Brace Yourself: A Woodwind Doubler’s Journey With Braces , Part 2

Thanks for coming back to read Part 2 in this on-going series. If you missed Part 1, I recommend you check it out first. I took a little longer to get around to writing this edition than I had planned. Life got crazy when I unexpectedly added another part-time job. We’re here now though!

As I mentioned at the end of Part 1, Part 2 is dedicated to what I have found it to be like playing with braces on. I’ve had some challenges, but ultimately it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. However, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges.  So, without any further ado… Brace Yourself.

Baritone Sax

Those of you that follow my career will know that the baritone sax (bari) is my primary instrument. I picked up the bari at the age of 13 and have been in love with it ever since. The first time I had braces, back in high school, the bari was the only wind instrument I was playing. Before getting my braces put on this time I tried thinking back to those days to see if I remembered what it was like, but I didn’t. That may be because it’s not really any different!

I didn’t practice at all for the first couple of days with braces. The bari was the first instrument I picked up to try. Other than a little everyday soreness in the teeth that comes with braces being freshly put on, it was completely normal. This was a relief. I was worried that something was going to changes and I’d be unable to perform for the next two years. So far so good. I say that because as you may recall from Part 1, I only have the top braces so far. For now though all is well and I can feel comfortable booking gigs with my band, The Remainders, over the next few months.

Aaron Brown Photography

Alto Sax

I’m not going to lie, I’ve hardly touched the alto. I don’t have a great relationship with this instrument to start with, dating back to my undergraduate degree. I have played it a little though and like the bari, it mostly feels the same. However, I have to work a little harder to get my lips to create a seal around the mouthpiece. That’s all though.

Flute

The flute is by far my weakest instrument. I hoped that I’d feel confident on it by the end of this pandemic, and I was getting there. Braces ruined that. It is a completely different game playing the flute with braces on. I have to work so much harder to get my lips to form the right shape. I can do it, but it’s a lot more work. The first octave of the flute isn’t too bad to play and most days I feel okay in the second. When I try to go up to the third octave though, I feel like I’ve lost over a year of progress.

It sucks, but it is what is is. I still try to play the flute every day though so that at the very least I’m not completely starting over when the braces come off. I know it will likely all change again when the bottom braces go on in a few months, and I’ll deal with it. It’s also entirely possible that over time I will get use to playing with the braces and I’ll get back to where I was before they went on. This will definitely be something I continue to report on in future posts.

Clarinet

Clarinet is the instrument I spend the most time with theses days because I have been taking lessons on it since January. Thankfully the braces aren’t affecting my ability to play the clarinet any more than they did the alto or the bari. I do have to work harder to create a seal around the mouthpiece, but that’s minor. The one thing I have noticed though is that the clarinet tends to slip out of my mouth more. This may have absolutely nothing to do with the braces and may simply be correlation rather than causation. Every time it happens I try to think about what I felt just before it happen, but so far I can identify a cause. It’s something to work on though.

Aaron Brown Photography

Bass Clarinet

Last, but not least, the bass clarinet. I’ve spent a decent amount of time with this instrument because I was playing the bass clarinet part for the latest project with the Virtual Concert Band. The bass clarinet was the biggest change of the reed instruments. The mouthpiece is already so much larger than the others, now add in having to work harder to create a seal and my face gets tired much quicker. Thankfully, this is minor. I just have to work up my endurance which is never a bad thing because it will help every instrument in the long run.

Wrap Up

There was one thing that was consistent across all the instruments and was also caused by talking. The metal braces rubbing against the inside of my lip. It was extremely uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks. It felt like they were absolutely shredding the inside of my lip. For the most part, I don’t feel that any more unless I’ve done a larger than normal amount of practicing and talking in a day.

Right now I’m feeling much better with all of this that I was anticipating, so I’m happy about that. With the struggle across the reed instruments being the same, it makes it an easy thing to work through. As for the flute, either it will get better or it won’t and I’ll just have to deal with it. So unless something major changes all of a sudden, I don’t foresee myself having much to say in this series until the bottom braces go on. With that I won’t put a time line on when to expect Part 3 because I can’t even harbour a guess. As always, follow my on social media to stay in the loop and thanks again for reading!

