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The Pit Report: Annie, 2020

Where to begin? What a great experience this has been! This was the first time I’ve been involved in a musical since doing Cinderella back home in Biggar in 2008; my 8th consecutive production with the New Creations Community Players. I knew I missed doing it, but I didn’t realize how much. 

The Journey: (Not So) Easy Street

It was 3 or 4 years ago when I decided to start working on my doubles so I could get work in pit orchestras. I knew that once I was ready to start playing, I’d have to do some volunteering first to both get the experience and to get the word out that I was doing this. However, living in Saskatoon at the time, there’s enough people wanting to do it that you have to audition to volunteer your time just to be rejected. I did this a few times and was never successful in the auditions, but I kept working. When we moved to Yorkton this past summer, I started to hear about an upcoming production in Langenburg. I met some of the people involved, including some people playing in the orchestra, and I decided to get in touch and see if they’d have me. Since I didn’t know these people, I decided to use a bit of the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach.

In my initial contact with the Musical Director (MD) I simply said, “I play saxophones, clarinets, and a bit of flute.” Not an outright lie, but my clarinet playing was still work in progress and, well, saying I play even a bit of flute is somewhat generous. After a few e-mails back and forth, she sent me Reed 3 which I knew from some research contained clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax, but I didn’t know how much of each. Well, there was A LOT of clarinet. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, but I was sure as hell going to try. I spent hours working on the clarinet parts and had to learn several new things. I had to get really comfortable with both the right and left hand pinky keys, I had to learn new trill fingerings, and notes a major 4th higher than what I already know. 

The highest note I had to learn on clarinet

Did I get it to 100%? No. Did I get it in the 90-95% range? I think so. Either way, I’m happy with it. Not only for the work I put in, the things I learned, and the progress I made, but also for learning what I need to work on next, and that is just as valuable. 

The People: I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here

One of the greatest parts about working on a musical is always the people you meet. Most of the other members of the orchestra, Tom, Dean, Graham, and Gerry, I was already aquatinted with as we all play with the Yorkton Community Band, so it was great to get to know these people better. The two people I didn’t know, Shannon (MD) and Kevin, were also both fantastic to work with, very welcoming, and great players. However, the person I enjoyed having in the pit the most was my wife, Chelsea. I sort of had to talk her into doing this show as she is busy enough as it is, but I’m so glad she did it. I loved not only getting the chance to play with her again, but the time spent together practicing at home and having Broadway sing-a-longs on the drive to and from Langenburg for each rehearsal and show. I really hope we get a chance to do more of this together.

The Orchestra (left to right): Jerry Lisitza, Graham Gilmore, Dean Printz, Tom Hearn, Shannon McIntyre (MD), me, Chelsea Holt, Kevin Dyck

As for the rest of the cast and crew, I didn’t get a whole lot of opporunity to get to know them. That being said, I had some brief conversations with a few people and connected with some on social media, so I hope to get to know them a little better, perhaps turn some acquaintances into friends, and get the chance to work with them again in the future. Most importantly, I need to say what a fantastic job everyone did! There was a lot of great work being done on the stage, but the one person from the cast I want to give a shout out to is Chelsea Farmer who played the role of Annie. The role of Annie is (obviously) huge and she rocked it. I’d also like give a shoutout to the director, Patti, and producer, Jill, for putting together such an amazing show!

The Lessons: I Don’t Need Anything But You

I honestly feel that the day I come out of any type of performance and haven’t learned anything then it’s time to hang it up, so I look for lessons in every single show. In the case of something like a musical where between dress rehearsal and performances we ran it six times this week, there is something to be learned in the day to day. I left every run knowing what I could practice at home to be better tomorrow.

I also learned about the work ahead of me to take me to my next show. As a woodwind doubler you’re expected to play everything. That includes saxophones, clarinets, flutes, oboe, english horn, bassoon, recorders, penny whistles, tin whistles, and just about anything else you don’t need to buzz your lips to make a sound on. Specifically though, I have a better idea of where my clarinet playing is at and, therefore, what I need to work on. Despite knowing that I still have a lot to learn, I’m looking for the next opportunity to do a musical as soon as possible, because I really learned how hard I work when there is a specific project with a specific deadline.

