January 26, 2022

Spirituals and the Saxophone

On Sunday, January 30, at St. John’s 10 AM and 5:30 PM services, FSU graduate student Dawson Coleman and St. John’s Organist Elizabeth LaJeunesse will play movements from Steven Banks’ recent work for tenor saxophone and piano, “Come As You Are.”

A composer and performer, Steven Banks is widely known as an ambassador for the classical saxophone. A “mahogany tone” and “deeply felt lyricism” are often used to describe the young artist’s performances. However, it’s the story behind one of Banks’ most recent compositions that prompted its selection for St. John’s services. That, and the pledge taken by the Tallahassee musicians performing the day’s music.

In the summer of 2020, artists with entertainment venues, schools, and churches nationwide began signing the “Black Voices Matter” pledge, vowing to embrace idiomatic Black choral music and find ways to incorporate respectful and thoughtful arrangements within their programs, creating a choral community where all voices can flourish.

The “Black Voices Matter” pledge, and the project Dawson Coleman took on with his professor, to compile a catalogue of saxophone works by underrepresented composers, is what prompted this FSU graduate student to select Steven Banks’ work for his solos at St. John’s. Please join us to hear Dawson Coleman on the saxophone, accompanied by Elizabeth LaJeunesse – at the 10 AM Service of Holy Eucharist, which will be live streamed on the church website, or at the 5:30 PM Service of Holy Eucharist. Both services will be held in the church, where masks are required.

Steven Banks, Composer

Steven Banks grew up in the AME church, often playing his saxophone on hymns. He drew from the musical traditions of his upbringing as inspiration for his work, “Come As You Are.” Banks wanted to write a piece that took influence from African-American church music. A classical musician, Banks has shared that “the vast majority of my colleagues have little knowledge or understanding of Black culture or how it influences my music-making.”

Banks says he viewed the writing of this work as a way to bring together different facets of his life experience and to honor both his family’s traditions and those of the church. In his four-movement work, “Come As You Are,” each movement is based on either a traditional Spiritual or a song from the Black Gospel tradition. The movements are titled after lyrics from the well known anthem “Total Praise,” and each movement has a different character. The first, “Lift My Eyes” (based on “My Lord, what a morning”), is a fast movement with elements of jazz and romanticism, while the third, “Strength of My Life” (based on “His Eye is on the Sparrow”), is slow, reflective, and poignant. St. John’s 5:30 PM congregation will also hear “Times of the Storm,” an energetic, dance-like movement based on “Wade in the Water.”

Dawson Coleman, Saxophone Soloist

Dawson Coleman has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Saxophone Performance, and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Saxophone Performance at Florida State University with critically acclaimed soloist and chamber musician, Geoffrey Deibel. As an active chamber musician, Dawson consistently performs in FSU’s New Music Festival premiering new chamber music, has received First Prize in the North American Saxophone Alliance(NASA)’s 2019 Regional Conference Collegiate Quartet Competition, and advanced to the semi-final round of the 2020 and 2022 National NASA Conference’s Collegiate Quartet Competition. As a soloist he has been recognized as the runner-up in FSU’s 2019 Concerto Competition, premiered Brian Junttila’s Concertino for Alto Saxophone, and has been a featured soloist in FSU’s Wind Orchestra and Symphonic Bands.

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