Steven Banks

Saxophonist. Educator. Inclusion Advocate.

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable"

- Ludwig van Beethoven

A Few Thoughts

I am at a pivotal time in my life. I'm full of questions about what makes our lives meaningful. I'm full of ideas that I feel could drastically impact how the world works. As a recent college graduate, I imagine that these questions reside in the minds of many of my peers as well. In some ways, it's a great feeling to have beliefs and motivation to create change in the world. However, it can be overwhelming and intimidating at the very same time. I wonder if anyone else has the concerns that I do, and whether my interests and concerns will yield any lasting benefit for the community, country, or the world.

As a person, I struggle to understand why people treat one another as they do, and why we struggle to recognize our striking similarities as people and let our differences subside. The emotional and psychological spectrum that we all live with is so universal. We all feel nervous, proud, home-sick, heartache, joy...so why is it so hard for us to identify with others when they do? Of course, everyone's life experiences amalgamate in a different way, but by the time you are out of college, chances are that you've experienced a lot of different situations, victories and misfortunes. Have you ever embarrassed yourself? Yes, YOU. Have you ever been made fun of? Have you ever felt judged? Have you ever had financial shortcomings? Chances are that at least one of these things has happened to you and most everyone else you know. I can't understand why we don't all have such strong empathy for others when they are going through something that we know is traumatizing. I'm certainly not saying that I always do the right thing and make everyone feel great about their shortcomings and insecurities, because I am just as guilty as anyone else. However, I wonder why it's not a more inherent part of our nature to empathize and do unto others as we wished someone had done for us in our time of need. 

In music, I'm starting to ask myself questions about why I like certain things more than others. The more people that I meet and perspectives that I understand, the more I realize that it is absolutely impossible to please everyone, no matter how hard one tries. There seems to be a very fine line that we have to walk as musicians (and people in general) because we must have strong convictions and an approach to music-making that can be defended intellectually, but we also have to realize that others will have a totally different perspective on the same idea that can be defended just as well as yours. In my experience with music competitions, it's very difficult to judge performers because they may have a very different set of values than the judges. If a performer is very passionate about adhering to the composers' intent, it's nearly impossible for a judge to understand that unless they are watching a score or know the piece deeply. Otherwise, that judge is evaluating them based on their own interpretation of what a good performer or ensemble is. I always say to myself that I want to play in a way that anyone would be blown away by. I want the judges to feel the genuineness of my love for music and the saxophone, as well as respect my ability to play musically and professionally. However, in most cases, it's so hard for your competition performance to thoroughly wake up and blow away a judge that has been sitting there listening to performers for 4 hours already. I believe that performers have to be willing to accept and believe in what they value, and present to the world a genuine representation of their musical identity. However, the fact is, simply put, that there are always going to be people that disagree...and that's ok!

As a classical musician, I'm striving every day to provide an answer as to why performance is important and relevant to our society. I understand that all musicians probably think about this at some point during their career, but I often feel that most of us just push it to the back of our minds so that we can keep up with our busy daily schedules. We practice, analyze, teach, compete, network, and perform...but to what end? Many times we earn doctorates in performance and never give anywhere near as many performances as a musicians that's never even considered going to music school. Other times we learn so much, and our end goal is to be able to teach others to be able to teach others to be able to teach others to be able to teach others...I think you get the point. This face is daunting for me because my dream is to build a successful career as a performer, and THEN use that wealth of experience to teach my students the saxophone and the ins and outs of the music business. We can scoff at the music of our time all we want and talk about how the direction of music is sad and has lost some of its' sense of artistry, but in reality, this music is what people of our generation turn on when they want a little pick-me-up, or want to deal with a bad break up. They don't turn to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms...they turn to Taylor Swift, One Direction, Bruno Mars and so many others that are singing things that are easy to understand and that they can jam out to in hopes of escaping from reality for a few minutes. There's not much more that I want than for people that do not study classical music to find the raw enjoyment in it that I do when I listen. However, even more than this, I want my music to give the listener an experience that takes them away from reality or helps them cope with the ups and downs of life without having to go through 10 years of music school to decode the musical language.

These few paragraphs barely begin to scratch the surface of the ideas swirling around in my head these days. The list goes on and on, and spans issues from music to religion to global impact and beyond. I always wonder if other people are thinking about them daily like I am, and I have to hope that we are all thoughtful and curious people that are simply trying to navigate our own path through life. I hope that I can, one day, find peace in my answers to these questions so that I'll be more equipped to live the life that I truly want to live.