Brace Yourself: A Woodwind Doubler’s Journey With Braces, Part 1

Welcome to the first in what I intend to make a series of blogs over the next few years. I’m writing this series for a few reasons: the first, to document my journey with braces, and second, I thought it could be useful to someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. Perhaps they can learn from it. Lastly, it’s for me. I have a lot of concerns about what the next few years will be like. My hope is that writing about it will help me to process it all.

There won’t be a regularly scheduled timeline of when I will be posting. I just don’t know how much I’m going to have to write about. The best way to find these posts will be to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. Now let’s get into it…

Back Story

I think it’s important to start with why I got braces and what the end goal is. It all comes down to the fact that I am missing five permanent teeth. They didn’t fall out, get knocked out, or anything like that, they just never existed. I’m missing four on the bottom, the centre two and one on either side toward the back, and one on the top, the third left of centre. In the case of three of these, the baby tooth is still there. I am 31 years old and baby teeth aren’t meant to last that long, so they’re close to falling out.

Before (regular smile)

Before (extra big smile)

So in August of 2020, I went to the dentist to see what we could do about these teeth that are on the verge of falling out. The solution we decided on was implants. However, my dentist is new to doing implants and she didn’t feel comfortable doing mine. I greatly appreciated her honesty on this. So she sent me to another dentist who has many years of experience doing implants.

It was December before I was able to get an appointment with the new dentist. He did all the x-rays, molds, and pictures he needed. His conclusion was that I was going to need orthodontic work done first because there isn’t enough room in some of the spots to put an implant. So I scheduled an appointment with an orthodontist for January. Again, he did the x-rays, molds, and photos, which gave him the information he needed.

The before cast of my teeth

My braces were originally scheduled to go on in March 2021, but I didn’t feel comfortable getting it done at that time because of the COVID-19 case numbers. So we rescheduled for April, but that got bumped back again as well. My braces finally went on May 26, 2021.

First Day

The process of getting the braces put on didn’t hurt at all. It was just uncomfortable largely because my mouth was wide open for about an hour, and that was just for the top because they can’t put the bottom ones on yet. When they put the wire on, I was expecting pain, but honestly I felt next to nothing. 24 hours in and I still had felt very little pain in my teeth. Even saying it’s uncomfortable feels like a stretch. It just feels weird.

Drinking from a cup feels different because my lip protrudes further than usual, or at least that’s what it feels like. Eating is sort of terrifying because with every bite of anything moderately hard I worry about popping one of the brackets off. My wife says kissing me doesn’t feel any different, so that’s good at least. The most difficult thing so far has been flossing. It takes about five times as long as it normally does because you have to use a special tool to feed the floss between the wire and your teeth before you can actually do the job. This has to be done for each individual tooth. I sure hope it gets faster.

Day 1 with braces (regular smile)

Day 1 with braces (extra big smile)

Overall, the first day with them was fine. It’s going to take some time to get use to some every day things, but I’ll get there. At the time of writing this, I haven’t tried playing an instrument yet; I’ll talk about that in the next blog.

My Concerns

I have a lot of concerns about what the next few years will be like, mostly related to my career as a musician. My biggest concern is that it’s going to affect my ability to play my instruments. I don’t have a lot of concern around my primary instrument, baritone sax. I just can’t really think of how the braces would get in the way, but like I said I haven’t tried yet. My concern comes with the alto sax, clarinet, and flute.

My concern with the alto and the clarinet are the same. I’m worried that because of the small mouthpiece and how tight you pull your lips in to play, the braces are going to somehow get in the way. I know people do it, so I’ll figure it out. My concern is that it’s going to set me back and I’m not only going to have to relearn immediately, but again when the braces come off.

I’m more concerned about the flute though. I am very much still learning the flute and I still struggle with getting my lips in the right position to play. Now that all this metal is in my mouth, I worry it’s going to undo all my progress and I’ll be basically starting over.

I am also concerned about how I look. It’s silly, I know that, but I’m worried anyways. I’m thankful that the corner of the music industry I work in is less concerned about looks, but it still bothers me. I’ve always been a self conscious person and I’ve never been great about dealing with it. Though I don’t actually believe that anyone is going to treat me differently now, it’s all about how I see myself. I’m just glad to be a happily married man and not have to worry about how I look while dating. That would suck.

