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Music in the Streets

Some Christmas traditions never go out of style. Each year, you'll find the customary trees, people shopping for presents and carolers strolling along neighborhood streets.

Take a look at these traditions, though, and you'll notice some changes. Now you can display an upside-down tree on your wall. You can sit in the comfort of your own home and buy presents online. And instead of singing Christmas carols, you can now play one. And no, you don't need to play an instrument, just a boombox.

Tucson's first boombox Christmas parade is being organized by concert saxophonist and UA instructor Brian Sacawa. At 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, Sacawa will lead a chorus of "boombox carolers" through the streets of Tucson. Each boombox will be playing New York composer Phil Kline's "Unsilent Night."

Here's how it works: There are four separate tracks to "Unsilent Night." Sacawa has placed the tracks on CDs and cassettes. Each CD or cassette will contain one track of the piece. Sacawa is distributing the CDs and cassettes at no charge to those who RSVP to brian@briansacawa.com or call 820-7740. (Respond no later than the end of day Saturday, Dec. 17, and indicate your preference for CD or cassette.)

All participants are to bring their respective boomboxes and CDs or cassettes to the UA Old Main Gate (near Centennial Hall) at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18. At the given signal, participants will press play simultaneously and begin walking down University Boulevard. With each boombox playing a part of "Unsilent Night," it will create an outdoor stereo system. Participants will then take a left on Fourth Avenue, walk down one direction and then back up. The end of the piece will be played at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard. The length of the piece is 43 minutes; the route taken by carolers is less than one mile.

"Unsilent Night" is considered an outdoor ambient music piece for an infinite number of boomboxes. It is atmospheric music with bells, synthesizers and string sounds. "The bell sounds and chimes give it that Christmas flavor," says Sacawa. "It's very pretty. It's very calming and has a holiday feel."

Kline composed "Unsilent Night" because he wanted to have a Christmas party. He explains the creation of the piece at cantaloupemusic.com: "I produced a multichannel tape, recorded the separate strands of the music onto cassettes, got a few dozen friends with boomboxes together and gave them each a cassette. We started them all at once and walked around the village (in Manhattan), creating a block-long stereo image for an audience which consisted of us and whoever happened to be passing by. It was one of those experiments that worked beyond expectation."

Sacawa says Kline is considered a New York downtown composer and defines these composers as "people who embrace pop music and improvisation for inspiration for their composed music. The music is not bound by classical rigor or classical conventions. It bridges the gap between traditional composed music and pop music styles. ... Kline is interested in working in nontraditional mediums in terms of composed music. The method of where and how it's delivered is different."

"Unsilent Night" has been performed on the streets of New York since 1992. With performances in cities including Philadelphia, Tallahassee, San Diego, San Francisco, Vancouver and Middlesbrough, England, Sacawa wanted to bring this holiday event to Tucson.

"I am always searching around for what's going on," he says. "It caught my eye. I saw it was possible to host this event. ... I thought it was an interesting concept and would be a neat thing to do--to get people to participate in something they've never done before. This kind of thing creates a communal vibe. Anyone can participate. That's what's exciting about it."

Part of Sacawa's passion for bringing "Unsilent Night" to Tucson is his interest in having people hear music he is passionate about. "Part of my mission is to bring composed music to a wider audience," he says.

As a concert saxophonist and UA instructor, Sacawa divides his time between performing and teaching. Although he plays the soprano, baritone and tenor saxophones, the alto sax is his main instrument. He started playing the instrument at age 8 and later received degrees in music: a bachelor's in music performance from the University of Massachusetts, a graduate performance diploma from the Peabody Conservatory and a master's degree in saxophone performance from the University of Michigan. Sacawa is finishing his doctorate in saxophone performance from the University of Michigan. Baltimore's alternative newsweekly, City Paper, named him 2002 Critic's Choice for Classical Music.

Teaching at the UA is Sacawa's first teaching job. He teaches saxophone technique classes, coaches saxophone quartets, conducts master saxophone classes and offers private lessons. Sacawa also maintains a performance schedule, playing between 20 and 30 concerts per year. His upcoming performances are listed at briansacawa.com.

Besides performing and teaching, Sacawa seeks to create a Tucson holiday tradition with the boombox parade. He hopes people will show up with a cheery holiday attitude and invites everyone to participate. With free holiday music in the streets, even grinches will have something to smile about.

More by Irene Messina

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