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Arvind Mallikarjunan plays the saxophone.
Saxophonist Arvind Mallikarjunan in rehearsal with the UNC Wind Ensemble on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

Last semester, Arvind Mallikarjunan came to a realization.

The UNC senior, double majoring in Music and Exercise and Sports Science, was in the process of working on a piece for saxophone that he planned to use to audition for the UNC Symphony Orchestra’s Annual Concerto Competition. If selected, he’d get the opportunity to play with the Symphony Orchestra in a late February concert.

But then, in the thick of a semester in which he was taking some of his most challenging science courses — Organic Chemistry II, Physiology of the Human Body and Neuromuscular Control — it struck him that he didn’t have the time to fully prepare the piece for the quickly approaching fall audition.

Another piece came to mind, though — one he’d been working on for almost a year. The piece was Juilliard professor Eric Ewazen’s “Fantasia.” It was then that he knew he would use that 10-minute selection, which he played on his saxophone, to audition in February for the 2019 UNC Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition. Nearly two months after winning the competition, Mallikarjunan performed the solo piece with the UNC Wind Ensemble in their spring concert with the UNC Symphony Band and University Band on Tuesday, April 16.

Mallikarjunan is a co-first-chair saxophonist in the UNC Wind Ensemble, as well as a member of UNC Jazz Band. So, he’ll be performing with a group he’s already familiar with. But he says the preparation to be at the front of the stage as a soloist, rather than seated with the group, has been different.

“I’m having to play a lot louder and projecting a lot more than I’m used to,” he said. “So, there’s the physical exhaustion that we’re not normally used to … It’s also a lot about trusting yourself. This game is really mental — to believe that your interpretation of the music or what you want is good enough to be in front of the whole band.”

UNC Wind Ensemble director Evan Feldman has continued to give Mallikarjunan the same advice throughout his preparation. Mallikarjunan says Feldman has enabled him with the confidence to lead the group by telling him, “Just do what you want to do. I’ll follow you.”

Mallikarjunan continued to gain confidence through rehearsals, which occur every two days. But as he prepared for the performance, he didn’t want to over practice a piece that he’s gotten to know well over the past year.

“Now, I want to focus on making the music and following the band,” Mallikarjunan said. “And so, if I focus too much on the technicalities, I’ll miss that … And in a way, if I miss a couple of notes, I’d rather do that than miss communicating with the band and working with the band as much as I could.”

In a way, Mallikarjunan’s non-music pursuits — which contribute to an already busy schedule — led him to select the piece that will allow him to have a 10-minute spotlight in April’s concert. And Feldman makes sure not to overlook this when praising the concerto winner.

“He’s got a great musical mind; he’s got a very thoughtful way of approaching things,” Feldman said. “Music is not his only interest … (But) the music is something he’s kept seriously, which is kind of the poster child and the best way to (show) what a Carolina student does.


By Parth Updahyaya for the UNC music department

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