I started learning the sax when I first entered Ellon Academy, about eleven years ago now. My parents encouraged me to try learning an instrument, as it had been very positive and constructive for my older brother.
I guess I picked the sax because to a twelve-year-old boy it was the ‘coolest’ of the instruments available – it conjured up images of smoky barrooms and stylish cabarets, as opposed to the idea of the stuffy old orchestras that I associated with strings, brass, and the other woodwind instruments. Of course, I’ve learned a lot since then, and have a lot of respect and appreciation for the players of other instruments, but that glamorous image has stayed with me ever since.
Through the Ellon Academy music department I got involved in a number of music groups, including school bands and the Aberdeenshire Music Centre. It was also through this that I found out about ASO.
I must have been about fourteen or fifteen when I first went to ASO, a timid young lad playing a well-worn school instrument to what I thought was a not very high standard. I was rather nervous that I’d not be able to keep up with the music, or (as was my experience in a previous band) I’d be looked down upon for being young and inexperienced.
Thankfully, those worries were immediately proved false. Everyone in the group was incredibly welcoming and encouraging, and there were many other people around my age that helped me to feel more comfortable and secure in my playing. Richard was also fantastic at running the band, with his unrivalled knowledge and skill with the saxophone matched only by his patience and enthusiasm for helping others to improve.
Even after continuing to play music while in university, I still return to ASO because it provides such a unique sense of community. The diverse range of ages, backgrounds and experiences across the band members is so very unlike any other groups I’ve been in, and the atmosphere is one of genuine support and enjoyment. I would thoroughly recommend it for anyone who plays the sax, regardless of age or level of ability.
ASO is also really good for pushing you to try new things. For instance, about a year into my attendance Richard decided to put me on soprano sax, something I had never played or even held before. He just handed me the instrument (on loan from the council) and said something to the effect of "There you go, you're on soprano now." It was pretty alarming at the time, but after trying it out I found I really enjoyed it. Enough so, in fact, that after having to return the instrument upon leaving school I decided to buy my own soprano so I could continue playing. Though the price tag came as a bit of a shock... It's well worth having your own instrument, but it's not a purchase you can make very often!