Moving Forward

Now that the braces are on and I’m starting to settle in to having them, it’s time to start trying instruments. I’m going to take a week or two and spend some time feeling out what it’s like playing each instrument with the braces on. Once I’ve got a feel for that, I’ll sit down and write about it.

If you made it to this point, thank for reading. I hope you’ll continue to follow along on this journey with me!

Year End Wrap Up: 2020 Edition

I only seem to remember to write the Year End Wrap Up blog every two years for some reason, but this is a good year to remember. This isn’t going to be what you would expect from a blog about 2020; yes, it sucked in a lot of ways, but overall I’m happy with the year I had. Let’s dive into why.

IN THE BEGINNING

Like it did for everyone else, 2020 started out like a typical year. January and February are typically quiet times for me for gigs, but I played a couple of them. I was teaching and playing in the community concert band every week. Life was good. I was also preparing for my first gig on woodwinds in a musical theatre pit orchestra on Reed 3 (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax) for a production of Annie in the town of Langenburg. It was an incredible experience! We did five sold out shows in the first week of March. That theatre was full without a care in the world. It was amazing. I finished that week with renewed energy to practice and to seek out more work like this; but 2 weeks later, it all came to a grinding halt.

The beginning of the pandemic was a crappy time. Between not being able to go anywhere, cancelled gigs, and no idea when I was ever going to play for an audience again, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.

THE TURN AROUND

In late April things started to turn around. Michael made the trip out to Yorkton to hang out for a few days, and we did a live stream for International Jazz Day. It wasn’t hugely successful, but we had fun. Around the same time, Saskatoon based drummer Lukas Newman reached out and asked if I’d take part in a recording of his original track, Central Park at Five. It was really fun to have a project to work on again and it turned out great.

On May 5th, I gave myself a good swift kick in the ass. I laid out a daily practice routine to cover all 5 instruments that I am currently working on and started the #100DaysOfPractice Challenge on Instagram. The challenge was simply to practice something for 100 consecutive days. I missed some days, but when I did I just picked up where I left off. I finally finished the 100 days on August 30th, 117 days later, and I felt pretty damn good about it.

THE GIGS CAME BACK

I know it didn’t happen for everyone, but for me gigs did come back to some extent. Things felt pretty bleak when the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival got cancelled; we had played the festival every year since we formed the Marc Holt Quintet in 2013. However, the Yorkton Arts Council contacted us soon after to take part in their Sidewalk Concert Series in early August. Michael and Nevin came out to Yorkton and spent a few days at the house. We rehearsed, learned new tunes, drank a lot of beer, played some video games, and played 3 shows too! The shows were almost like a flash mob, except people knew they were happening. To prevent large crowds, the locations weren’t announced. People would sign up to host a concert and they’d tell their neighbours when it would be. We’d show up, set up, play a half hour set, then pack up and be onto the next one.

Later in August we made our return to Melody Bar (now known as Penrose Wine & Bar) after not playing there for a few years. It was our first indoor show since January. It was great to have a “full” house (COVID style) and enthusiastic audience. We were back for another round at Melody in October plus a show in North Battleford at She-Nanigans. Live music was also back at Greenbryre Golf & Country Club where we played to a great audience in November.

SO WHAT ELSE HAPPENED?

If you follow my career at all, you probably know the biggest change that came out of this year. In June, we found out that another one of the original members of the Marc Holt Quintet, Bryn Becker, had decided to move home to Vancouver. It was tough to hear, but we all understood his reasons. We managed to get in our annual band trip to Candle Lake before he took off, where we celebrated 7 years as a band. It was a great last hurrah where I caught the largest fish of my life, a 12 pound Northern Pike.

Bryn’s departure left us two members short of a quintet and it just didn’t feel right to continue under the same name. We tossed around band name ideas for about a month before I suggested The Remainders; a play on the fact that Michael, Nevin, and myself were the three remaining original members Marc Holt Quintet. It was a name we finally all agreed on, so in late July we officially became The Remainders! With a fresh new name, we decided it was also time the band had social media accounts separate from my own (Follow us! Facebook, Instagram). Things got off to a good start with lots of buzz around the new name, several gigs popping up, and the most press coverage we’ve ever gotten with features from Yorkton This Week, BattlefordsNow, and Brit’s Picks. The first six months of the new name have been great, and we look forward to what the future holds.