Photo by the Four Town Journal

Finally, I learned how much I love doing this. I’ve done many shows of different types of shows over the years, wearing many different hats including stage roles, lighting, sound, stage hand, stage manager, directing, and orchestra. The orchestra is where I feel the most at home, but that doesn’t mean I’ll leave the rest of it behind. I’ll definitely keep doing stage hand and technical work, and you may even see me in stage roles again one day. Who knows?

Year End: 2018 Edition

Well, here we are at the end of another year! I didn’t write a year end blog post last year because, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a great year and I was feeling a little disgruntled about it. In 2018 some things really came together both musically and personally and I’m feeling excited again, so here we go.

The Quintet

In 2018, we got the full band out twice, trios a few times, and a handful of duo gigs. Though we didn’t play a whole lot this year, the shows we did play included some pretty great ones. The big show of the year for the Quintet was at the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. We played to a great audience at the Nutrien Club Jazz Freestage. We experimented with some new tunes and had a lot of fun doing it. We’re always appreciative of the opportunities that the jazz festival gives us.

With the smaller groups we played some great events, including the City Park Community Association’s Gatsby Night, Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Brunch, Bubbly, and Bling, and our first ever wedding ceremony. 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for the band in all its sizes with three trio gigs and a quintet gig booked in the first four months.

Other Musical Endeavours

I played with a fair amount of other groups in 2018 which is new for me and I had a great time doing it. I had a great year with the Toon Town Big Band, playing our annual shows, including our feature performance at The Broadway Theatre. After university was over, I really missed playing in a big band, so it’s been great to be back doing it. With the Drew Tofin Band, we were pleased to be invited to our second time playing for the grand opening of a Save On Foods. It is a rather interesting experience when you look out from the stage and directly in front of you is the produce section.

The Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band had a great start to year, but it unfortunately went down hill very quickly. Both Huskies basketball teams were having a great season and ended up with home playoff games, but due to budget issues Huskie Athletics decided to replace us with a DJ. That was just the first road block. Come fall, we were expecting to be back for football season, but they decided to scrap us there as well. Then, come basketball season, we were dropped again. This could mean the end of the Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band, but hopefully not. If it is though, we’ve had a good run and it’s been lots of fun.

Back to happier times! My year is ending in a pretty exciting way. I decided to take a step outside my comfort zone and signed up for Band Swap. For those that don’t know, Band Swap is a charity event where 35 musicians get together, split into 7 bands, and have 24 hours to put together a 20 minute set. This is coming up this Saturday night, December 28th. It’s all for charity so come on out! However, that’s still not the end of my year. I’ll be playing New Years Eve at the Cosmo Seniors Centre in Saskatoon with the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band. This is my first time playing with this group. It’s been a lot of work to get ready for this show, stepping out of my comfort zone again and learning all the tunes by ear and memorizing them, a skill I’ve been wanting to work on, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. Come on out for a Caribbean New Years Eve!

 

Teaching

I’ve had a pretty busy year of teaching. I’m now in my 8th year at the Saskatoon Academy of Music and I’m privileged to have fantastic students and coworkers there. I also have one student who I’ve been teaching in their own house. He’s a great kid and a dedicated student who I have really enjoyed teaching. I’ve also been trying to set up a home studio at our new place out in Rosetown, but have not yet had any students sign up.

This year I really kept busy with teach band clinics, teaching ten in total this year. The number of clinics I’ve been teaching has been growing each year and I really enjoy doing them. I’m very happy to see so many schools doing a second round of clinics in the spring to give their students an extra boost before their year end concerts.

