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Saxophonist Sherman Irby Shares Wisdom With Music Students in Masterclass

During his visit to BYU, Sherman Irby shared some life lessons from his performing and teaching career

Called to play music since his childhood, jazz musician and celebrated saxophonist Sherman Irby has a long history of electrifying performances. During his visit to BYU with the Jazz at Lincoln Center, Irby shared some of the wisdom that he’s collected over the years in a masterclass with music students.

Sherman Irby leads the masterclass discussion.
Photo by Dylan Carter

A prominent theme in the advice he gave to the students was to continue improving themselves and their craft. “The more you study music [and] study the masters, . . . it feeds your mind,” said Irby. “It strengthens your mind.”

The key to musical improvement, Irby told the students, is continuing to refine their skills. “Keep challenging yourself,” Irby encouraged. “Try to learn from others.”

As part of this encouragement for the music students to challenge themselves, Irby said that making time for consistent practice would be key for the young musicians to see themselves improve. “The hardest thing to do is manage your time,” said Irby, “so manage your time wisely.”

The musician counseled the students to prioritize the most important tasks first, and then take the needed time to write down their goals and interests to help themselves “figure out what is important” to them and make needed adjustments.

Irby emphasized the important creative work that jazz musicians do in the sphere of music.

“Our job as musicians—and especially as jazz musicians—is to create paintings [with our music],” said Irby.

Students listen in a theater.
Photo by Dylan Carter

Irby’s advice resonated with students in attendance.

“I just love hearing musicians that are so much more experienced than I am talk about how [they are] still improving,” said music education major Amber Christiansen. “There's no top to how good you can get. . . . that's a big consolation [to me].”

Christiansen said that one of her big takeaways from the masterclass was how she can be more aware of herself during her practice time.

“[I can] make sure that the time that I'm in a practice room is spent doing worthwhile things,” she said. “[I can be] really aware of what I'm doing and practicing instead of letting that time slip away.”

For Victoria Dixon, also a music education major, Irby’s words about painting a visual picture with music for the audience spoke to her. “I think that's really cool to imagine a visual aspect for your audience,” she said. “I think a lot of times in music we imagine it for ourselves or we think, ‘How can I get myself to sound the way that it needs to sound?’ But it's really for the audience and you want [them] to get that visual.”

Dixon said she appreciated how this change in thinking turns the focus outward from herself to others.

“It's not about me,” said Dixon. “I need to improve, yes, but I need to improve for the audience. It changes my perspective away from myself.”