The best thing about me as a musician is that I’m extremely versatile. The worst thing is that I’ve never been dedicated enough to actually perfect any of my talents. I suppose that’s because I’ve always viewed music as a hobby, and I’d rather be competent at a bunch of things than amazing at one particular thing.
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I started out as the only boy in my elementary school’s choir, followed by being the only boy who wanted to be in the choir. I also performed sporadically in musicals throughout elementary and secondary school.More
I have a tenor vocal range and gravitate towards jazz, rock, and pop, though I’ve been known to rap on occasion. I also have ridiculously strong vocal projection that I have trouble switching off (whether or not I’m singing). It’s a blessing when I need to be heard, and a curse when I’m trying to be quiet. People often say that in a loud environment, I’m the only person they can hear. Again, not always a good thing.
My first memory of playing saxophone was when I was in Grade 3. Only the saxophone was my thermos, and I was entertaining my classmates during the lunch break by pretending to play saxophone. I have no idea how that started, but I know that it took place on more than one occasion. I don’t even know where I first heard a saxophone, but it was 1985 and I’m guessing that Huey Lewis and The News had something to do with it.More
I was given a clarinet in Grade 6, and I tolerated that for two years before finally being given the chance to play saxophone in Grade 8. There was also an aborted attempt to play the french horn in there…and I can’t explain what started that.
I’m not sure why, but the band teacher started me out with a tenor saxophone, while most other kids played altos. And I’m super glad for that, because it just felt natural and right. My parents bought me my Yamaha YTS-32 tenor saxophone later that year, and I’ve held onto it for 23 years. I’ve played that saxophone in pit bands for musicals, cover bands with my friends, and pep bands for the University of Waterloo and the Toronto Argonauts. I’ve played it on stage, on parade floats, and in snowstorms. And though I don’t play it as often these days, it will always be an important part of my life.
Along the way, I gained a Yamaha WX5 midi saxophone and a Cannonball baritone saxophone (which I passed on to friends in 2013). The midi sax offers flexibility, enabling me to recreate a wide variety of instruments electronically. The baritone sax is a beautiful instrument with a wonderful sound, but I never felt quite as attached to it as my other two saxes.
I bought my first guitar in 1996, and it was all wrong for me. The dreadnought body was too big and wide, and I didn’t have the patience to learn, or the wisdom to take lessons. I kept that guitar for years, but even after I learned how to play it never felt right for me. I eventually donated it to a music program for kids.More
In 2008, I learned to play a Kala tenor ukulele. That was before ukuleles became a big thing in North America, so to get a decent one I had to buy it on Ebay and have it shipped from Hawaii. Now you can get them in pretty much any music store for much less than I paid. Sigh.
When I was ready to try guitar again, I stepped up to an Art & Lutherie Ami, which has a parlor-style body that’s smaller than most guitars. It’s great for travel, and has a bright, clear tone. If you need a lightweight guitar that’s great for road trips and campfires, I highly recommend it.
Since I liked my A&L so much, I stayed in the family and purchased a Norman B20 that now serves as my primary guitar (both the A&L and Norman brands are produced by Godin Guitars). I like the size, weight, and tone of the round mini-jumbo body, which suits me better than a larger and boomier dreadnought. Unlike my first guitar, my B20 feels like a natural extension of my body.
I’d say that I’m competent enough to handle myself as the rhythm guitarist in a band, and I’ve performed solo on a number of occasions. I’m good enough to support myself as a singer, and that’s all I ever wanted. After all, it’s hard to sing and play the saxophone at the same time.
I took one or two years of piano lessons when I was a kid, but it didn’t stick and I moved on to saxophone. However, I’ve always envied people who can sit down at a random piano and play, and despite my lack of training I’ve actually played keyboard in some bands, when the need arose. Now, after years of contemplation, I’m taking piano lessons at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.More
The most interesting thing about taking piano lessons at this point in my life is recognizing how my understanding of music has grown over the years. I started out as a saxophonist and singer, concentrating on one note at a time and learning how to improvise. I was introduced to chords when I started playing in rock/pop bands and directing music for musicals, and started to understand chord progressions and song structure when I learned the guitar. However, on guitar I just learned which strings to press to get certain chords, without knowing what the individual notes are. Now, I’m learning about the components of individual chords, how to play them on a piano by feel, and when to invert them to get the best voicings.
I’ve gone from playing a G note to playing a G chord to playing the G, B, and D notes to make a G chord. And I’m quite amused by that.
Music and Vocal Direction
My experience with music direction began in 1996, when I started leading the University of Waterloo Warriors Band at football and basketball games. I subsequently found myself writing and directing music for the FASS Theatre Company, and it only took one or two productions for me to actually be competent at it.More
The Warriors Band was natural and easy for me, mostly because it was very relaxed. We practised once a week, and there was no marching involved. We just sat in the stands, and when there was a break in the action we played music. I mostly played my saxophone when leading, but often found myself manning our giant bass drum or fumbling with a snare drum.
I was lucky enough to lead the Warriors Band during the most competitive point in Waterloo’s football history. As a result, we travelled to Ottawa and Halifax for playoff games (as well as Montreal for a regular-season game). We also played in a Grey Cup parade in Hamilton, along with the Queens and Western bands, and regularly attended the Vanier Cup when it was hosted at SkyDome (which I refuse to call the Rogers Centre).
FASS Theatre Company
I was tricked into directing the music for FASS 1999. The director asked me to be her music director, and I made the mistake of telling her that I’d do it if she couldn’t find anyone else. I was young and naive, so I didn’t realize that she’d just stop asking people and hold me to it.
While I may not have been qualified to direct music at that point in time, I loved working with the actors and musicians, which led to me serving as music director again in 2000 and 2001. My favourite parts were always the opening and closing songs, which we’d rehearse on weekends with between 60-100 actors. I found that I was really good at motivating and teaching large groups, while setting a fun and supportive tone. I also got great satisfaction out of helping individual singers to gain confidence in themselves during rehearsals.
I took a break from FASS in 2002 and 2003, and came back in 2004. After reacquainting myself with the company, I continued to serve as a vocal coach from 2005-2009, directing the music on three occasions and directing the entire show in 2008.
Thanks to a decent sense of rhythm and a large vocabularly, it turns out that I’m pretty good at writing parody lyrics for songs. I started doing this when I first directed music for FASS, and continued to write and songs for the various productions over the years. More recently, I wrote a bunch of parody songs for Robin in the Hood in 2013 and 2014.
You can read more about my take on parody songwriting here.