Influences and Inspiration

There is a video circulating on YouTube from the 2014 North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) Biennial conference that features Dr. Fred Hemke, Dr. Eugene Rousseau, and Dr. Steven Mauk.  It was a panel discussion that was moderated by conference host Debra Richtmeyer, in which she asked them questions about the state of saxophone pedagogy in the United States, as well as how they came to find the saxophone as their musical voice.  After viewing the video, it caused me to think about how I decided on the saxophone for my own musical path–a story which I will share here.

I first started playing the saxophone when I was eight years old.  In my elementary school, following the conclusion of the third grade, students were allowed to begin studying an instrument to play in the band.  As a youngster, I had no idea what I wanted to play, but I knew that I wanted to participate in band because some of my friends were going to do it.  I asked my mother what I should do, and she said that I should play saxophone because she liked how it sounded.  That’s all it took.  I started playing a few weeks later during summer lessons, and was an able participant in the elementary band in the fall.

I continued to play saxophone throughout elementary, middle, and high school, participating in the concert band, jazz band, and marching band.  In high school, I became very serious about studying music in college, so I began taking private lessons.  In 1997 I entered SUNY Fredonia to study music education, with the intent of becoming a band director.  I began studying with Dr. Laurence Wyman and I loved all of my classes.  In the spring of 1999, Dr. Wyman informed his studio that the Rascher Saxophone Quartet was coming to Fredonia that summer to give a week-long workshop, and that we should all consider attending.  Little did I know that this would be an experience that would completely change the course of my life.  At this workshop, I heard sounds that I had never heard before from a saxophone, as well as a tone quality that is still ringing in my ears.  I knew from then on that this is what I wanted to do with my life–to play saxophone as these four amazing artists were.  It was also at this workshop that I was to meet a man with whom I would later study and learn from–Dr. Lawrence Gwozdz.

One year later, I met the other individual who would transform my playing and my whole mode of thinking about the saxophone: Dr. Wildy Zumwalt.  I was immediately captivated by his tone quality and musicianship, and I was very excited that he would be my teacher when Dr. Wyman retired in 2000.

These three individuals (6 if you count all of the members of the RSQ), have influenced me to be the saxophonist and musician that I am today.  I cannot imagine what I would be doing with my life had I not heard the saxophone played as they play it.  I thank them everyday for the gifts they shared with me, and I hope to continue the tradition going.


Since I graduated with my DMA in 2009, I’ve had a few epiphanies about what it takes to be successful in the music world. Granted, I am still a novice in much of this; however, I’ve learned a few important lessons over the past 6 years, and I feel inclined to share them.

1) Networking — It goes without saying, but it is absolutely crucial to network within your chosen field. I began networking with other saxophonists back in early 2002, and I’ve continued to do so to the present. I’ve benefited from the process by being able to collaborate with new people, find new music, study with some amazing players, and be more in the know about the saxophone world.

2) Jazz and Doubling are Important — I never focused on studying jazz or doubling on clarinet until after my formal studies. This was a mistake that I’m still coping with. In college, my priorities were different–I was focused on becoming a classical saxophonist. Now that I’ve finished school, I believe it’s more important than ever to be adaptable to any musical situation. I’ve since bought a clarinet, listened to more jazz, and begun playing it on a regular basis with the Swing Shift Orchestra. I’ll never give up my classical playing, but I’ll feel more comfortable with a jazz side that I can tap into and use for the various musical and jazz/commercial performances that pop up.

3) Find a great repairman — This also goes without saying. Find someone who you trust with your instruments. I was fortunate enough to befriend Charles Gray at Paul Effman Music, and I send all of my instruments to him when in need of repair.

I’m sure there are some other things that I’ve forgotten to mention, but this is what was on my mind this week, as I prepare to perform in The Drowsy Chaperone next weekend.