Roger Birkeland completed a bachelor of music degree at the University of Northern Iowa and the master of music degree in saxophone performance at Northwestern University, where he was a student of the internationally known saxophone virtuoso Frederick Hemke. Birkeland has performed as orchestral saxophonist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Lyric Opera, and as saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Grant Park Orchestra.
As tenor saxophonist for 15 years with the Chicago Saxophone Quartet, he performed throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Italy. He has also appeared as soloist throughout Serbia. Specializing also in other woodwinds, Birkeland has performed in the orchestra pit of nearly every theatre in the Chicago area, playing several thousand performances of musicals such as West Side Story, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Hello Dolly, Mame, Oklahoma!, Sweet Charity, Dreamgirls, Annie, Nunsense, Brigadoon, La Cage Aux Folles, Cabaret, Gypsy, Grand Hotel, Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, Little Shop of Horrors, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, The Phantom of the Opera and Show Boat.
He has performed with jazz artists Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, Bill Watrous, Rufus Reid and Marcus Roberts, as well as with Lou Rawls, Mel Torme, Crystal Gayle, Engelbert Humperdink, The Mills Brothers, Red Skelton and The Lettermen. He has performed many times with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Band.
Birkeland has taught saxophone at Elmhurst College since 1978. From 1987 to 1994 he served on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago, teaching saxophone and music theory. His students have been winners of many concerto competitions, including those of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. Many of his high school students have been selected for Illinois All State Honor Band, including several who have been first chair.