Justin Polyblank '09, along with fellow members of the Barkada Saxophone Quartet, won the prestigious Grand Prize at the 2012 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, May 11–13.
Third from left, Justin Polyblank '09, baritone saxophonist, with fellow members of the Barkada Quartet
Fischoff is the world's premier chamber music competition, with 48 professional and college ensembles from many countries participating.
Ensembles are required to give several performances over the competition weekend. To earn the Grand Prize, Barkada won the Wind Division and then competed against the String Division and won.
Barkada also won the Gold Medal in the Senior Wind Division.
Polyblank plays baritone saxophone in the quartet, which includes Christopher Elchico on soprano sax, Marti Comas on alto sax, and Steven Lawhon on tenor sax.
Polyblank notes that barkada is a word in Tagalog that means "a group of friends" or "a form of family." He believes the friendship between the ensemble members is what sets their music apart.
"After speaking with many of the judges, it seems as though our friendship and musical confidence allowed us to really open ourselves up in terms of visual emotion while we performed," he notes. "The way we communicated with one another using facial expression and other physical movements must have really heightened the sense of music to both the jurors and the audience."
He says Barkada, which is based at Indiana University Bloomington, has also benefited from music professor Otis Murphy's "sincere care for exploring the subtleties and extremes of the music and our instruments."
Winning the Fischoff "is absolutely a dream come true," Polyblank says. "I played in groups that participated in this competition before, and until now, I have never gone further than quarterfinals. It was my goal to perhaps just make it one round deeper, but to have won the whole competition is absolutely astonishing.
"At least for Chris Elchico and me, establishing a professional chamber group after graduation was a goal. We never dreamed it would become a reality so soon. Literally, by having won this competition we are now a professional group."
Polyblank graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in May with two master's degrees in music performance, classical sax and jazz studies, and intended to move to Los Angeles, but he says winning the Fischoff has changed his plans.
"Now, I'm going to stay in Bloomington with the quartet and see where this can take us. I'm very excited. With a lot of hard work, who knows what we will be able to do with this amazing accomplishment."
Polyblank earned his bachelor's degree in music education and was a member of the Honors Band at IUP.
In addition to receiving over $10,000 in a cash prize, Barkada will participate in the Fischoff Winner's Tour of the Midwest in October and will perform at the Emilia Romagna Festival in Italy in 2013.
"Jazz Crimes" performed by Justin Polyblank and the 2010 All American College Band (video)
"Two By Two" - Composed and Arranged by Max Maples (video)
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Barkada Quartet photo by Josef Samuel and courtesy of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Association