Friday, May 26, 2023
Jichen Zhang
Jichen Zhang celebrating graduation

Embarking on a musical journey at the age of seven as a choir singer, Jichen Zhang, from Weihai, China, explored various instruments, including trombone, guitar, voice, and the Chinese bamboo flute. At 13, Zhang started learning the saxophone, which ended up being the area where he earned a doctoral degree from the University of Iowa (UI) in 2023.  

The driving force behind Zhang's decision to pursue his doctoral studies at Iowa was the opportunity to study under the esteemed Dr. Kenneth Tse, a renowned classical saxophonist.  

“Like many young saxophone players, I aspired to study with Dr. Tse, whom I considered a world-class saxophone virtuoso,” said Zhang.  

At Iowa, Zhang took advantage of the abundant resources and programs offered to students. He greatly appreciated the exceptional faculty team and facilities available to music students, including state-of-the-art practice rooms, world-class recital and concert halls, and top-notch recording equipment. These resources played a crucial role in enabling him to release numerous music productions.  

“I have to say that the UI has the best resources for students,” exclaimed Zhang. “The academic setting of the School of Music is also worthy of praise. I love that it offers the ‘recording project’ option where Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) students can record their musical works as an alternative to the traditional dissertation. This really increased my motivation, enthusiasm, and creativity. I think this is the result of long and deep deliberation of every faculty member, which confirm that the faculty at Iowa really take their students into consideration.” 

Zhang also held the Iowa Saxophonists’ Workshop in high regard. According to him, within the studio under the guidance of Dr. Tse, everyone was so accommodating, always helpful, modest, hardworking, and aspirant. 

“Iowa is the place to make dreams come true.”

“We always respect and encourage each other,” said Zhang. “This healthy and positive environment really helped and cultivated me and other students along the way! I feel so grateful to be a member of this family.” 

Jichen Zhang performing with UI Symphony Orchestra
Jichen Zhang performing with the UI Symphony Orchestra

Reflecting on his time at Iowa, Zhang recalled the spring semester of 2022 as his favorite memory, despite the challenges. Amidst multiple national and regional competitions, a live concerto winning performance with the UI Symphony Orchestra, the proposal defense of his DMA recording project, comprehensive exams, and various other commitments, Zhang persevered and emerged stronger, more resilient, and more patient. The demanding semester cultivated essential skills necessary for thriving in high-pressure situations, setting a solid foundation for future endeavors.  

As a result, Zhang was selected as one of Slingshot's 2023 Artists to Watch by National Public Radio (NPR) in addition to winning several competitions. Zhang recognized that these achievements not only represented his personal accomplishments, but also reflected positively on UI students and the Chinese student body. 

Earlier this year, Zhang accepted a faculty position at the North University of China. 

“Iowa is the place to make dreams come true,” reflected Zhang. “Being a college saxophone professor has always been my long-term goal and I’m excited to start at North University of China.”  


International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.