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SAU Saxophone Student Broadens His Horizons, Represents Arkansas with Performance in Croatia

The Arkansas Saxophones Choir, including Benjamin Facundo, a senior at Southern Arkansas University, plays in Zagreb, Croatia. Courtesy photo.

MAGNOLIA – Benjamin Facundo, a senior at Southern Arkansas University, recently participated in the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia. Facundo performed with the Arkansas Saxophones Choir, an ensemble comprised of professionals, teachers and students of the saxophone.

The La Feria, Texas native is attending SAU on a full band scholarship, majoring in music education. His trip to the Croatian capital broadened his outlook as well as his exposure to different musical styles. The Congress was held at the Zagreb Academy of Music, July 10-14.

The opportunity to travel to Croatia presented itself in January, when Facundo, a member of the SAU Saxophone Quartet, was returning from the Saxophone Symposium sponsored by the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C. Facundo was invited by the ensemble’s director, Dr. Jackie Lamar, to come to Croatia to fill out the choir.

“I said yes immediately,” Facundo said. “It was my first time to travel overseas.”

The World Saxophone Congress, organized in Chicago in 1969, has been held in England, Scotland, France, Japan, and Italy, among other countries. It offers participants a unique opportunity to meet professional musicians, attend workshops and lectures and experience a wide range of musical expressions. Facundo attended with 10 other players from Arkansas.

“I was blown away that this opportunity landed in my lap,” he said. “I had never heard of the Congress until I was asked. I was ecstatic to be invited, and being there made me realize I want to be a performer and saxophone teacher at the university level.”

Facundo was able to meet two of his musical heroes, Dr. Kenneth Tse, professor of music at the University of Iowa, and Claude Delangle, a saxophonist from France. “It was a great chance to network,” Facundo said. He also met graduate professors from the University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, University of Texas and Central Michigan.

The Arkansas choir performed on Thursday, July 12, in the Croatian National Theatre. “It was an amazing experience,” Facundo said. The ensemble premiered two works on the world stage at the Croatian National Theatre: Phantasms, by Philip Wharton, and Groovin’ Goliath, by Craig Wadley.

That same week, Croatia was participating in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. “We were able to watch the game there,” Facundo said. “Croatia lost, but everyone was so happy just to have gotten that far.”

Overall, Zagreb’s beauty exceeded Facundo’s expectations. “It was even more beautiful than Google told me,” he said, with a laugh.

While en route to Croatia, the group experienced a 12-hour layover in Paris, giving them the chance to explore such famous Parisian sites as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. “My heart was very happy,” he said. “I never thought I’d get to see Paris.”

Facundo returned to Magnolia feeling inspired. “I was reminded that music is a universal langauge. I want to expose students to a variety of music from around the world.”

“My parents are so proud,” he said. “They have seen me grow as a person and as a musician. Because they live so far away, they’ve only been able to come to one performance, my junior recital, and they were very proud.”

He thanked Dr. Andy Peeks, instructor of music at SAU, and J.P. Wilson, director of bands, for encouraging students to do their best. “They are great mentors,” he said. “The entire faculty strives to make sure you have everything you need to be successful.”

“Ben is a wonderful young man and gifted musician,” Wilson said. “He continues to exceed the goals and accomplishments of a student his age. Ben has been, and will continue to be, a huge asset to our band program and SAU.”

Facundo looks forward to performing in Senior Recital this November and will begin his pre-screenings for graduate school applications.

Croatian National Theatre. Courtesy photo.

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