With a first-place win from the Saskatchewan Provincial Music Festival tucked away in his saxophone case, Gerard Weber is now preparing to attend the 41st Annual National Music Conference this August in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
It will be Weber’s third time of competing in the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals’ event, and he is looking forward to it again this year.
“It’s a really exciting competition,” Weber commented. “There are lots of really high-powered performers who attend.”
Even though Weber just came back from playing a few gigs in the SaskTel Saskatoon Jazz Festival the last week of June, he says he is a classically trained musician, and the woodwind category he competes in at the music festival is for classical pieces.
“I double back and forth,” he said, referring to the styles of music. “In classical, it’s a more refined sound, and in jazz it’s more about improvisation and developing the jazz sound itself. You have to do a lot of listening to players to sort of develop your own sound.”
Similar to the way we classify the human voice into vocal registers ranging from the deepest bass to the highest soprano tessatura, the saxophone has four distinct registers: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone. At the University of Saskatchewan, where Weber is about to enter his fourth year in music performance studies, he says he plays mainly the soprano and alto saxophone for the classical repertoire. However, like most musicians, Weber can switch between the different registers of his instrument.
“I was playing the bary (baritone saxophone) at the jazz festival,” Weber said. “It’s a pretty big switch to go from classical to jazz. Your set-up is different, too – meaning your mouthpiece and reed. I have a classical mouthpiece, and a jazz mouthpiece. The jazz mouthpiece helps to open your sound and project more so that you have more volume.”
In any event, both styles of playing seem to keep Weber busy and advancing in his musical career. After he finishes his Bachelor of Music, Weber plans to go on to graduate studies with an eye to being a university professor himself one day.
Competitors cannot use music scores at the festival, they must play from memory, Weber says. This summer he is working on memorizing the third part of the concerto from which he played the first two parts in the provincial competition. A second, contrasting piece, is also required.
But the most challenging part of this summer’s adventures may be getting to the destination. Located on the 56th parallel in the oilsands of northern Alberta, it will be a trek into unknown territory for many of the young competitors.
Even the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals cautions travellers not used to the route with a word of warning on its website: “Whether you drive, fly, or bus into Fort McMurray, the last few kilometres will be on the only (presently) divided portion of Highway 63...Fill your fuel tank at Grassland or Lac La Biche, depending on which way you are coming. Food and drink with you is a must. It is a three-hour drive from both these places, whether you take Highway 63 or 881.”
The 41st Annual National Music Festival runs from August 12-18.