Sac State music professor?s expertise inspires students

Leia Ostermann

Some professors practice their trade, others just teach. Keith Bohm, professor of music at Sacramento State, plays the dual role of musician and educator.

As a soloist, Bohm has performed in recitals across the United States and toured through Europe. As an educator, Bohm has taught master-classes, lectures and music theory, saxophone and music education at elementary schools, high schools, community centers, summer camps and universities like Sac State.

“You have to be doing what you are teaching; otherwise you aren’t keeping up, especially as a music teacher. You have to be playing at the highest level. My goal is to inspire my students,” Bohm said.

Bohm inspired his student, Marlon Ramirez, senior music performance and composition major. Marlon spoke of Bohm’s virtuosity, the fluent skill and style, exhibited in his instruction to the saxophone quartet.

Ramirez spoke of a rehearsal in which all four members of the quartet were struggling with their parts. Ramirez recalls when Bohm said, “Playing this difficult technique is not hard, you just have to have rhythm.”

After his students argued that the technique was more than just keeping time, Bohm pulled out his own saxophone, transposing and playing all four of their parts on the spot.

“That’s when I knew he probably knows something about sax,” Ramirez said.

According to Bohm, everything in life has an opportunity to teach or an opportunity to perform. John Cozza, the staff accompanist and music teacher who works closely with Bohm, said his students get the kind of teacher that really loves profession.

“He has his heart fully in both fields, studio teaching and stage performance,” Cozza said. “He is a fine teacher and a really good colleague.”

Bohm and Cozza are performing a recital tonight at Sac State in Capistrano Hall at 8:00 p.m. for their students and the community.

Ramirez said he is looking forward to seeing his teacher perform on a professional and virtuosic level.

“He is a standard of performance excellence. You aren’t as great as he is, but you are always striving for that excellence,” Ramirez said. “He is probably practicing right now – he practices almost two and a half hours a day.”

Cozza said Bohm is always prepared for every rehearsal. Even after devoting his life to perfecting the piano, Cozza said he can barely keep up with the tricky repertoire of the saxophone and the control, color and dynamics characteristic of Bohm.

Rich, chocolate, velvet, dark, these were the words Bohm used to describe the tone of his saxophone technique. It affects the listener to hear the beauty that Bohm weaves into classical music, different from the bright and jazzy style of contemporary artists, Cozza said. Despite the compliments of being named a virtuoso by publications such as the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Classical Voice, Bohm humbly said he thinks of himself as a student of his art.

“He can make whatever sound he wants come out of the sax,” Cozza said.

Bohm said he is the solo classical saxophone player in this area, unknown by the community and having to prove himself worthy in the world of classical music. The saxophone is considered the black sheep of the musical world, Bohm said, but he performs out of the love of music and the lifestyle of music.

“No matter what kind of day you have, the minute you start playing, it changes your mood completely,” Bohm said.

Bohm said he began learning the saxophone in the fifth-grade. Both of his parents were instrumentalists, accordion and trombone musicians, but neither pushed him towards the stage. Instead, he said they gifted him with the passion for music and the self-will to pursue it.

Bohm considered himself lucky in high school for the opportunities he had to join over four bands, choirs and orchestras in order to grow in musical theory and performance. These included chamber music, vocal jazz, jazz band and choir.

Bohm said he was a well-rounded student, also participating in sports and academic activities. It was the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet from Lörrach, Germany that inspired Bohm to switch from a practical business major into a full-time musician.

Bohm said he first heard the sound of the German Rashchèr Quartet at Sac State’s New American Music Festival, which he now co-directs. After seeing that a saxophone could adopt so many versatile sounds, Bohm earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance from Sac State.

Additionally, the Rashchèr Quartet motivated Bohm to move to Germany for six months, taking four private lessons a week with each instrumentalist in the Rashchèr Quartet. Bohm said this gave him opportunity to perform abroad with some of the most renowned saxophone musicians.

After moving back to the United States, Bohm received a master’s degree in music performance from the University of Southern Mississippi and received a doctorate in musical arts in performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.

After his education, Bohm toured around the United States for two years, sharing his passion.

Bohm has continued to pursue this passion at Sac State for the last ten years, this time as a professor. Bohm teaches many styles of music education, but the German methodology which encourages improvisation is his favorite.

Bohm holds his students to a high standard, Ramirez said, and they trust his because of his impeccable technique.

“He makes sounds come from the sax that we can only dream of,” Ramirez said.

Bohm said that it is hard to draw the line between the constructive criticism of student’s music and being an encouraging influence.

One way that Bohm does this is to have a high standard of air, articulation and phrasing, and yet be inspiring and positive.

“Leave your dramas at the door,” said Bohm, “and let the character of the music take you into a new place.”

Bohm said he loves when a student becomes an artist because it humbles him. But it can also be sad when a talent student does not practice, Bohm said.

“I give (my students) my heart and soul in every lesson. But if you aren’t self-motivated, you aren’t going to make it, not in anything in life,” Bohm said.

Bohm said his passion is to perform, not as an entertainer, but as an artist. This concert with John Cozza tonight is a connection between two talented music teachers, Bohm said. Not one person is in control, Cozza said, but we will instead let the music lead us back and forth.

“We are creating art. Creating an atmosphere. Playing one piece that pushed the audience and gets them thinking. Tonal and atonal. Tension and release,” Bohm said.

Bohm is not only a performer and a teacher, but he is also always looking for ways to grow in his own art.

“You always have to be learning. You never stop being a student in life. No matter how good of an instrumentalist you are,” Bohm said.

Leia Ostermann can be reached at [email protected]