OH, AND THIS TOO

This past year also brought significant growth in my social media following. I consciously worked on it this year to position myself to come out of the pandemic stronger. I now have just under 650 followers on Instagram and nearly 400 people Like my Facebook page. Those aren’t huge numbers, but growth is growth. I attribute a lot of it to my weekly Flute Monday and Clarinet Wednesday posts which I’ve now done a full year of.

As if this wasn’t all enough, in October of 2019 I was elected to the board of directors of the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils. I’ve volunteered with OSAC for over half my life, and I’m very passionate about it. COVID-19 put a damper on our meetings, the last of which we had in person was in January. After only one year on the board, I put my name forward for the vacant position of Vice-Chair and was elected! I’m both excited and nervous of this new role. The exciting part is contributing to the future of this organization. The nervousness comes from the pressure I impose on myself to lead in the right direction. Regardless, I look forward to the future of this organization. We have a great board, and an amazing staff coming together for what I believe is a winning combination.

THAT’S ABOUT IT

In the end, I did what I could to make the best of a crappy year. I spent a lot of time practicing (just over 300 hours), did a lot of hiking (around 120km in three provinces), and kept in touch with friends and family as best I could. My last major musical activity of the year was recording parts for virtual bands. I recorded eight parts on three different instruments for the Saskatchewan Band Association’s Virtual Holiday Concert and I played bass clarinet on Virtual Concert Band’s recording of the Concert Suite from the Polar Express.

Our year wrapped up with a quiet Christmas at home, just Chelsea and me with our dog, Riker, and our cat, Weasley. I want to close by thanking everyone who supported me this past year, from hiring me for a gig to simply following me on social media. It all means so much to me.

A final thank you to anyone who has actually read all of this! If you wish to be in touch or keep up with what I’m doing, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Happy New Year!

The Story Behind The Remainders

For nearly 7 years, we’ve been performing as the Marc Holt Quintet. We started with that name simply because I started the group and it’s just an easy way of naming a jazz group. Over the years we made attempts to give the band a different name, but we could never really settle on anything for want of something that had meaning. There was also no serious reason for a name change. Things were good. Why mess with success? But the past year brought some changes in the makeup of our group and those changes gave more reason for a change in name.

Change #1: The Departure of Dylan

There were two significant changes over the past year. It started in June of 2019. Our long-time drummer, Dylan Smith, made the decision to move to Halifax to pursue new adventures. It was tough to take the first departure of an original member, but we wished him the best and pushed on. We never permanently filled Dylan’s place in the band. However, for a few gigs that followed we hired our friend Nathan Abramyk to fill the role of our drummer. Nathan is a fantastic drummer and we loved playing with him. For one reason or another though he didn’t become a full member of the band. As I always do, I began to contemplate the future of the band when suddenly, 2020….

Dylan Smith with the Marc Holt Quintet at the 2018 Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. (Aaron Brown Photography)

Those reading this in 2020 will not need to be told what happened in 2020. For those reading in the future whose memories may be somewhat repressed, along came the COVID-19 pandemic. The world ground to a halt, perhaps the entertainment industry most of all. Throughout the early months of the pandemic Michael, Nevin, Bryn, and myself would get together virtually to hang out. We’d chat mostly about what we were up to in our daily lives, the band, and what we would do in the future. Ultimately, we had no idea what to expect so it was all just speculation. That speculation would turn out to be all wrong.

Virtual hang out with the band early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Change #2: The Departure of Bryn

For Bryn the pandemic brought some personal changes. The most important of which for our purposes is the change that would affect the band. Bryn had been talking for as long as I could remember about moving home to Vancouver, and he decided now was the time. Again, this departure was difficult to take, but we all understood his choice and wished him the best as he set off on the next chapter of his life.