Personal Life

This year brought a big change in my personal life when my wife accepted a job in Rosetown. We immediately decided she would take the job, but we didn’t immediately decide that I would go with her. We both recognized that living in Rosetown would add a major challenge to my pursuit of a career in music. After giving it some thought though, I decided to go with her. The lower cost of living meant that I didn’t need to have a conventional job. The deal was that I would split my time between music, a new work from home, commission only, sales job, and taking care of the house. It’s challenging at times, but so far it’s working and we like it. It’s meant a lot of help from our families though. We didn’t have a place in Rosetown until October 1, but our lease in Saskatoon was up at the end of August, so Chelsea spent September living in Biggar with my parents, and I spent most of September living in Saskatoon with her parents because I was busy with beginner band clinics. Even though we now have a place in Rosetown, I still need to spend a lot of time in Saskatoon which means I’m staying with my in-laws A LOT. I’d really like to thank Chelsea’s parents for supporting me in my pursuit of this career by giving me a place to stay and feeding me while I’m there. It really makes a huge difference in my ability to make this work. I’d also like to thank my parents for giving Chelsea a place to stay in September. It made a huge difference to her by cutting half an hour off her daily commute for that month. I’d especially like to thank Chelsea for giving me this opportunity to chase a dream. It takes a really special person to understand that this is what I really want and to support me on the road there. She recognizes that even though I don’t have a set schedule and I’m not always making money, that this is still my job and that I am working. I am eternally grateful for this.

Thank You

I always wrap these things up by giving thanks. First, to the people who come to my shows and support my dream. It’s always great to play for people you don’t know, but it means so much to see familiar faces in the audience because it tells me that people believe in me. I’d also like to thank all the musicians I’ve work with this past year, particularly Larry Hume, director of the Toon Town Big Band, my good friend Drew Tofin, and Oral Fuentes for giving me the opportunity to play with his band. Last, but certainly not least, I’d be lost without my bandmates, Michael Stankowski, Bryn Becker, Nevin Buehler, and Dylan Smith. I’m thankful to have such talented musicians to work with and I’m grateful to have such a great friend in each and every one of them.

Wrap It Up: Jazz Fest 2018

Another edition of the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival has come and gone. Here in Saskatoon, jazz fest is one of the greatest times of the year. There’s music everywhere and there are people everywhere. It’s not only the kick off to summer in Saskatoon, but it really brings the city to life!

The Shows…

Quite often, jazz fest can feel like it is lacking in real jazz. This was the first year in a long time that I felt like jazz was alive and well at the festival. Two of my favourite shows this year were Austrian jazz group Shake Stew and rising jazz start Kamasi Washington. Two very different shows, but both undeniably jazz and incredibly powerful. Stepping a little out of the jazz world, but only a little were two fantastic shows at The Broadway Theatre. The first, from Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soul-phony followed by the legendary Spanish Harlem Orchestra. I also take in the occasional show that isn’t jazz at all. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider absolutely rocked the main stage on Saturday night and Begonia absolutely slayed the opening spot on the main stage Friday night.

The only show of the festival that I was disappointed by was The Jerry Granelli Band Featuring Robben Ford, Bob Lanzetti, & J Anthony Granelli. Knowing Jerry Granelli only from his playing on the Charlie Brown Christmas Album, I as expecting some classic sounding tunes, though I first got a little worried when on stage with him were two electric guitars and an electric bass. As I read through their bio though I saw that these guys were some pretty serious players; Ford having played with Miles Davis, Lanzetti having played with Snarky Puppy, and A. Granelli having studied with Charlie Hayden. Unfortunaly after the first half of the show was filled with blues rock jam style playing, I left. Don’t get me wrong, they all played great, but those that know me know that I have a very short attention span for the blues.

I also got to see some great shows in Saskatoon bars that I normally try to avoid including Ghost Note, Sons of Kemet, and Red Baraat at The Capitol and Moon Hooch at Amigos. The music of all four of these bands clearly has roots in jazz, but they’re all doing such new and innovative things. It was really refreshing to hear.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a shout out to my friends, and fellow Saskatoon based saxophonists, Rory Lynch, Connor Newton, and Gerard Weber, for putting on fantastic shows with each of their bands.

The Volunteers…

The blood pumping through the veins is each and every one of the hundreds of volunteers. I know how hard these people work because for the last 5 years, I’ve been one of them. The stage mangers/MCs, the drivers, the hospitality providers, the beer garden workers, each and every one of them is a volunteer. As a performer, I’d like to recognize all the areas of volunteers that have an impact on our show. First our MC, I unfortunately don’t recall his name (and I feel bad for this), but he has been assigned to our show three years in a row and always does an amazing job of introducing us in a way that makes us sound like something really amazing. Our drivers; yes we have drivers. As a former volunteer on the transportation committee and having one of the transportation coordinators as my neighbour, I arrange for me and the band to be picked up from my house for the show with all our gear and brought back after the show so we don’t have to worry about parking. I greatly appreciate them allowing a small time local jazz group to get a taste of what the big stars get. The hospitality crew for bringing us beer. Enough said. Most importantly, the beer gardens workers and 50/50 sellers. I recognize that ultimately your job isn’t glamorous, but the work that you do and the festival income it generates is ultimately what pays our performance fees and for that, I thank you.

