In the studio, Bai (Alice) Xue is the conscientious student, anxious to improve her trumpet playing. Adjunct lecturer Benjamin Aldridge is her instructor, and they meet every Monday for a lesson.
They also meet once a week in a comic that Xue creates and gives to Aldridge. In the comic, each based on the previous week’s lesson, he is the straight man to her eager-to-please, easy-to-cry, cartoon heroine.
Xue found plenty of material in her first lesson with Aldridge.
“He’s this really strict, professional, traditional type of professor who doesn’t bond with his students,” she says. “At first I’m really nervous and tense in his presence. I would ask him, ‘Do you have kids?’ He would say, ‘Let’s go back to the music.’”
She captured the essence of that first lesson, laced it with humor and gave Aldridge his first cartoon, titled “My First Trumpet Lesson with Professor Benjamin Aldridge.”
“If this doesn’t move him, what else will?” she asked.
“She’s irrepressible,” says Aldridge, who now has a collection of the comics in which he plays a starring role. “I’m surprised and impressed at the work she does and the time she puts in and how well done they are.”
Is he the tyrant of the trumpet that she portrays him to be?
“That’s done for the maximum effect of the comic,” he says. “I don’t see myself as a task master, I just like to keep students moving forward.”
Xue is not a trained cartoonist; she doesn’t take art classes. But her comics, while spare in style, are rich in wit and comic timing. The story lines are based on her experiences, she says, but are not always factual. “Art is exaggerating life to the maximum, but in a good way,” she says.
“I’ve been giving comic books to teachers forever,” Xue says (plus copies to mom in Shanghai). She gave them to her professors at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, where she earned a business degree.
When Xue decided to follow her heart and become a musician, she created her personal statement as a comic and used it in her application. She is now 22 and a freshman in music performance, an experience most recently chronicled in “My Seventeenth Trumpet Lesson with Benjamin Aldridge.”
See Alice’s cartoons on her Facebook page. Look under photos.