Bryn Becker with the Marc Holt Quintet at the 2018 Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. (Aaron Brown Photography)

So here we were, in the middle of a global pandemic, two members short of a quintet. We felt that this was as good of a time as any to renew the search for a new name. I thought it would take a while, but one day I decided to change the name of our band group chat long called Marc and the Jazzy Jazzers, to The Jazz Remainders. It was done in a bit of a melancholy mood, but a couple days later it hit me: The Remainders. 

The Remainders: (left to right) Nevin Buehler, Michael Stankowski, Marc Holt. (Larry Jellison Photography)

Change #3: A New Name

It told the story and it felt good. I ran it past Michael and Nevin and they liked it. I tried it one some friends and family and they all liked it too. We had our new name.

We officially announced the name on July 27th and it gave us a boost of energy. We’ve already played four shows since launching the new name. A fifth show was booked, but unfortunately had to be postponed. We’re still working our way through making all the changes that come with a name change, but we’ve got a new bio written and a photoshoot completed. On top of that, more shows are in the works.

Of course, we miss working with Dylan and Bryn and without them it’s a very different sound. However, with a number no longer attached to the name, if either of them come back to Saskatoon for any amount of time there will always be a place for them in The Remainders.

  COMMENTS

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?

  COMMENTS

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.

  COMMENTS

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.

  COMMENTS

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!

  COMMENTS

Mini Tour; Not So Mini Blog, and Some Lessons Learned

So one month later I am finally getting around to writing a blog post about the Quintet’s mini tour over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was quite honestly one of the best weekends of my life and I can’t wait to do it again! This post is going to partially be just the story of the tour, but also what I learned along the way. There is a TL;DR at the bottom if you need it. I hope you enjoy it!

Day 1

We started out on Friday afternoon. Getting loaded up and out of town went relatively smoothly and the drive was uneventful in the good way. Our first stop was in North Battleford for a house concert at a place known as The Gog. This name comes from the fact that this house use to be a synagogue. It wasn’t as big as we expected, but it was a beautiful space to play in. The Gog is owned by Kelly Waters; what a lady! Kelly says that her art is cooking, and damn is she good at it. We arrived to her in the kitchen preparing an amazing spread of food for the guests that were coming to the show. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if half the audience was there for the food and not for us! As we were setting up for the show, we ran into our first problem. Dylan had forgotten his snare drum. (We gave him a hard time about this for the extent of the tour, but he is chilling in Australia now so he doesn’t care).

LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.

It’s something simple enough that it falls into the category of ‘better safe than sorry.’ In the end, things worked out. There was a guy at the show (whose name I really can’t remember) who was there early because he was displaying his art at the show (fantastic stuff). I wasn’t present for the conversation, but he heard we were short an snare so he offered to track one down for us through a friend. Crisis averted. When we started the show, I learned something else.

LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!

    This was honestly one of the best audience I have ever played for. Top 3 for sure! Because of the setting, they are sitting so close to you that you can’t not interact with them constantly. Not to mention, being able to find a group of 35 people willing to pay $20 for a jazz group they have never heard of. These people were fantastic. I have to mention one of them specifically. I only know her as Sue, but when we took our first break, she came straight over to talk to us and was just raving about the show so far. The word ‘phenomenal’ came out of her mouth more than once. I loved talking to her and her feedback was very much appreciated as it is from anyone, but I didn’t think this conversation was anything special. I was mistaken.

    LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show.

    I learned later that Sue had also talked to my parents and my aunt and uncle who had driven up from Biggar for the show. They learned a little bit more about her. Before moving to North Battleford three years ago, Sue lived in Ottawa. During her time there, Sue was on the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Holy validation Batman! I always appreciate positive comments about our show from anyone, but when it comes from someone with a background like that it gives you a major boost of confidence. After the show we spent some more time talking to the wonderful people who came out to the show. Bryn and I both ran into friends from the area that had come out to the show. Kelly was kind enough to let all five of us spend the night at her house so we spread ourselves out on the floor and couches and called it a night.

    Day 2

    Saturday started with the drive from North Battleford to Edmonton. Before hitting the road, Kelly hit the kitchen again and cooked us a fantastic breakfast. We thanked her a million times, did several dummy checks to make sure we didn’t forget anything and then we hit the road. Our first stop of the day was for lunch. I had consulted the hive mind that is Facebook for the best place to stop for lunch between North Battleford and Edmonton. The consensus was the truck stop in Innisfree. I got a lot of flack from the guys for picking a greasy truck stop diner as our lunch stop, but as soon as they got there food everything changed.

    LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever!

I’m sure they aren’t all great, but there was clearly a reason that everyone who responded to my call for a recommendation told us to go to Innisfree. After lunch we continued our drive to Edmonton. We made the obligatory stop in Vegreville, Alberta for a group photo with the worlds largest pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg). Our first stop in Edmonton was to pick up a snare drum for Dylan. Thankfully, because Dylan had gone to University in Edmonton, he knew someone there he could borrow a snare from. We arrived at the venue, Café Blackbird, pretty early so we scoped things out, chatted with the staff, and had some coffee. They were kind enough to let us set up earlier than scheduled which was really great because there was no stage, just a spot on the floor, so tables had to be taken out to accommodate us. At the start of the show, there were very few people there, but it was a 3 set show so we were hopeful that more people would come. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. It was Saturday night, it was snowing, it was a long weekend, and its as our first ever show outside of Saskatchewan. All of these things probably contributed to the small crowd we had and we were prepared for that so we were thankful for the people that did come.

LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.

The venue was giving 100% of the $10 people were being charged at the door. Unfortunately we only had 15 people through the door. At the end of the night we made $150 and our tab was $100. This sucked, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. The band played really well and the people that were there seemed to really enjoy it. The highlight of the night was our last set. There was only 2 people left in the venue beside us and the staff, but they were Dylan’s friend that lent us the snare and his girlfriend. We made the decision to cut all the ‘filler’ tunes that we added to the set to fill out 3 hours, and replace them with extra long solos in the other tunes and it turned out to be a great show! Afterwards, we packed up, thanked the staff at the venue, and then braved the drive in the snow storm to my cousin Justin’s place in Nisku where we were staying while in Edmonton.

    LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.

    What should have been about a half hour drive, turned into a little over an hour due to wrong turns and the snow making the roads very slick. When we arrived at the house, Bryn got excited about the sauna, we had some drinks, we chatted, and it was a pretty chill night. For our first ever venture outside of Saskatchewan, I think we were off to a good start.

    Day 3

    Sunday was a pretty chill day. As we were already in Edmonton (more or less) and our show that day was in Edmonton again, we took the opportunity to get some extra sleep before heading into the city. We drop Dylan off at Mountain Equipment Co-op because he wanted to buy some gear for his trip to Australia and New Zealand. While he did this, the rest of us went in search of food. We were hunting blindly. The consensus was that we wanted good pizza and good beer. As we arrived at this agreement, we find ourselves driving past a restaurant called “Beer Revolution: Craft Beer & Pizza.” We felt like a ray of sunshine had come down from the heavens and guided us there. The pizza was amazing and the beer variety was incredible. The best part was the beer list being displayed on TVs throughout the restaurant in a similar fashion to arrivals and departures at an airport. Unfortunately a couple of us didn’t look at the price of a beer before ordering it.

    LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.

After lunch, we picked up Dylan and headed over to the venue. We were playing at the wedding of an old friend of mine. I always appreciate when my friends hire my band and support what I’m trying to do with my life; it really means a lot. We were running a little behind schedule so we set up super fast so that I could pop in for the ceremony before we played. When I opened up my case to set my horn up I had quite a shock. A piece of my horn was laying loose in the case. Thankfully, I’m prepared for that. I pulled out my repair kit, reattached the key with some help from Mike, and set up my horn all in time to catch the ceremony. As soon as the ceremony was over I rushed out because we were scheduled to play during cocktails immediately after the ceremony. For this event we were just background music. People were clearly enjoying it, but unlike our other gigs on the tour, the audience interaction wasn’t as important. It’s just nice to play for people, and for them to enjoy our music.

LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.