As a volunteer, I’d like to thank all of my fellow volunteers for being so much fun to work with. As special shout out as well to all the volunteer coordinators who put in an insane amount of hours to make this all work. Finally, I’d like to thank the festival for all the perks that come with being a volunteer. The cheep drinks and the pass into shows that aren’t sold out makes for a much more exciting festival for me without breaking the bank.

Photo by Aaron Brown Photography

The Performance…

Going into our jazz fest show this year I really didn’t feel prepared. We all worked really hard on the music and the performance, but something just didn’t feel right. But that all went away when we stepped on stage and played the first notes. I’m so fortunate to be able to play with some a talented group of musicians and to keep a more or less consistent line up for the whole five years we have been doing this.

Our audience started small due to the weather shutting down the band before us 15 minutes early, but the skies cleared up in time for our show and we went out there and hit it hard. Musically, everything fell into place. Performance wise, it felt great. In the last couple of years I’ve really loosened up on stage and it feels great. As we played, the audience started to slowly rebuild and by the end of our 90 minute set, the park was full again. It’s always great to play for familiar faces and I thank my friends and family for coming, but there is something special about playing for strangers. It’s thrilling to know people are hearing your music for the first or maybe even second or third time.  But either way, and audience is an audience and we appreciate each and every one of you.

To close, I want to thank some more people because I haven’t done enough of that already, so here we go…

To Kevin Tobin, artistic director of the festival, for booking this local blip on the radar of a jazz band year after year and giving us great time slots. To my band mates, Michael Stankowski, Bryn Becker, Nevin Buehler, and Dylan Smith for being solid musicians and thus, making me a better player. To the crew of PR Productions for putting up with us and still making us sound amazing. And most important of all, to my wife, Chelsea, for the endless support in chasing this (possibly) ludicrous dream of being a jazz musician, letting us make noise in the basement, and for allowing me to virtually disappear for 10 days every year when jazz fest rolls around.

Year End Wrap Up: 2016 Edition

Well I may be a little late getting to this, but I think having a big gig on New Years Eve is an acceptable excuse! 2016 was a really great year for me both personally and professionally. It’s always exciting at the end of each year to look back at the highlights and maybe remember a few things I have forgotten about. So sit back and enjoy my year end recap of 2016!

The Quintet

As you likely all know, the Marc Holt Quintet has been my main project for three years now and we had quite the year in 2016. We started out with our biggest show yet at the Majestic Theatre in my hometown of Biggar, Saskatchewan as part of the the Biggar & District Arts Council’s 2015/16 concert series on January 9th. If playing for a nearly sold out audience of 280 people wasn’t enough already, throw in the fact that it was our first ever theatre show and EVERYONE was listening. A totally weird feeling at first, but once we settled into it we felt right at home!

Our year didn’t stop there though. Throughout the late winter and spring we played several private events around Saskatoon at places such as the University of Saskatchewan, The Broadway Theatre, and the Delta Bessborough. One of the most exciting of our private performances this year was when we were asked to perform at the opening ceremonies of the national conference of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education. And though new events are always exciting, it is always an honour to be invited back for repeat performances which we had several of this year.

June of course brought the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. This was our third consecutive year to be invited to perform at the festival and when we were scheduled for a Monday at 6pm on the free stage we were beyond happy with that placement! Sure it isn’t Friday or Saturday at 8pm, or an opening spot at The Broadway, but for a local group playing straight ahead jazz music to get a time slot where the majority of people won’t still be at work is big! Hopefully we can get as good of a spot or better at this year’s festival (just submitted my application today!), but ultimately it is a pleasure to just to get any time at the festival.

