Jean-Pierre Schmitt

My name is Jean-Pierre Schmitt, conductor and Artistic Director of The Classical Saxophone Project. I was formally the Director of The French-American School of Music, located in New York, which I founded in 1992 with the idea of teaching music using French methods with an emphasis on French music.

In the beginning we did not have saxophone class. For me the saxophone was mostly a jazz instrument and my reasoning was “why would a French school teach jazz when there are so many great institutions in New York that offer it.” During my long career as a violist and conductor I often performed Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel’s Bolero, or Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite, works that include solos for the saxophone but that was the extent of my knowledge about the use of this instrument in the classical world. For me, like most of us, the saxophone was a jazz instrument – period.

In 2006, a piano teacher who was working for me at the school, mentioned an exceptional saxophonist, a colleague of hers at another institution, and encouraged me to at meet with him. She was certain he could be a great asset for us. I did. After introducing himself, Javier Oviedo told me that he was not a jazz player but a classical saxophonist. I was intrigued. Are there people who dedicate their lives to playing just the few solos of the repertoire? It couldn’t be! Indeed, Javier enthusiastically talked about the rich, yet unknown repertoire of his instrument. My attention was caught, even more so when he mentioned that oldest pieces composed for the saxophone, patented in France in 1846 were indeed French. I hired Javier and became more intrigued by what I was hearing. A few days later Javier invited me to one of his performances. That was a revelation! I never heard the saxophone played like that. A fruitful collaboration was born. We spent hours researching in libraries. Many pieces of music were to be discovered from the past but also from more recent times.

Unfortunately the French-American School of Music didn’t survive the 2008 financial crisis. We closed our doors in 2012. Then, Javier an I decided to create The Classical Saxophone Project, a non-profit organisation, dedicated to perform and record music composed for the saxophone, mentor young saxophonists and too encourage composers to expand the repertoire. We have grown into a healthy organisation fulfilling this mission around the world. Then Covid struck. Our last concert was a private fund raising event on March 7, 2020. The rest of our 10th season was cancelled. A period of discouragement followed. What was happening? What was the future for musicians if there were no performances. People were dying all around us. At that time New York City was the epicenter of the virus in the United States and for a few months after there was no relief in sight.

We then put our heads together. We could use technology more than we had. Indeed technologies such as live streaming were available already but we never really took advantage of it. Soon, different platforms like Jamkazam, Zoom, and Jamulus developed. If we wanted to survive we had to make the most of what was offered to us. The first step was teaching online, work more on social media in order to meet more musicians and share our experiences. By the fall of 2020 the New York State allowed small gatherings. We scheduled our first video taping session in November with 11 musicians, all string players, wearing masks. I will never forget the excitement and joy we felt making music together again! This was an incredibly up-lifting.

As non profit organisation, we relied on private donations alone, there was still no income from tickets sales. We did the best we could and succeeded in at least putting a season together. I am so grateful to these talented musicians. Our budget as you can imagine is low but we owe the success of these events to their enthusiasm and their dedication to music making.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this ordeal. We should never take things for granted. For decades we have performed not imagining that one day this was going to be taken away by a disease. We have learned to use the available technologies – that is here to stay. But above all we realised how much music means for us.


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