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!

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.

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