The Full Story
Houston Underground began in 2008 as an opportunity for saxophone students to perform quartet literature at the end of the school year. Saxophonist Dan Gelok founded the competition after realizing that the typical high school student spends only a small amount of time each year on chamber music. Since its inception 13 years ago, Houston Underground has become a massive event, featuring student performers from all over Texas and professional saxophonists from all over the country. The competition annually attracts hundreds of competitors, dozens of exhibitors, and multiple internationally-recognized professional saxophonists who serve as judicial panels for the event. From 2010-2019, HUSC was hosted at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.
Since 2014 the event has featured three separate competitions; quartet contests for high school and junior high competitors, and a high school solo competition. The solo competition frequently contains upper-level standard repertoire and requires each contestant to perform at least one work from a required list, which maintains a standard of playing equal to that of an undergraduate music major. In a typical year, 70+ soloists and 40+ quartets compete. Performers are required to work with a pianist, giving them an opportunity to perform in a professional setting.
In 2018, due to a large number of applicants, the solo contest was split into two rounds, with a newly-composed sight-reading piece specially created and included for the final round. Similarly, the quartet competition is filled with repertoire suitable to collegiate and professional groups, and prizewinners are frequently praised as operating above the level of many college quartets.
A large number of HUSC participants have entered music performance and education as their fields of choice, pursuing degrees at dozens of universities around the country. The resulting influence of the competition has raised the standard of saxophone playing throughout Texas and the United States.
In light of the COVID-19 health crisis in 2020, we created a brand-new and entirely virtual online solo competition. The purpose of this contest was two-fold: first, to provide saxophonists with a goal to work toward while at home in quarantine, and secondly, to provide additional support to the dozens of saxophone teachers who rely solely on teaching lessons for their livelihood. Each applicant was required to submit two videos and take at least one private lesson since March. The virtual competition was a complete success. We received 90+ applicants and our first ever international participants!
In 2021, Director Dan Gelok announced that he would be stepping back from his HUSC duties and a new board would be created to manage the competition. Today, former University of Houston graduate and Houston Underground manager, Grace Estrada acts as Executive Director for the competition.
As we continue to move forward past the difficulties of the pandemic as well as management changes, our goal continues to be the same: to encourage young saxophonists to achieve a high level of musicianship in a competitive and equally friendly environment. In 2022, we will be back to an in-person, live competition.