Students Rising AboveBy Elizabeth Cook

by Jennifer Mistrot and Elizabeth Cook

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — For many of us, the pandemic has been an incredibly stressful time, and for some young people missed opportunities like graduation and time with friends have added to their collective heartache.

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But for Mason Phoenix, this time has also been an opportunity to reflect on what’s important, and for Phoenix playing the saxophone is key to his happiness.

Phoenix says he misses the high notes of playing his beloved sax in-person with friends.

“It’s just a great performative instrument, you know? When I played I can’t explain it but it just kind of pulls me in,” said Phoenix. “I was always musical but it took a while to find the right instrument.”

After Phoenix tried the drums and violin, he found the sax and YouTube. Phoenix used the on-line site to teach himself how to play, watching hours of instructional videos.

“I learned on YouTube,” recalled Phoenix. “YouTube was starting to get big, you know this was like in 6th grade. So I just kind of mimicked what they did on screen and just keep doing that.”

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By the time he started at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Phoenix was hooked.

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“It’s just the most creative music you could play,” explained Phoenix. “It teaches you to break traditional music rules.”

It’s a musical metaphor Phoenix says plays into his own life story.

“I feel like most of my life isn’t planned out,” said Phoenix. “I had to improvise. You know like when an opportunity comes, I just had to I guess just go with it.”

And he has, first during high school when Phoenix and his siblings were raised by their single mom and money was tight.

“I just live with my mom and my three sisters,” shared Phoenix. “And you know, in high school she worked multiple jobs. It was hard but she always wanted my sisters and I to excel academically. She always pushed on us to go to college and be the best we can be.”

Now Phoenix is a rising sophomore at Bowdoin College in Maine studying computer science. He also interned over the summer at a private equity firm in New York City and he continues to study Mandarin, a language he has nearly mastered. All big accomplishments with the stress to match. Both are familiar to Phoenix.

“I remember in high school it was pretty stressful,” recalled Phoenix. “College applications, and just extracurricular and all my involvements, and what I liked about the saxophone is that it didn’t feel like practicing. It didn’t feel like a chore.”

So now Phoenix leans into his music, and posts his own videos to YouTube that he and friends have made during the pandemic, with hopes that his playing hits a high note for others who may also need their own encouragement.

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” I feel like it wasn’t easy learning, you know,” said Phoenix. “It took a lot of effort but I feel like if you actually love playing it, even if you are not that good now just keep playing, you know like if your passionate about something. Then eventually out will come to you. So just keep going.”

Elizabeth Cook