I only seem to remember to write the Year End Wrap Up blog every two years for some reason, but this is a good year to remember. This isn’t going to be what you would expect from a blog about 2020; yes, it sucked in a lot of ways, but overall I’m happy with the year I had. Let’s dive into why.
Like it did for everyone else, 2020 started out like a typical year. January and February are typically quiet times for me for gigs, but I played a couple of them. I was teaching and playing in the community concert band every week. Life was good. I was also preparing for my first gig on woodwinds in a musical theatre pit orchestra on Reed 3 (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax) for a production of Annie in the town of Langenburg. It was an incredible experience! We did five sold out shows in the first week of March. That theatre was full without a care in the world. It was amazing. I finished that week with renewed energy to practice and to seek out more work like this; but 2 weeks later, it all came to a grinding halt.
The beginning of the pandemic was a crappy time. Between not being able to go anywhere, cancelled gigs, and no idea when I was ever going to play for an audience again, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.
In late April things started to turn around. Michael made the trip out to Yorkton to hang out for a few days, and we did a live stream for International Jazz Day. It wasn’t hugely successful, but we had fun. Around the same time, Saskatoon based drummer Lukas Newman reached out and asked if I’d take part in a recording of his original track, Central Park at Five. It was really fun to have a project to work on again and it turned out great.
On May 5th, I gave myself a good swift kick in the ass. I laid out a daily practice routine to cover all 5 instruments that I am currently working on and started the #100DaysOfPractice Challenge on Instagram. The challenge was simply to practice something for 100 consecutive days. I missed some days, but when I did I just picked up where I left off. I finally finished the 100 days on August 30th, 117 days later, and I felt pretty damn good about it.
I know it didn’t happen for everyone, but for me gigs did come back to some extent. Things felt pretty bleak when the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival got cancelled; we had played the festival every year since we formed the Marc Holt Quintet in 2013. However, the Yorkton Arts Council contacted us soon after to take part in their Sidewalk Concert Series in early August. Michael and Nevin came out to Yorkton and spent a few days at the house. We rehearsed, learned new tunes, drank a lot of beer, played some video games, and played 3 shows too! The shows were almost like a flash mob, except people knew they were happening. To prevent large crowds, the locations weren’t announced. People would sign up to host a concert and they’d tell their neighbours when it would be. We’d show up, set up, play a half hour set, then pack up and be onto the next one.
Later in August we made our return to Melody Bar (now known as Penrose Wine & Bar) after not playing there for a few years. It was our first indoor show since January. It was great to have a “full” house (COVID style) and enthusiastic audience. We were back for another round at Melody in October plus a show in North Battleford at She-Nanigans. Live music was also back at Greenbryre Golf & Country Club where we played to a great audience in November.
If you follow my career at all, you probably know the biggest change that came out of this year. In June, we found out that another one of the original members of the Marc Holt Quintet, Bryn Becker, had decided to move home to Vancouver. It was tough to hear, but we all understood his reasons. We managed to get in our annual band trip to Candle Lake before he took off, where we celebrated 7 years as a band. It was a great last hurrah where I caught the largest fish of my life, a 12 pound Northern Pike.
Bryn’s departure left us two members short of a quintet and it just didn’t feel right to continue under the same name. We tossed around band name ideas for about a month before I suggested The Remainders; a play on the fact that Michael, Nevin, and myself were the three remaining original members Marc Holt Quintet. It was a name we finally all agreed on, so in late July we officially became The Remainders! With a fresh new name, we decided it was also time the band had social media accounts separate from my own (Follow us! Facebook, Instagram). Things got off to a good start with lots of buzz around the new name, several gigs popping up, and the most press coverage we’ve ever gotten with features from Yorkton This Week, BattlefordsNow, and Brit’s Picks. The first six months of the new name have been great, and we look forward to what the future holds.
This past year also brought significant growth in my social media following. I consciously worked on it this year to position myself to come out of the pandemic stronger. I now have just under 650 followers on Instagram and nearly 400 people Like my Facebook page. Those aren’t huge numbers, but growth is growth. I attribute a lot of it to my weekly Flute Monday and Clarinet Wednesday posts which I've now done a full year of.
As if this wasn’t all enough, in October of 2019 I was elected to the board of directors of the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils. I’ve volunteered with OSAC for over half my life, and I'm very passionate about it. COVID-19 put a damper on our meetings, the last of which we had in person was in January. After only one year on the board, I put my name forward for the vacant position of Vice-Chair and was elected! I’m both excited and nervous of this new role. The exciting part is contributing to the future of this organization. The nervousness comes from the pressure I impose on myself to lead in the right direction. Regardless, I look forward to the future of this organization. We have a great board, and an amazing staff coming together for what I believe is a winning combination.
In the end, I did what I could to make the best of a crappy year. I spent a lot of time practicing (just over 300 hours), did a lot of hiking (around 120km in three provinces), and kept in touch with friends and family as best I could. My last major musical activity of the year was recording parts for virtual bands. I recorded eight parts on three different instruments for the Saskatchewan Band Association’s Virtual Holiday Concert and I played bass clarinet on Virtual Concert Band’s recording of the Concert Suite from the Polar Express.
Our year wrapped up with a quiet Christmas at home, just Chelsea and me with our dog, Riker, and our cat, Weasley. I want to close by thanking everyone who supported me this past year, from hiring me for a gig to simply following me on social media. It all means so much to me.