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Heidi Radtke and Rahsaan Barber
Photo credit Casey Mentch

Saxophonists Rahsaan Barber and Heidi Radtke have orchestrated a harmonious collaboration, blending the worlds of jazz and classical saxophone in their unique studio classes. This dynamic duo shares insights into their journey, the growth of the saxophone studio, and their vision for the future.

Rahsaan Barber and Heidi Radtke, both esteemed faculty members, met each other in Indiana and are both graduates of Indiana University. United by a profound love for the saxophone, they envisioned providing students with an in-depth view into both jazz and classical traditions.

“We were provided with a neat opportunity for the two of us to put into practice something that we thought would be a unique opportunity for students,” shares Barber. Radtke adds, “It is just a joy to see the students get outside their comfort zones, appreciate each other, and join together.”

As the saxophone studio flourishes, the faculty have observed a remarkable shift in perspective. Students now see more commonalities both within themselves and the instrument, revealing different shades and colors in their musical journeys. The cultural differences between jazz and classical saxophone, once distinct, have begun to blur. Exposure to diverse audiences has played a pivotal role, breaking down preconceived notions once fostered by academia.

“Approaches to tone and timbre are the biggest differences,” said Barber, “’Pink Panther’ is innately a jazz recording.” The flexibility required in facial muscle usage also distinguishes the two traditions. And yet,  despite these differences, this relatively modern instrument has also found a secure place in Western Classical music, a testament to its enduring appeal.

UNC Saxophone Studio
Students of the UNC Saxophone Studio with Dr. Radtke and Dr. Barber at their Fall Recital on December 4. Photo courtesy of Rahsaan Barber.

The growth of the combined saxophone studio owes much to the unwavering support of colleagues and the exceptional work within ensembles. Radtke’s and Barber’s students perform in a variety of department ensembles, such as Professor Evan Feldman’s Wind Ensemble, showcasing the studio’s excellence.

Barber expresses gratitude, stating, “We are really fortunate to have the support of our colleagues and the great work throughout our ensembles. Our own history of studying with exceptional teachers has also been instrumental in our success here.”

With 24 students actively participating, the saxophone studio is a vibrant community where mutual learning and collaboration thrive. The future holds exciting possibilities as students continue to absorb knowledge from each other and their dedicated instructors.

Looking ahead, Barber and Radtke envision a studio that attracts saxophonists who aren’t limited to a specific track of study, allowing them to be exposed to both jazz and classical traditions. The upcoming semester promises even more flexibility, nurturing an environment of exploration and creativity.

On Monday, December 4, the combined studio held their fall recital. This event showcased not only the talent within the studio but also reflected the ingenuity of the department curriculum and the studio’s adaptability.

The saxophone studio stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, breaking down barriers between musical traditions and fostering a community where students can truly flourish. As the combined studio continues to evolve, Barber and Radtke pave the way for a future with diversity, flexibility, and creativity.

by Casey Mentch, class of 2024

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