By the age of 22, Wilson Poffenberger is on track to graduating with a master’s degree at Youngstown State University, has recorded with several different ensembles during his time as an undergraduate, has been a finalist in regional orchestra concerto competitions and is now one of 25 semi-finalists in a nationwide saxophone competition.
Since the sixth grade, Poffenberger has displayed a natural ability for playing the saxophone. Even in his days as an elementary school student, young Poffenberger made an immediate connection toward his lifelong musical companion.
“I remember the day the middle school band director came to my elementary school to showcase the instruments we could play,” he said. “That day, the saxophone caught my eye, and that was the instrument I chose.”
Although Poffenberger didn’t have the greatest middle school band experience in terms of learning all of the fundamentals, his parents continued to support and push him even when he lost all interest by the eighth grade. In high school marching band, the first rehearsal left him a bit weary, but it was certain in his mind that he did not want to put down his saxophone.
Poffenberger’s positive experiences reassured his decision to continue on.
“My first private teacher during my ninth grade year was the person that instilled the fire to become a great saxophonist. I can remember the first time I heard him play. I couldn’t believe the sound that he was able to produce!” he said. “From there, I had to pick up a lot of missing pieces to my playing, but with a lot of hard work I made it to where I am today.”
In the spring of 2013, Poffenberger received his undergraduate degree in music education from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He also auditioned at several schools to pursue a Master of Music in saxophone performance.
Following the audition process, he was then accepted to Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music and began attending in the 2013 fall semester. Upon acceptance at YSU he was also awarded a graduate assistantship in the jazz department and is projected to graduate in the 2015 spring semester.
Working with nationally recognized teachers such as James Umble, saxophone professor, and Stephen Gage, YSU’s director of bands, has had a tremendous impact on his life.
“Wilson is a great young player — a first-year master’s student who is such a hard worker. He has a beautiful sound, a tremendous work ethic and is a very strong player who adds so much to our school and ensembles that he participates in,” Umble said.
Poffenberger has recorded several times with different ensembles at his undergraduate school, which has resulted in him being featured as a soloist on recordings in both a wind ensemble and a jazz ensemble.
He has also been a finalist in a few regional orchestra concerto competitions, as well as a few competitions at his undergraduate institution, and was recently selected to be one of 25 semi-finalists from the 120 students nationwide who submitted recordings of their playing for the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference at The University of Illinois.
“Through the course of this academic year, my respect and admiration for Wilson has grown. He is an outstanding performer, a confident and respected leader and a very professional and thoughtful young man,” Gage said. “As I have the privilege of hearing him play four days per week in our top concert group, I am not surprised at his being able to advance to the semi-final round of this prestigious saxophone competition.”
The three-round competition, hosted by the North American Saxophone Alliance, takes place every two years and is open to saxophonists between the ages of 18 and 26. This year’s competition will take place on March 21.
“The thought of going to Illinois in March is still surreal,” Poffenberger said. “I never imagined that I would be going to play at a national convention, competing in a national competition. I was mainly using it as a vehicle for goals, giving me something to work toward.”
Poffenberger’s submitted recording serves as only the first round of the competition. The live semi-final round consists of two more required pieces and 10 more minutes of music.
In addition to being prepared for the semifinal round, Poffenberger must be prepared for the final round, which takes place the next day at the convention. Only six players are chosen for the final round, which requires two more pieces and 20 more minutes of music.
“The entire Dana School of Music and university should be proud of Wilson’s achievement in progressing to the live semifinal round!” Umble said. “I know I am. We are all rooting for him, and he is playing beautifully.”
Preparing for all the music for the competition has pushed Poffenberger to a new level in his playing and has taught him to manage his time with such a big workload.
“I owe a good bit of my efforts to Dr. Umble. He’s showed so many new techniques on how to practice efficiently and get the most out of preparations,” Poffenberger said. “I’m thankful for the many people in my life that have pushed me to work hard: my family’s constant support, all my private teachers who have pushed me to new heights and my girlfriend — I can’t thank her enough for her support and teachings.”
After graduating, Poffenberger plans to take a year off from school, practice a lot and build a private studio. He said he hopes to eventually study in France or pursue a doctorate in performance and place an emphasis on becoming a great teacher of saxophone.
“I want to share the magic that has been captivating me for the past 10 years,” Poffenberger said. “Saxophone is my life.”