Since Junior High, there has only been one instrument for Kendra Heslip – the saxophone. As far back as grade seven, the 2015 winner of the Northern Alberta Concerto Competition (Senior Winds) was drawn to the instrument simply because “all the cool kids were playing saxophone.”
Heslip became acquainted with Angela Schroeder, Associate Professor in the Department of Music, through the University of Alberta High School Honour Band program, eventually following her mentor into the Bachelor of Music program in Saxophone Performance. The admiration is mutual. Schroeder believes Heslip is a star in the making, with the raw talent and work ethic required of such a career.
For performance-based students like Heslip, the inherent vulnerability of their art is often at odds with the judgmental nature of its practice. Knowing that there is someone who has your back and will see you through to the end has been key to Heslip’s success. It is a role that Schroeder welcomes. “The University of Alberta music program is kind of a mecca for saxophone performance, so she chose well,” laughs Schroeder. “She’s thrived in this environment.”
Heslip puts in the time it takes to master her instrument, practicing up to five hours a day.
“I have a performance alter ego. My attitude is cranked up, and I play to impress that person.”
“The quickest way to get better is to practice,” laughs Heslip. “And take your practicing seriously! It’s better to practice for 20 minutes and focus the entire time, than an hour and a half when you’re not.”
There are many ways to be a music student, and while some prefer to perfect their art behind the scenes, studying composition or history, Heslip is that rare breed that feeds off the adrenaline rush of performance. “I like to think of it as goal-setting,” she says. “Memorize at least two weeks before your actual performance date, and then perform it as much as you can, and in front of people. I have a performance alter ego. My attitude is cranked up, and I play to impress that person.”
And yet, many of Heslip’s fondest memories of her time as a Faculty of Arts student were made outside of her performances. When to walk on stage, whose hand to shake, and how to take a bow were all learning curves that Heslip now looks back on with a smile. She also cites her ongoing behind-the-scenes work as concert assistant for Convocation Hall, and the opportunity it affords to observe visiting artists and their backstage processes and interactions. “It teaches you how to be a good professional,” says Heslip.
It’s paid off. Heslip applied to five graduate schools and received five offers, accepting a place at Bowling Green State University. “It’s so gratifying, seeing the development of someone into such a refined artist at this stage,” beams Schroeder. “To hear someone who is already at a professional level, and wants to keep going. You know she’s going to have her name in lights.”
As a successful concerto veteran, we asked Heslip to share some tips for up and coming musicians on the Faculty’s Fine Arts blog – Curious Arts. To read her advice on how to prepare a winning performance, click here.
Top photo: Kendra Heslip (R) with her music professor and mentor, Angela Schroeder