In jazz we have the luxury of being able to do what we usually do as background music. The reason this is a luxury is because it opens up a whole new set of places to play. The reason for having this private event on the tour is because of what comes with it. We may not get any real new fans out of it, but there was a guaranteed amount of money at the end, we were able to bill a portion of the tour expenses, and it came with a free meal. After the less-than-awesome turn out the night before, a cheque at the end of the wedding really brought it all together from a financial point of view. After dinner we all did our own thing. Dylan met up with some friends, Bryn and Nevin found the piano in the theatre where the ceremony happened and had a small jam session, and Michael and I stayed and enjoyed the wedding reception, as we both knew the bride and some of the other people there. At the end of the night, we all met back up and drove back out to Nisku for the night. The drive still contained some wrong turns due to a drunk navigator, but the weather was much better this time. The rest of our night was much like the previous one; though this time replace the sauna with the hot tub.

Day 4

The last day of tour was Thanksgiving and it was just a travel day. Bryn was flying Vancouver to visit his family so we were up at a reasonable time to take him to the airport. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We made the drive back to Saskatoon with only two stops for gas and nothing more as we were all in a hurry to get back for Thanksgiving dinner.

LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.

Michael and Nevin literally slept the whole drive back from Edmonton to Saskatoon. We had planned to rotate drivers throughout the weekend, but because we didn’t have a real plan, I found myself being the only one awake or the only one sober all weekend so I ended up doing all of the driving. It was a short enough tour that this wasn’t the end of the world, but anything longer I wouldn’t want to do it that way. When we got back to Saskatoon, we unloaded and everyone went home. The last thing to do with return our rented trailer.

LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.

The trailer was rented in Bryn’s name, but because he didn’t come back with us I had to pretend to be him and forge his signature when returning the trailer. This was, of course, all with his permission, but those two signatures didn’t not look anything alike and I am thankful no one noticed.

P.S. I do not condone illegal fraud 🙂

All in all it was a really great weekend. We had fun, we played for a lot of new people, and we really bonded as a band. I’d like to close with a lot of thank you’s. First, thank you to my bandmates Michael, Bryn, Nevin, and Dylan for taking on this adventure with me. Thank you to Kelly at The Gog, Michelle at the Café Blackbird, and Lisa and Mark for inviting us to play at their wedding. All of you giving us that chance to play means to world to us. Thank you to my in-laws for letting us borrow their van for the weekend. And last, but not least, thank you my wife, Chelsea, for letting me be on the road with my band on our first Thanksgiving weekend as husband and wife. Thanks for reading!

    TL;DR

    Tour was a lot of fun. Thank you to a lot of people (just read the paragraph above this). And I learned the following 10 lessons:

    LESSON #1: Even though we are all adults, adults make mistakes, and next time it would probably be a good idea to make a check list of all the gear we need and go through it as we are packing up.
    LESSON #2: HOUSE CONCERTS ARE THE FREAKING BEST!!!
    LESSON #3: You never know who is going to be at your show
    LESSON #4: Greasy truck stop diners are the best thing ever.
    LESSON #5: Straight door deals can really suck sometimes.
    LESSON #6: Make sure your navigator is sober. I think this one explains it self.
    LESSON #7: Check the price before ordering something. No beer is worth $20/pint.
    LESSON #8: Private events on tour are pretty damn great.
    LESSON #9: Have a driving schedule for the tour.
    LESSON #10: If you are going to forge someones signature in front of someone, practice first. Especially if you have to sign two copies.

      COMMENTS

A Guide To Buying A Saxophone

Hey readers! Before we get to the topic of buying a saxophone I just want to update you on something. If you haven’t already heard, the Marc Holt Quintet is hitting the road for a couple of days in October! We are in North Battleford at The Gog on Oct 7 and Edmonton at Café Blackbird on Oct 8. Hope to see you there!

Anyways…. Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I’m going to try to do this more regularly. This time around I want to talk about purchasing or renting an instrument, specifically saxophones of course, but before I start I want to state that I am not paid nor contracted by any of these brands to endorse their instruments.

Unlike instruments such as pianos, guitars, and drums, which you can by cheap version of and still make sounds on, when it comes to saxophones, cheap instruments often don’t play properly, don’t play at all, or very quickly fall into that category. This is because of the way saxophones work. The pitch is changed by making the instrument longer or shorter by covering or uncovering holes that are precisely measured to play in tune. When you close a key, a ‘pad’ on the under side of the key seals the hole causing air to move further down the instrument, thus making the pitch lower. If the key does not seal properly, the air like can cause squeaks, honks, wobbling sounds, or no sound at all. Playing on a poor quality instrument can be extremely discouraging to beginners of all ages, and often ends up as wasted money. This is all to common of a problem on cheap instruments, which is why it is important to always purchase or rent a quality instrument.

