Educators Inspire Saxophonist to Mentor Others

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by Michelle Hoffman

Photo courtesy of the Traverse family.

Graduating senior and Wind Ensemble/Jazz Studies saxophonist Mia Traverse is taking her next step this fall at Butler University in Indianapolis, majoring in music education.

Her journey into music began as a young child, plunking the keys of her grandparents’ piano, just having fun experimenting with different sounds. When given the chance to select an instrument at school, she jumped at the chance to learn saxophone because she knew that eventually she could also play jazz with it.

Mia was persuaded by school friends to try out for MYSO, and the choice was solidified by an enjoyable experience at her audition. Her judge ended up being one of her music directors in Wind Ensemble. “We connected right away, and I knew I wanted to work with him.”

Mia credits much of her curiosity for music education to her middle school band director who sadly passed away earlier this year.

“I had always been a ‘math person.’ Everyone assumed that would be my focus. It was wonderful to have this person in my life who really believed that I could do well at something creative. It was very empowering.” It led her to begin to see herself as an artist. And this led to a spark that made her want to motivate young musicians down the road just like this teacher had for her.

The connections Mia has made with her directors in Wind Ensemble and Jazz Studies and in other ensembles also led her to start to contemplate a future in music education. She observed how these teachers worked with young people. At MYSO she noticed the ways her directors motivated and inspire kids to come back each week. She often thought to herself “that’s the kind of band director I want to be.”

In addition to performing at MYSO, Mia was a composer through the John Downey Creation Project for two years. She wrote a piece for saxophone quartet in the 2018-19 season, and a wrote a jazz piece for nine players in 2019-20. The premiere of that piece was pushed into 2021 due to the spring 2020 shutdown.

Mia (standing) performs saxophone concerto Pequeña Czarda of Pedro Iturralde with the Wind Ensemble on May 21, 2021.

This spring, at the end of her MYSO career, Mia was given the opportunity to be the first featured student soloist in the Wind Ensemble’s 40+ year history.

Wind Ensemble Music Director Andy Hacker talked about how this came about.

“During the years Mia has been in our Wind Ensemble, I have seen and heard her steadily develop musically. She is incredibly hard-working, self-disciplined, and focused during every rehearsal, and goes above and beyond the regular member duties. Whenever we needed a part modeled, Mia was always up for the challenge because she always learned her parts immediately. This musical maturity inspired me, and I wanted to ensure that her work did not go unnoticed. In all my years of teaching, I have rarely seen such professionalism as I have in Mia, and I needed to find a way to recognize her publicly for all of her wonderful contributions. I also learned that the Wind Ensemble had not had a soloist perform a concerto. I decided that Mia, during her senior year in the group, should be a featured soloist, and knew this would be the perfect opportunity to provide both Mia and the ensemble the rewarding (and difficult) task of performing a concerto. The ensemble gained so much as an accompaniment to the soloist, and it proved to be a rich experience for the ensemble, soloist, audience, and me as the conductor.”

Mia says she felt “so fortunate that Mr. Hacker offered her this experience…an amazing opportunity, since there are so few chances for saxophones to solo with a large ensemble.” She explains, “it was exciting to work with Wind Ensemble in this way and see how the process came together in the end.”

On the night of the performance, Mia was awarded one of ten MYSO Dean Potokar awards. This award is named in memory of Dean Potokar, a tireless and valued member of MYSO’s Board of Directors and recognizes graduating senior musicians who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership, professionalism, a positive attitude, and have made significant contributions to MYSO.

At the end of her high school band career, Mia received the John Philip Sousa Band Award® presented in memory of her middle school band director. Considered the pinnacle of achievement in a high school band, the Sousa Award was introduced in 1955 to honor a high school band’s top graduating senior, recognizing superior musicianship and outstanding dedication.

Until she packs up for Butler, Mia will spend some of her free time mentoring students through math and reading tutoring and is hoping to work with some young saxophone students.

We’re excited to see what the future holds for her!

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