Student musician shines in concerto

When Megan Rice first picked up the alto saxophone at the age of nine, she realized she could naturally create a beautiful sound. 12 years later, she is being honored as one of the first concerto competition winners and will be featured with the Sonoma State University Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 30. 

Rice is a music education major at Sonoma State. She plays in five different ensembles, such as the wind ensemble and concert band, while also working to become a music teacher. Her primary instruments are the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone, her secondary is percussion, and she is currently learning more. 

“As a music education major I have had the opportunity to learn the basics on lots of different instruments, so I can play a little bit of guitar, violin or viola, flute, euphonium, piano, and I can sing,” Rice said. 

Being the daughter of a piano teacher, she began her musical journey at a young age. Her pianist mother encouraged her to sing along beside her, before she even knew how to read the lyrics. She later taught Rice how to read music when she was about six-years-old. 

“I started playing in band in fourth grade at the age of nine. I wanted to play flute or percussion, but my big brother dropped out of band that same year and gave me the saxophone our grandmother had bought for him. So, I started beginning band on alto saxophone and I’ve been playing ever since,” Rice said. 

Her experience in the music department began when she quit a desk job and changed her mindset. She switched from being an undeclared major to being a music major after coming to a significant realization. 

“In life, you have to work hard at something. It might as well be something you love,” Rice said. 

Since becoming a music major, Rice has no regrets about her decision.

“We have amazing facilities, like Weill Hall, and we have a really great music faculty. My favorite part about the music department is the sense of camaraderie and closeness between all of the music majors,” Rice said. 

She identified Dr. Andy Collinsworth as the most inspiring professor she has had the experience of working with. Collinsworth, director of bands and music education, is her advisor and private instructor. Rice credits him as being one of the greatest influences to the musician she is today. Rice has learned a lot about teaching from Collinsworth, and says he is a “phenomenal director.” 

When the first annual concerto competition was announced last spring, during Rice’s required instrumental repertoire class, she did not think it was possible to win the competition. She was, however, interested in the experience. Collinsworth not only supported her decision to compete, he encouraged her. He told Rice he had won a concerto competition when he was in undergraduate school and that it’s something every passionate musician should try.

Rice took Collinsworth’s advice and went for it, and to her surprise she won. For the competition, each player has ten minutes to play any part of any concerto they select for three judges. She chose “Concerto for Alto Saxophone” by Alexander Glazunov and was accompanied on the piano by Richard Riccardi, the school accompanist. 

“After hearing everyone play, and realizing how much progress I had made personally on my piece, I thought it was possible that I might win, but Zachary Hall was also a fair choice. We both ended up winning. I was surprised and really proud of myself when I found out,” Rice said. 

Since it was the very first concerto competition here, Rice says that everyone performing was not sure what to expect. It turned out to be a very positive experience, not only for the winners, but for the participants. She called the competition “collaborative, not competitive.” It was evident that Everyone in attendance was proud of each other, felt accomplished, and improved their craft.

Rice has been preparing non-stop for her feature with the orchestra on Friday.

“We will be playing the version of the concerto I played, with saxophone and strings rather than sax and piano. I’ve never played with a string orchestra before, and I love the sound of a saxophone floating over the strings, so I’m excited to play with them. It’s a really hard piece for them to learn, so I’m honored that they’re taking on the challenge for me,” Rice said. 

She plays in four to five ensembles at Sonoma State, but in preparation for this particular performance, she has been focusing primarily on the concerto. 

“There are a lot of quick technical passages that trip up my fingers, and I’ve been taking them really slowly, trying to get more comfortable with them,” Rice said. 

Rice offered some advice for musicians interested in entering the concerto contest this upcoming spring saying that it does not matter whether you win. 

“All that matters is that you put the work into practice a piece and play it in front of judges, which takes a lot of guts,” she said. 

“My advice for any musicians at Sonoma State is to take every opportunity to play that you can. Stretch your boundaries. Play music that you love, but also music that you think is weird. You might learn to love it. Collaborate with other musicians. Never feel like you’re alone on stage, because everyone wants you to succeed. There’s nobody out there just waiting for you to fail, however often it may feel that way.”