Emily Steinwall

Our first featured artist of 2015 is saxophonist Emily Steinwall, who was a member of the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Band from 2011 to 2013.

Born and raised in Toronto, Emily has been involved in music from an early age.  While in high school, she participated in the Humber College Community School and Honour Combo Programs. She was also a member of the MusicFest Canada National Youth Jazz Combo.

A recipient of MusicFest Canada’s Rico Golden Reed Award and the Humber College Scott Henshaw Memorial Award, Emily has had the opportunity to study with Alex Dean, Seamus Blake, Mike Murley, Lorne Lofsky, Dave Neill, and Andy Ballantyne, and perform with Al Kay, Ben Monder, Rich Perry, Tom Scott, and Lew Tabackin.

Emily is currently in her second year of the Humber College Bachelor’s of Music program, studying with saxophonist Kirk Macdonald. She also performs with various groups in the Toronto area.

She took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss her memories of the Youth Big Band program and discuss some of her recent musical activities:

1) Describe your experience with the Youth Big Band program. What was your favourite aspect?

My experience with the big band was fantastic. It was really fun, but also very challenging. I am a tenor saxophone player but I played baritone and then lead alto in the band, two roles that were completely new to me. It was such an amazing learning experience, and playing with such a high level band really pushed me to work harder than ever and helped to develop my skills and musicianship.

My favourite aspect of the band was the people I met through this program. Not only the opportunity to meet and perform with some musical idols, but also the friends that were in the band. I met like-minded people from all over the city, and I still hang out and play with these people on a regular basis.

2) What is your strongest memory of the Youth Big Band program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

My strongest memory of the band is when we would travel together. Going to Rochester, NY to play in the Rochester Jazz Festival in particular was a very strong memory. I remember it was pouring rain and we were playing on an outdoor stage, so most of the people on the street had cleared out. But there was one man sitting in a lawn chair about fifteen feet from the stage and he was getting completely soaked, but he just looked so happy and pleased to be listening to the music we were making that he stayed for the whole show. That moment has really stuck with me, and it reminds me that if you just make one person’s life a little brighter with a performance, then it’s all worth it.

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?

I would highly recommend this experience to anyone interested in this style of music. It’s really fun, and you learn a lot about section playing, sight reading, musicianship, and being a reliable band member. There are also no other resources in the city that offer this type of experience to high school students, and there is no better way to learn music than to get out and perform at professional venues.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

Being a member of this band taught me so much. I was so inspired by the other students in the band, and it was my first experience hearing players my age that could play jazz at that level. It was an incredibly motivating experience being in the band, and I remember practicing so much just to try to sound as good as the other players. It also helped me a lot with my sight reading and section playing.

But I think the most important thing that this band did for me was teach me how to perform and act like a real professional musician. Though it is all high school students, you are treated like a professional and expected to act like one. I remember sitting on the stage of Koerner Hall for the Jazz Lives concert and thinking, “This is it. I have to bring everything I’ve got to this performance because there are about a thousand people watching us play right now, and there’s no way I’m messing this up.” Understanding the kind of pressure and preparation that goes into a professional performance and how to deal with that and rise to the occasion was probably the most important thing I learned from this band and I’m glad I learned these lessons so early on.

5) This program is made possible by our generous donors and sponsors who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

Thank you so, so, so, so very much for your support! It is so encouraging knowing that people like you not only believe in the importance of music, but also that you believe in the kids that will be part of the program. This is such an outstanding program, and you are making a huge difference in so many young people’s lives with your generosity.

6) Why is music education important?

I think music education is so important because it teaches people the value and importance of music. Music education strengthens our culture, and in order to have a society that supports and values the arts, people need to understand it. I believe that it is vital for all young people to understand music so that they can appreciate it as an art form and experience it in a much more profound way, and that there is a direct correlation between the attendance of live performances and music education.

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

I am currently in my second year at Humber College, working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance. I have been playing a few gigs around town, and I have been going to as many jazz jam sessions and shows as possible. My focus right now is learning the tradition of jazz (knowing the repertoire, transcribing, etc), and trying to constantly push myself to be a better musician.

I have been playing in a few projects that are really fun and worth checking out, including the Funny Funk Band, which just recorded its first EP a few months ago. I am also involved in Mason Victoria’s SONUSKAPOS Orchestra, which is a really amazing group with some great arrangements that allow me to work on my woodwind doubles.

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

I like to listen to a lot of different types of music, particularly any jazz, classical, funk, and folk.

Lately, I spend most of my time listening to John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. These are two of my favourite artists of all time. I also have been very interested in impressionist classical music, and love listening to Ravel and Debussy. I also spend a lot time listening to local musicians, particularly saxophonist Kirk Macdonald. He is my private teacher at Humber this year, and I have been listening to and transcribing his music a lot.

9) What are your plans for the future?

I plan to finish my degree at Humber, and beyond that I’m not quite sure. I would love to travel and perhaps get a Master’s degree, but I know that I will always be rooted in Toronto. I guess my plan is to continue playing music and learning and see where that takes me.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

People can go to my website for any updates about performances: http://emilysteinwall.weebly.com

11) Is there anything else that you want to add?

I would like to add that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be a member of this band, and for all that JAZZ.FM91 does for the Canadian jazz community.

I would also like to add that I will be playing at the Jazz Bistro with my quintet Wednesday January 14th at 8pm.