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Lauren Sevian: Big Voice on the Big Horn

By Published: March 30, 2011
Sevian said that she wrote some of the music years ago, when she was still in high school. Composing, for her, doesn't usually involve sitting at the piano, tinkering with combinations and ideas. "Most of the material came about from the playing and practicing, more or less composing on the instrument," she explains. "Most of it came right from the horn itself. That's my medium, I guess—my compositional tool. That way it's a lot easier to learn the music because it's naturally fitting on the horn. Sometimes you sit down and write something out and it sounds great. But then when you play it on the horn it doesn't quite fit. With the baritone, the range is a lot lower than most instruments. I tend to write more when the spirit moves me, otherwise it can be kind of forced. Sometimes you have to write stuff. You have no choice. But if I'm in a situation where I have a choice, I would rather wait until something comes to me."

She adds, "I've got stuff I've been working on for the past couple of years that I just haven't gotten down on paper yet—stuff I've been working out on my horn. Eventually, it just comes together. It's just a matter of me putting it down."

In Sevian's life, music was a constant from early on. Both parents and a sister are players, though not professionally. She has a brother who plays all the reeds and then some, and is a high school band teacher. She was playing piano at age five—in a classical vein—and started on sax at eight, following in the footsteps of her brother. When I was eight or nine, I started on saxophone. "There was always music happening in my house. It was my dad who introduced me to jazz when I was maybe 13 or 14. I immediately was drawn to it. My dad piqued my interest by lending me some recordings. My saxophone teacher, he laid even more recordings on me. That was it. I was off and running."

Her high school was on the small side, but its music program was strong. Its students and bands participated in a lot of competitions, and Sevian was heavily involved. "We had a great program. My band director encouraged me to audition for the Grammy high school ensembles, which I did my junior year. I did the Tri-State (competition), then I was selected as an alternate for the All-American. So I was pretty heavily involved in stuff outside of school as well. At Stonybrook University they had a wind ensemble and a jazz ensemble. I had a chance to play in both of those. Various all-county, all-state stuff.

"I remember after school there was always something that I had to do. At a certain point I had to give up sports because it was too crazy trying to juggle sports and music. But it was fun. It was a great experience for me to do a lot of playing."

Her support system at home and at school was important. Because the encouragement she received made an impression to this day, Sevian involved herself in the teaching aspects. "The whole education aspect of jazz is really important. It's almost like it's a growing industry now," she notes. " Being on the other side of it and seeing how important it is to continue supporting jazz in the schools—it's interesting to me when I go to do things at school, how much support and interest there is in this music. It's unbelievable. It would be nice if they'd support it a little bit more in the mainstream media. But, we're getting there."

Then the Count Basie Invitational came along, "an all-county thing, where different schools were invited to compete. They picked a couple of outstanding soloists. I happened to be one of them ... I remember going up there, playing a blues. I was so nervous—the most nervous I had ever been in my life. I was just hoping whatever came out was okay. It was a lot of fun. The guys in that band were great. It's funny, because now a couple guys that were in the band then, I know now. It's kind of funny looking back on that. That was another turning point for me. I would say at that point I decided I'm going to get really serious about the saxophone."

As for taking on the baritone beast, it started in her senior year in high school. "Even though I was playing alto in school groups and other groups, in groups like the Grammy band and all-state, I was playing baritone. I was starting to get more serious about baritone. When I auditioned at Manhattan School of Music, I auditioned on baritone." By then, it was full steam ahead with the baritone.

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