From the Bahamas to Araluen, Saskia has made music a constant in her life:
“I love music.
“My early childhood was spent in the Bahamas and some of my earliest memories are the sounds of calypso which could be heard everywhere. At home, I remember both of my parents often playing the piano. My mother studied music at university and is classically trained to Grade 8, and my father could not only play a Beethoven sonata by memory, but also played in a jazz band in his youth.
“In primary school I enjoyed playing the triangle in a small percussion band, and apparently quickly progressed from the triangle to conducting the band. I started learning the piano at age seven, with my mother teaching me for the first year. I enjoyed competing in local talent quests and music competitions with my one claim to fame being a winner in the Bahamas Music Festival for two years in a row!
“At age eleven I moved with my family to Australia. For a while we did not have a piano, but when we did I started having lessons again, preparing for AMEB exams. I remember one year being jinxed by my piano teacher. I was going skiing a couple of weeks before my exam and her parting words to me were ‘Whatever you do, don’t hurt your hands!’ I came home with a sprained thumb and had to postpone the exam! Another time I had been at the beach for the whole day before my lesson. Unbeknownst to me I had sunstroke, and as soon as I started playing I fainted and fell backwards off the piano stool. Luckily my teacher caught me, and then kindly took me to hospital.
“I moved out of home to go to university and continued with piano lessons. Although I didn’t have a piano I was able to use the practice rooms at the Seymour Centre across the road (for free!). I also enjoyed dabbling on the clarinet and playing Celtic tunes on the treble and tenor recorders in my spare time. After I had finished studying I spent a summer in Araluen packing peaches to save up enough money to buy a gorgeous old Bechstein piano. It seems strange now, as people practically give away second-hand pianos. Once again, I went back to having lessons, this time as an adult. I practised religiously after work, competed in local Eisteddfods and undertook AMEB exams to 8th grade.
“But at the back of my mind I always knew that what I really wanted to do was play saxophone in a jazz band ……
“The next chapter of my life was busy with family – raising children, encouraging them with their music endeavours and working in the Fire Management Branch of the National Parks & Wildlife Service. When my youngest started high school and learning a second instrument, I wondered if I also had the time and commitment to learn to play a new instrument. I thought to myself ‘I’ll give it a try for a couple of months’ …
“So, at 49 I picked up the saxophone for the first time. I started having lessons and practised earnestly for a couple of hours each day as I was keen to improve my playing as fast as I could. I was already aware of Blue Mountains Concert Band (BMCB) as my son had been a member of Mountains Youth Band for many years, but I did not think my playing was good enough to join. It was my son who persisted in telling me otherwise and encouraging me to join, which I eventually did in 2011.
“At my first rehearsal I remember the sensation of being immersed and surrounded by sound. Beautiful! A new experience for a solo piano player. I lost my place in most of the pieces and couldn’t pick it up again! Everyone in the band was super friendly and very supportive. A couple of years later I was asked if I would like to join Blue Mountains Jazz Ensemble (BMJE). I was SO excited! I had no idea how to play jazz, as until then I had mostly only played classical music. In BMJE I played alongside some fine musicians and learned so much from them. Since then I have undertaken some short courses with Jazz Workshop Australia, and 3 years ago I joined Stringybark Jazz Band (part of Lane Cove Concert Band). I am currently a member of Blue Mountains Concert Band and Stringybark Jazz Band and have served on the BMCB Committee as secretary for 8 years.
“To anyone who has ever thought they would like to learn to play a musical instrument I would encourage them to do so. It is never too late! If you have children learning at the same time it can also be a very bonding experience. Over the years I have found playing music in community bands to be a very rewarding experience, not only for learning about music and improving playing skills, but for the many friendships that I have gained along the way.”