Until the end of the spring semester, Canvas will profile a student from every artistic academic program at UNC each week — from dramatic art to creative writing to photojournalism.
In the third installment of the series, staff writer Robert McNeely profiled senior music and public policy major Brian Braytenbah.
After numerous accolades, years of practice and near constant adulation from his fellow musicians, senior Brian Braytenbah said he feels grateful for his opportunities.
Since first picking up a saxophone in third grade, Braytenbah has accrued a vast array of musical knowledge, netting him a place as one of the UNC music department’s most decorated students.
“I just really felt connected with the sax,” Braytenbah said. “I started off on the alto sax in middle school and then picked up the bari. I played somewhat in high school, but when I came (to UNC) I just really fell in love with the bari sax.”
Braytenbah is ended his final semester with a senior jazz recital Saturday. The performance featured a diversity of music, all written and composed by baritone saxophonists.
“It’s a very specific theme, so it’s really going to be a lot of music people haven’t heard before,” he said. “They’ll be sax quartets, quintets, lots of variety. It’s going to really be a lot of fun to put on.”
Braytenbah’s motivation and humility about his work have brought him high praise from friends and faculty alike. Professor Jim Ketch, director of jazz studies, describes Braytenbah as one of his most promising students.
“He’s a joy to work with,” Ketch said. “Very bright, very motivated, ambitious — he’s one of the rare students who’s just done everything.”
Ketch said Braytenbah has really focused on the modern style of jazz improvisation for the baritone sax, and that he’s become a professional player in his time with UNC’s Jazz Ensemble.
Ketch has even used Braytenbah as a player in his big-band orchestra, where he said Braytenbah holds his own playing with 40- to 50-year-old professionals.
“I’ve been at UNC for 37 years, and he is by far the best player on (the baritone sax) that I’ve ever had,” Ketch said.
“People view him as a leader, and as one of the knowledge sources. And he does it all with such humility. You’d never know he was nearly as good as he is from talking to him.”
In his time in the UNC music community, Braytenbah has won numerous awards, including recently becoming the first recipient of an award for jazz studies research.
“Kids our age are not always the best organizers, but Brian is extremely dependable and always extremely well prepared,” Sean Olson, senior music major and classmate said.
Olson has known Braytenbah since their freshman year and has worked with him through the music department during their time together at UNC.
“He’s just such an enjoyable, easy-going guy to be around, besides just being an excellent saxophone player,” Olson said. “Above all, he appreciates what he’s gotten out of this school and so he gives back. There’s no ego with him. He just wants to do what’s right.”
Braytenbah plans to travel to New Jersey after graduation as part of the Teach for America program, where he will be pursuing his passion of working with children and teaching music.
“I’ve had so many great teachers over the years and I remember how awesome it was to learn from them,” Braytenbah said. “I’m really grateful to all the music professors here who have just spent hours and hours outside of rehearsal helping. They’ve been a real inspiration.”
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