Beginner Models

Let’s start by talking about beginner instruments, also known as student models. Unfortunately there are very few manufactures that make quality beginner saxophones and A LOT that make very poor quality saxophones. In my opinion, and the opinion of many teachers, Yamaha makes the best student model saxophones. They retail for around $1200 for an alto and $2200 for a tenor and they are worth every penny. Other quality manufactures of student model saxophones include Jupiter, P. Mauriat and Selmer and they sell for around the same price as the Yamaha. When it comes to brands to avoid, there are far too many to list, so here are a few guidelines. First, if it is an alto saxophone you are buying and it costs less than $1000 brand new, don’t buy it. If it is a tenor, avoid anything under around $1500. Second, if it is a colour other than brass or silver, you probably shouldn’t buy it. Third, if you can buy it in a department store such as Walmart, Sears, or Costco, definitely do not buy it. If you follow these rules you should end up with a good quality instrument that will last many years if it is well taken care of. If in doubt, ask your band teacher or private instructor to help you pick one out. No qualified teacher will recommend a poor quality instrument.

Intermediate Models

When it comes time to move up from a beginner instrument to an intermediate model there are a few more options. Selmer and Yamaha are still very good choices. Yanagisawa also makes some good quality student instruments. As for P. Mauriat, their intermediate models can be ok, but there are definitely better choices. Intermediate model Jupiter saxophones do exist, but the quality isn’t really there. The rules for buying an intermediate model saxophone are mostly the same as buying a beginner model. In price, expect to pay $2000-$3200 for an alto and $3000-$4500 for a tenor. Colour gets a little looser at this level. There are some quality instruments in bronze and black, but brass and silver are still the standard. If it is a colour you would find in the rainbow you should not even consider buying it. The one rule that does not change through all levels is that you should never buy an instrument from a department store. One thing to keep in mind when buying an intermediate level instrument is that at this level, the player is starting to develop their own sound and they are also starting to understand what quality feels and sounds like, so you should always try an instrument before buying it. I still recommend seeking the assistance of your teacher, or if you aren’t currently taking lessons, a qualified teacher or professional in your area would be able to assist you.

Professional Models

By the time you get to the point of buying a professional level instrument you should know your instrument well enough to make your own decisions on what is a quality instrument and what isn’t. If you are not, you are probably not ready for a professional instrument, but I will still provide a little bit of information about brands. Selmer and Yamaha are the gold standard in most professional communities. You really can’t go wrong with either of those brands. Yanagisawa also makes some very good quality professional level instruments. There are some others that there is much debate on the quality of the instrument, mostly because they have a different aesthetic appeal than most traditional instruments and they also tend to retail for a lower price. Two of those brands are Cannonball and SeaWind (which is a Canadian company). I personally think that both of these manufacturers make great quality instruments and would recommend them to my students. As I stated before though, at this level it is about what you want so you definitely need to be trying multiple instruments and comparing them before purchasing. A teacher or trusted professional can still be of great assistance at this level, but make sure that you are buying something that YOU are happy with.

When it comes to buying used the game changes a little. For beginners I highly recommend having your teacher or a trusted professional to help you out with the process. Stick to the same brands mentioned before, but make sure the instrument has been well taken care of and is in good working order. Prices will obviously vary when buying used instruments so use your judgment. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For intermediate and professional instruments al the same rules apply to used as they did to new instruments. However, when it comes to buying vintage instruments you really need to do your research and learn which vintage instruments are good, which are not, and what they are worth. Again, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

What it all boils down to is just be smart about what you are buying. You will get what you pay for. Buying a quality instrument is so important for a new saxophone player to set them up with the best chance to succeed. If they have to play on an instrument that doesn’t work they won’t first assume that the instrument is the problem, but they will assume that they are the problem and they will quit and be discouraged for years to come.

If you are in the process of buying an instrument and have any questions please feel free to contact me. I would love to help. If you like or disagree with anything I said here I would really like to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

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