Summer as usual was quiet, but we used that time to prepare for the biggest step in our career yet. In October, we hit the road. Sure it was only for three days, but it took us to all new locations! The first night had us playing a house concert in North Battleford at a place known as The Gog due to its original use as a synagog and the second and third days had us in Edmonton, first at the Cafe Blackbird and then at La Cite Francophone for a wedding. Not only did this tour bring us exciting new experiences, but a great opportunity to really bond as a band. The tour was such a success that we have already started planning a Western Canadian tour for later this year.

The tour was more or less the end of 2016 for the Quintet as we had to say a goodbye and then restructure. As some of you may know, our original drummer, Dylan Smith, set off on a new adventure in New Zealand for an unknown amount of time. Though it was hard to say goodbye, we greatly enjoyed our 3 days on the road all together before he left. We wish him luck on this new adventure and look forward to seeing him when he returns. With that, we had a hole to fill. In November, we welcomed Nathan Abramyk to the band as our new drummer. We haven’t had the opportunity to perform with Nathan yet, but we look forward to doing so in 2017.

That more or less wraps up 2016 for the Marc Holt Quintet, and what a great year it was, but my 2016 contained much more than that!

Other Musical Endeavours

This past year contained 4 other musical projects for me outside of the Quintet; 2 of them are new and 2 of them are old. A nice balance. The 2 new projects brought new challenges and the old ones continued to bring great fun.

The first of these new projects was the Holt/Becker Duo. Bryn Becker has been playing with me in the Marc Holt Quintet since the beginning. Over the summer we decided to try playing as a duo for a new challenge and to increase the versatility of our musical abilities. We debuted the group at Una Pizza + Wine in September to great reviews! Though 2016 didn’t have any more performances in store for us, we will be returning to Prairie Ink on February 3 and we hope to see you there!

After 2 years away from playing in a Big Band after graduating from University, I was very excited when I was asked to join the Toon Town Big Band as the new bari sax player. I had subbed on a show with this band once in October 2010 and really enjoyed it so I was happy for the new opportunity. It is also really great to have a band that rehearses weekly, as playing with other musicians is always welcome. This band has also been a good challenge for me as there are several tunes in the bari sax book that call for flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. These are all instruments I have dabbled in, but it has forced me to get serious about them and now that is one of my goals for 2017. I’m really looking forward to my first performance with the Toon Town Big Band at The Broadway Theatre on March 18 (those reading this here are the first to hear about it)!

As for the old projects, I’ve really enjoyed continuing to play with the Howlin’ Huskies Pep Band and the Drew Tofin Big Band. Playing with the Pep Band has been a blast over the last few years. Sure during football season it gets cold some nights, but it’s worth it to be out there supporting my alma mater! The highlights with the Pep Band this year were playing at the basketball games in the spring as the women’s team went all the way to the national championship and in the fall playing at the homecoming football game to kick of the centennial year of the Alumni Association. Basketball resumes this Saturday at the PAC and I’m looking forward to it! As for the Drew Tofin Big Band, we only played one show this year, but it was a big one! We played New Years Eve back in my hometown and what a night it was! With almost an entirely new band for this show, preparing took a lot of work, but it came together really well in the end for one heck of a party to wrap of 2016 and kick off 2017!

My Personal Life

I wouldn’t be who I am as a musician if it weren’t for my personal life. Though there isn’t as much to report on, there were still two very important events this year. The most important of all came July 2 when I married the love of my life. Chelsea is the biggest supporter of my music career and without her supporting me I wouldn’t be where I am today. I mean that both figuratively and literally, as the other major event we had this year was moving into our first house! As a musician, it is so great to have an entire house and not have to worry about annoying anyone with the constant practicing. The best part about this house is the basement which is completely my space and is set up as my office and a jam space. We learned a few days ago that it is even big enough that I was able to put all 11 members of the Drew Tofin Big Band in there for a rehearsal! These were big events for me in 2016, and I am so thankful for this life I get to live.

 

Thank You

That about sums up 2016. There are so many other things I wanted to mention or go into more detail over, but I feel like I should be happy if you are still reading this at this point so I left them out. I have big plans for 2017 and 2018 that I look forward to sharing with you. Until then I want to say thank you to each and every person who I have had the opportunity to work with this year and everyone who has come out to support me at my shows. And I’d like to say an extra thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my blog. Writing is a new adventure for me, but so far I am enjoying it and look forward to doing it for. Thanks for reading!