West Morris Mendham High School Teen Well on her Way to Mastery Over the Saxophone

By Alexander Rivero, Staff Writer

West Morris Mendham High School junior Ginger Meyer got the feeling something special was going on with her saxophone around her time in middle school.  Her band director at the time–Kenneth Piascik, DMA–used a skills chart and offered awards for students who made the most progress on their respective instruments, especially whenever they increased the tempo at which they played individual scales. Meyer showed exceptional improvements, moving quickly up Piascik’s chart, and his confidence in her affirmed her own suspicions: she and her saxophone had a date with destiny.  

 

She dove head first into her practice sessions with renewed vigor and purpose, emboldened by the fact that her proficiency with the instrument was enough to spark the notice of more experienced musicians and teachers. By the time she reached the 7th grade, specifically during her time on the Classical Regents Band of North Jersey, she was certain that the stars had aligned for her in the saxophone. Surrounded by the more experienced ninth graders that made up most of the band, she shone nonetheless. 

 

“All of my progress with the saxophone has been a bit of a snowball, especially in terms of developing my ability,” says Meyer by phone. “In the beginning, things progress very slowly, but then, if you stick to it consistently, you’ll see that progress speed up and your new abilities will absolutely take you by surprise when they show up.”

 

In May, Meyer competed in the 27th Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band competition, held at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Competing against over 80 of the most highly skilled high school jazz bands from across the country, Meyer crowned the event by taking home the coveted Outstanding Alto Saxophone Award. 

 

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival is perhaps the most cutting-edge educational jazz events on earth. Every year, high school musicians from across North America descend on New York City for three straight days of practices, workshops, jam sessions, performances, and rehearsals at the “House of Swing”–Fredrick P. Rose Hall, the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. 

 

Her list of accolades and awards does not begin and end with those earned at Lincoln Center, naturally. Meyer has been hard at work building her musical portfolio for years now, and has been promptly recognized at high points all along her journey. 

 

To name a few items of recognition, she was recently awarded First Chair in North Region Jazz Ensemble (2022), the All-State Symphonic Band (2022), and the All-State Wind Ensemble (2021). She also recently auditioned for the 2022 All-State Jazz Ensemble and was awarded the highly coveted first chair, alto saxophone. Coming this September, she will begin her rehearsals for the concert, which will be held this upcoming October. 

 

To stay sharp, Meyer says she likes to keep her world small.

 

“I really like focusing on the small things,” she says. “Chest support, for example, making sure my cheeks are puffed out. When I’m improvising, it should be melodic, not chippy, so I pay close attention to that, for that smoothness of sound.”

Reflecting on what makes the saxophone so unique as an instrument, she says its special quality begins, for her, with it being a sort of hybrid between a woodwind and a brass instrument. 

 

“It’s just such a uniquely sounding instrument,” she says, “and how it has elements of each of those two different worlds. That ‘bite’ of the saxophone–that initial start of the note–has hooked a lot of people, me included. It has extraordinary ‘singability’, and it can almost mimic the sound of a human voice at times.”

 

Meyer cites Johnny Hodges and Gerald Albright–each legendary saxophonists–as some of her top musical influences.

 

A typical practice session, says Meyer, is non-existent, as they differ widely. She usually jumps right into whatever specific area she happens to feel like practicing most on that given day. 

 

“After that, I’ll realize I need to do scales, long-tones, arpeggios. I’d like to work more on patterns, which come from the act of transcribing,” she says, referring to the more meticulous side of a musician’s daily work where she will try to determine whether or a note has a particular rhythm within it, work that requires patience, a sharp ear, and plenty of consistent effort. 

 

Asked whether she plays any additional instruments other than the saxophone, Meyer says she used to play the piano, and has played the violin since the 4th grade. She is in the process of learning to play the clarinet to increase her flexibility as a musician, and the fact that she is doing so is by no means an anomaly. 

 

“Most master saxophonists,” she says, “have mastered other instruments as well, and it is expected of most saxophonists working the jazz scene to play both the clarinet and the flute.” 

 

She certainly is young enough to do it all, and judging by her accomplishments and work ethic, she is driven enough as well. 

 

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