When fourth-year School of Music saxophone player Baylie Adams wanted to make a community impact during last February’s Black History Month, she looked to her own instrument for inspiration.
“We were only hearing about Black composers in terms of jazz music, so I read up on Black composers to find a more diversified repertoire,” Adams explains. “I’d never even thought about it in terms of classical saxophone.”
Adams’ research led her to American classical composer William Grant Still—the first African-American to conduct an orchestra in the US and, in 1931, the first to have his Afro-American Symphony performed by a mainstream American orchestra.
Inspiring change for herself & others
Inspired, she applied for and received a $1,500 Student Life Grant from the Office of Student Life to finance the project; from there, it was a short step for her Quartet Cantabile—rounded out with fellow Music students Alex Tiller, Ayari Kasukawa and Cole Davis—to record an online recital. In Appreciation of William Grant Still: A Virtual Benefit Concert (seen right) featured a number of Still’s compositions—including one written specifically for the saxophone, performed by Adams with accompanist Yousef Shadian.
In addition to engaging people to learn about this specific Black composer, the recital raised over $900 for the Blue Marists of Aleppo—a benefit fund directly supporting those affected by the ongoing war in Syria. Organizing a fundraising concert also helped Adams feel like she was contributing to various Black Lives Matter actions unfolding at the time.
“Putting work into an event like this made me feel better about all of the injustices,” she says.
The sound of one saxophone playing
Undertaking such an effort in the midst of her final year of studies is one thing, but it’s even more remarkable when you consider it happened during the COVID lockdowns, which were particularly challenging for orchestral musicians.
“It’s hard to play a recital when there’s no one in the crowd,” she explains. “It’s difficult to feel proud about your performance when there’s no audience, when you’re sitting in your room playing your instrument to people online.”
Yet, as Adams notes, that “show must go on” mentality ended up being one of the biggest takeaways of her Bachelor of Music program.
“That was a hard thing I learned at UVic, but it was a good thing,” she says. “Being in rehearsals really made my degree special—I’m never going to forget that experience . . . even if it sometimes did involve my professor saying, in a nice way, that I have to work harder. It changed the way I conducted myself in rehearsals and did make me work harder. Because of that, I became a better player overall.”
Sharing what she learned
Proof of that is her current enrolment in UBC’s Master of Music program, where she daily draws on the lessons learned here. “I constantly reference my profs at UVic because I want people here at UBC to know what they taught me,” she says. “But I also find myself messaging students who are still at UVic, sharing what I’m learning here now. Working with other people has helped me learn how to better listen to the opinions of others, and be more comfortable sharing my own thoughts.”
While she was part of both the School of Music’s Sonic Lab contemporary ensemble and Wind Symphony, Adams didn’t limit her academic experiences to only music. In addition to a workstudy position with Alumni Relations, she also enjoyed working for Multifaith Services, where her tech support position helped with the loneliness of being a long-distance musician.
“I invited all my friends to join the weekly online sessions—meditation, yoga—so we got to see each other there,” she recalls. “That was a really great experience. Meditating with other people, whether in-person or online, was new for me.”
Adams is also excited to return to campus to graduate . . . this time, in person. “It feels a bit like a dream,” she laughs. “Human presence is getting more familiar again, but still seems a bit nostalgic.”