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ASU saxophone students sweep national, international competitions

Two photos of two groups of people photoshopped together.

Eight ASU students who recently won prestigious national music competitors credit help from Associate Professor Christopher Creviston.

June 14, 2023

Eight Arizona State University music students performing in two saxophone quartets — the Kodachrome Quartet and the Lotus Quartet — recently won four prestigious national and international chamber music wind competitions.

The Kodachrome Quartet comprises four graduate music performance students, and the Lotus Quartet comprises four undergraduate music performance students. Each quartet has played together for less than one year.

All are members of the ASU Saxophone Studio and study with Christopher Creviston, associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

“We have had an undeniably remarkable 2022–23 season,” Creviston said. “It requires an enormous commitment of hours to refine their performances to such high levels. I couldn’t be prouder of these amazing young people.”

Kodachrome Quartet

The graduate-level group recently won three prestigious competitions: the gold medal in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition — Senior Wind Division; the Coltman Chamber Music Competition — Senior Division Mixed Instrumental; and the Plowman Chamber Music Competition — Winds, Brass & Percussion.

The Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition is the largest and one of the most prestigious chamber music competitions in the world. The national Coltman Chamber Music Competition provides performance experience and expert commentary to advanced applicants, providing cash prizes and performance opportunities. The biennial Plowman Chamber Music Competition assists emerging chamber ensembles in their artistic development, encouraging careers in chamber music and provides an opportunity for nonprofessional musicians to perform in front of nationally chosen judges.

At the time of the competitions, Kodachrome members were all graduate-level music performance students: Siobhan Plouffe, Master of Music; Jade Deatherage, Master of Music; Calvin Wong, Doctor of Musical Arts; and Bonson Lee, Doctor of Musical Arts.

The group said they talked about forming the quartet in May 2022 and had online meetings until September, when they held their first in-person rehearsal.

“I think the reason why we have done so well is that, as a group, we showcased our work ethic and showed our friendship on stage,” Lee said. “If you watch any of our videos or live streams, you can see the biggest smiles on all of our faces at the end of each performance.”

“Our group is ‘greener’ compared to some of the competing groups out there,” Wong said. “I think our previous individual experience has helped us come a long way. None of the hard work you put in previously is going to be wasted. Trust in the hard work that you put in, and the opportunity will present itself.”

“We are also surrounded by other great ensembles here at ASU, including Lotus Quartet,” Deatherage said. “Being in an environment like that definitely encourages us to keep furthering our art.”

Plouffe and Wong have studied with Creviston for two years, Deatherage for three years and Lee for five years.

“None of this would have been possible without Professor Creviston,” said Lee. “He was always meeting with us whenever we needed, from late night to early morning coaching. He reviewed our videos and provided comments, even if he was not able to meet with us. He has always had our back, and we are very, very appreciative of him.”

Wong’s advice for students considering competing is to remember that nerves come from a lack of preparation and that a preconditioning routine can be very helpful.

“Sometimes it can be so easy to get wrapped up in trying to win a competition,” Plouffe said. “But the experience is really important. I think that that's the biggest takeaway — that is where you grow as a musician.”

Lee, Plouffee and Wong received their graduate degrees in May. Deatherage and Plouffe will pursue their doctoral degrees at ASU in the fall and will be graduate teaching assistants for the Saxophone Studio. Lee will teach with the Sun Devil Marching Band as the saxophone tech. He will also be teaching the Campo Verde High School marching band and as an adjunct professor of saxophone at Glendale Community College. Wong will continue working with the Phoenix Conservatory and teaching private lessons to students from Hong Kong, London and Toronto. He also plans to release a solo album.

The group plans to continue performing as a quartet, including original works and new music, in addition to pursuing recording opportunities and conference performances. This fall, Kodachrome will represent the city of Phoenix in a cultural exchange conference in Phoenix’s sister city of Chengdu, China. Competing is also on the horizon, including an international competition in Osaka, Japan, if schedules and funding allow.

From left: Calvin Wong, Siobhan Plouffe, Jade Deatherage and Bonson Lee are the Kodachrome Quartet.

Lotus Quartet

The Lotus Quartet won first prize in the 2023 Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Chamber Music Winds Competition

GianCarlo Lay, freshman, soprano saxophone; Johnathan Lee, freshman, alto saxophone; Keegan Ewan, junior, tenor saxophone; and Jerick Meagher, junior, baritone saxophone, make up the quartet.

The MTNA is one of the most prestigious student competitions in the country, providing educational experiences for students and recognizing exceptionally talented young artists and their teachers in their pursuit of musical excellence. Nearly 100 groups applied to the preliminary round via recordings, and seven were selected as finalists.

Lotus recorded their selections in December after only playing together for less than one semester.

“MTNA is a well-known and popular chamber and solo competition platform for classical musicians in high school and college,” Lay said. “It's a big aspiration for many musicians seeking to compete at the national level.”

Jonathan Lee said some of the quartet’s members have previously competed in MTNA competitions. He said the group knew at the beginning of the school year that they wanted to participate in the chamber music competition as a quartet. The quartet spent about 12 hours a week rehearsing, he said, and put a lot of effort into high-quality recordings to submit in the initial round of the competition.

“This experience was incredibly rewarding," Meagher said. “Win or lose, I think we would have been quite satisfied with how we performed and approached the competition.” 

“One of the most memorable parts for me was some of our studio mates in a different quartet calling us to congratulate us right after we won,” Ewan said. “Being in the ASU Saxophone Studio is really great, and it means a lot to me that they are so supportive.”

Both Lay and Lee have studied with Creviston for less than one year. Meagher and Ewan have studied with him for three years.

“I was 15 when I first met Professor Creviston and his quartet,” Meagher said. “I instantly fell in love with his playing and his approach to saxophone pedagogy. He has been a key factor in my development as a musician and as a person while attending ASU.”  

Lay’s advice to other students interested in competing is to “be confident in yourself and don't let competition results define you as an artist.”      

“The work you do in preparation for the competition is what defines you,” he said.

Creviston said competitions can help students focus their practice, giving them even more incentive to be the best they can be.

“Find the motivation in the music itself and not in the idea of winning,” Lee said. “Stay optimistic, but also realistic. As long as you walk away from your performance feeling satisfied with what you accomplished, that is a win in itself.”

The quartet plans to continue performing and engaging in the community as well as competing. Ewan said the group has new works by student composers they are excited to be able to work on and also plan to collaborate with other musicians and groups.

“We want to show our versatility as musicians and what a saxophone quartet is capable of in areas that are not classical music,” Meagher said.

From left: The Lotus Quartet is GianCarlo Lay, Johnathan Lee, Jerick Meagher and Keegan Ewan.

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