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Redefining the sax: Quartets showcase surprising music diversity

The members of Mosaic are, from left to right, Samuel Detweiler, Tyler Flowers, Ryan Lemoine and Carolyn Braus.

Photo by Jillian Kaplan

March 16, 2015

The saxophone is best known for its role in jazz music. With the projection of a brass instrument and the agility of a woodwind, plus a reputation for evocative improvisation, it is associated in the popular imagination with talents such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Despite the stereotypes, however, saxophone can and does shine in performances of other styles of music as well, including classical and contemporary.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the performance by the saxophone quartet h2 in Katzin Concert Hall, on ASU’s Tempe campus, on Nov. 9, 2014. This dynamic and innovative chamber group constantly seeks to change audiences’ expectations of the sax by playing surprising and compelling pieces in styles that range from traditional to minimalist.

The concert, featuring a diverse array of contemporary pieces, was an opportunity for ASU School of Music students to be exposed to world-class playing that constantly pushes the envelope. The quartet’s remarkable performance featured long, sustained chords punctuated by unexpected, fast-paced melodies, and a medley of sound effects created by impressive technique. By commissioning exciting new works from many different composers, h2 traverses styles to create new, compelling sounds that highlight the full range of the saxophone.

The School of Music has its own ensemble of graduate-level saxophonists who focus their energies on performing an assortment of music other than jazz as well. Known as the Mosaic Quartet, this group is made up of Doctor of Musical Arts in Saxophone Performance student Samuel Detweiler (soprano saxophone), Master of Music in Saxophone Performance student Tyler Flowers (alto saxophone), Master of Music in Saxophone Performance student Carolyn Braus (tenor saxophone) and Doctor of Musical Arts in Saxophone Performance student Ryan Lemoine (baritone saxophone).

“Surprisingly, the vast majority of our focus is spent on classical music – very much like a string quartet,” explains Flowers. Mosaic’s long-term goals focus mostly on commissioning works, recording and performing, and to introducing audiences “to the notion that music-making, when executed at a high level, transcends whatever instrument you have in your hands,” says Flowers.

Mosaic’s skills and musicality will be tested when they compete against finalists from around the country at the national conference of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) in Las Vegas, March 21–25.

The ensemble was the recent winner of the Southwest Division 2014–2015 MTNA Chamber Music Competition; Flowers placed second for his individual performance in the Southwest Division Young Artist Competition. Mosaic has been working hard on perfecting their repertoire for the chance to win $3,000 and perform at the winner’s concert. The music they have chosen for the competition runs the gamut from fast and technical in “Speed Metal Organum Blues” by Gregory Wanamaker, to smooth and lyrical in David Maslanka’s “Recitation Book,” and is infused with contemporary and classical style. Lemoine says, “We’ve been working on our pieces since last October and it is a challenge to take them to the next level, while maintaining our excitement and keeping it fresh. To play each piece the best we can, we constantly ask ourselves ‘How do we go above and beyond and really make it sparkle?’”

The quartet chose the name Mosaic partly because the four members are from across the U.S., mirroring how their different backgrounds, like the varied tiles of a mosaic, come together to create a unified whole.

Mosaic is made up of students of Christopher Creviston, assistant professor of saxophone, and has been playing together since fall 2013. Creviston is proud of the group and all their accomplishments. “They exemplify what we’re trying to do on the classical side of the saxophone here at ASU,” he says. “They are professional-level music makers, in addition to being outstanding manipulators of their instruments.”

“Being in a saxophone quartet is our best avenue for chamber music, and is especially important to us since we don’t play in an orchestra like other instruments,” says Flowers. “It’s like our family and how we define ourselves.”

See (and hear) performances by ASU’s Mosaic Quartet here and here.

Public Contact: 
Heather Beaman
Communications Liaison
School of Music