Debunking common stereotypes of saxophonists
Young Singapore saxophonist extraordinaire Samuel Phua has made a name for himself in the music world. (Photo: Sujari Britt)

Debunking common stereotypes of saxophonists

When seven-year-old Samuel Phua joined his primary school band, he didn’t even know what a saxophone was.

Now, the young Singaporean saxophone extraordinaire, who graduated from the School of The Arts, has performed as a soloist with Singapore’s top orchestras and bands. He has even gone on to represent Singapore at many international music events. 

His latest performance will be the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Night of the Saxophonea classical music concert held at Victoria Concert Hall on 19 and 20 Aug.

While picking an instrument might seem like second nature to many, Phua said his school band conductor had called his mum to ask if he would like to play the saxophone.

“My mum in turn asked me if I wished to learn the saxophone… I looked at her with a puzzled face and asked, ‘What’s a saxophone?’”

After having played the saxophone so skilfully for so many years now, he adds that being a full-time classical saxophonist is not without its challenges.

While the saxophone might be an easy instrument to pick up at first, mastering it is quite a different story altogether. The conical shape of the instrument means that the lower range requires more air support than the higher register, and the extended techniques might take a musician months or even years to learn. Phua says that for that, he has his mentors to thank.

“I have learnt so much about music from luminaries, and some of the best lessons I have had were from other instrumentalists because they are not distracted by the technical challenges of the instrument or bound by tradition.”

He says that the saxophone is a relatively young instrument that is still finding its footing in the classical world and that there are also some common misconceptions about saxophonists.

One is that every saxophonist plays only jazz music. Another is that a saxophonist only performs music from the classical era. He says both are simply inaccurate and untrue, as he is a classically trained saxophonist who plays music from all genres and periods.

As to what keeps his fire burning, he says: “My love of music and the challenges from it are enough to keep me going for a lifetime. There will always be new interesting pieces to learn and the process of learning is such an exciting one.”

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