Saxophone professor, student share special bond

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by Sadie Aram and Sarah Eccleston

David Pope Dylan Royal LEAD

SUMMARY: For Dylan Royal, a self-taught musician, JMU was financially out of reach until saxophone professor David Pope stepped in to help.

For most Dukes, the relationship with their instructor starts on the first day of class. But for one JMU saxophone player, it began four years before he arrived on campus.

Dylan Royal, a Music Education major, went to Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway, Virginia. He met professor David Pope in a master class at one of JMU’s summer band camps. After the class, his heart was set on attending JMU.

Pope saw “fantastic” videos on social media of Royal playing saxophone and was amazed that he had no access to a private teacher — he had learned to play solely from watching video tutorials on the internet.

“I taught myself saxophone by simply listening to professional players like Steven Banks, Otis Murphy and other greats through platforms like Instagram and YouTube,” Royal said.

Royal connected with Pope’s students, who tutored him online for free, further improving his saxophone skills.

“We all recognized very quickly that Dylan was someone we wanted to see at JMU,” Pope said.

David Pope Dylan Royal QUAD
Dylan Royal received two scholarships that afforded him the opportunity to study Music Education at JMU. “Having a student like Dylan elevates our whole music program,” his saxophone professor said. 

Although JMU was Royal’s dream school, it was financially out of reach for him and his family. When Pope became aware of this, he knew he had to find a way to bring Royal to JMU. 

“Losing Dylan to another university would be devastating,” Pope said. “No child should have to pick their college based on money alone.”

At the last minute, Pope was able to find a pair of scholarships — the Madison Award for Academic Excellence and the Patsy M. Clarke Scholarship — giving him the opportunity to study Music Education at JMU. 

“JMU’s music program has to be one of the best in Virginia,” Royal said. ”When you come here as a music major, your level of musicianship will improve drastically.”

Pope and Royal worked together to prepare a duet, Royal Duke Tango Fantasy, which they premiered at the 2022 Stewardship Luncheon. Pope said the piece, which he composed, is just one of the many ways professors collaborate with students. 

“Having a student like Dylan elevates our whole music program,” Pope said.

For Royal, Pope’s influence goes way beyond the classroom.

“He teaches us about so much more than music. He listens to us when we need to talk, and he sets an example for how to be good people,” Royal said. “He wants us to be great musicians but even better people.”

Royal joined the Wind Symphony, Jazz Band, the Marching Royal Dukes and the top saxophone quartet — all in his first year at JMU. 

Royal’s favorite part of being a Music major is the community, and that anyone in the music school would support him no matter what. Not only has JMU given Royal a place to grow as a musician, but he has also made friends who have pushed him to work harder than he could have imagined. 

Once Royal completes his undergraduate studies, he plans to further his education with the goal of becoming a saxophone professor like Pope.

“Now that I am studying at JMU, I am truly living my dream,” Royal said.


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Published: Friday, December 23, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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