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Young man with a classical sax


Lakeridges Benton Case taking talents to national contest

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Benton Case will take his saxophone all the way to Disneyland in California in March. He will compete against the finest young woodwind players in America.  When most people think of a classical saxophone player they think of King Curtis or Boots Randolph.

Truly, classical saxophone music has had to fight for its place in the musical sun against a raft of magnificent jazz, blues and rock performers.

But the classical saxophone is coming more and more into its own thanks to young musicians like Benton Case. The 17-year-old junior at Lakeridge High School has won both the state and regional woodwind competitions held by the Music Teachers National Association.

Next up for Case is the national MTNA competition scheduled for March 10 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. He will be going up against the best high school musicians who play the clarinet, bassoon, oboe and flute — not just the saxophone. Case intends to stick with the formula that has worked so well for him.

“I will definitely be practicing a lot,” Case said. “I’ll be going over the individual parts and playing a lot slower so I can get the fast parts locked in. Closer to the competition I’ll be playing straight through the whole program.”

So far, Case has been wowing judges with a program that is made up of three classical pieces, first a piece composed for the inventor of the saxophone (Adolphe Sax), followed by a composition from only 10 years ago, the “Fuzzy Bird Sonata.” Rounding out the program will be the “Creston Sonata.”

The saxophone has had a struggle in establishing its place in classical music. Sax did not invent it until the 1860s.

“It was invented too late to implement in a lot of classical scores,” Case noted. That is why a riffing sax solo is not part of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” Later, the saxophone was scathingly criticized by the great American journalist H.L. Mencken.

But Case pointed out that the saxophone was a classical instrument before it was taken over by jazz musicians, and the repertoire of the classical saxophone is large and rich.

Case came to the instrument as a sixth-grader at his elementary School when he joined the beginning band. By the time he got to Lakeridge High he was ready to fly high as an alto saxophone soloist.

“Ben was very raw when he first came to me as a student,” said Kim Reece, Case’s private teacher and a member of the music faculty at Portland State University, as well as of the Oregon Symphony. “But I could tell he was going to be very good. His dedication and hard work has helped him master quite a difficult program.”

Some nice prizes will go to the young woodwind player who wins the national contest, such as a $2,000 scholarship to the first-place finisher and $1,000 to the runner-up. But Case’s eyes are not on the dollars.

“It’s not the money,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience. Just preparing for this event and playing for 30 minutes in front of people will be a great experience.”