saxophone techniques, but also the compositional characteristics and nature of his subjects; I concluded an investigation and analysis of this nature would not only guide saxophonists’ preparation and performance of the repertoire, but it will also rectify the absence of scholarship of JacobTV’s works.

So what is “Avant-Pop,” anyway? 

SR: It’s important to first understand that the term “avant-pop” was not created by my research, but is how JacobTV, in fact, describes his works. To him, the term comes close to describing his style, however, he does not really know what it means. Although he had training in composition and electronic music, JacobTV began as a rock musician. These experiences mixed with his love for American popular culture come close to defining what “avant-pop” mean. 

In an interview, JacobTV described his music as being popular in the sense of trying to connect with his audience, but he feels that the connection is lost due to his compositional complexity. I probably haven’t yet given you a clear definition of the term “avant-pop.” 

So, after spending a year digging into JacobTV’s pieces, I would define “avant-pop” as music that is strongly influenced by popular genres (i.e. jazz, rock, funk, R&B, etc.) combined with twentieth century classical compositional techniques and infused with the sociological and emotional nature of mankind.

"I would define “avant-pop” as music that is strongly influenced by popular genres (i.e. jazz, rock, funk, R&B, etc.) combined with twentieth century classical compositional techniques and infused with the sociological and emotional nature of mankind." - Sarah Roberts

Sarah Roberts presenting a Vandoren Regional Artist Clinic

Any repertoire suggestions for saxophonists to give a listen?

• After delving into JacobTV’s catalogue, I was extremely excited to find some gems that are not as popular as Grab It! One piece in particular is called Heartbreakers. The piece can be performed with saxophone quartet, but it was initially composed for a jazz sextet featuring Bb trumpet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, drums, and soundtrack. The voice samples were taken from confrontations between featured guests on American talk shows such as the Jerry Springer Show from the 1990s. The piece is a unique blend of jazz and classical while incorporating interesting voice samples. In addition, there is space for improvisation from the performers.

David DeBoor Canfield’s Concerto after Glière is a beautiful 3-movement work that was originally written for Eugene Rousseau. I was lucky enough to perform it with the Southeast Iowa Symphony in Spring 2014. Not only was it extremely enjoyable to perform with its extreme lyricism combined with fast technique, but it was a real crowd pleaser and the orchestra enjoyed performing it as well!

• In addition, I was involved in a commission consortium that commissioned Roshanne Etezady to write Behemothfor baritone saxophone and percussion. The piece was composed in late 2013 and I performed it on a faculty recital in spring 2014.

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