COLUMN: A graduating saxophonist discusses versatility and ambition

Rachel Atherly | Daily Trojan

Readers of this column may recognize that versatility is at the heart of most successful musicians’ career planning. Senior Emma Reinhart knows that too. But she considers her diverse musical skillset more than just a survival strategy. For the saxophonist, the eclecticism of music is what makes it interesting.

Reinhart entered USC as a music major on a pre-pharmacy track, but a transformative summer program at Disney convinced her to focus solely on music.

“The summer after sophomore year, I was accepted to the All-American College Band at Disneyland, and that really opened my eyes [as] to how many career paths there are within music,” Reinhart said. “[After] coming back to school, I dropped my pre-pharmacy stuff and went all out for music.”

Many of the clinicians who visited the Disney band were musicians who had made their careers as producers, business specialists or film consultants. Reinhart told me she hadn’t considered that music offered so many opportunities beyond performing. That fall, she added a music industry minor to her degree in classical saxophone. She began to take any jazz class she could fit around her minor and her work as a music educator. And since then, she hasn’t looked back.

“There’s a whole other side to what you can do, outside of playing your instrument, that opens so many doors,” Reinhart said.

For example, Reinhart told me teaching music through the Thornton Community Engagement Project, the music school’s outreach initiative, has given her perspective on the value music can have for young people.

In an interview with TCEP, Reinhart utilized her ability to play four different woodwind instruments and her experiences in her high school jazz band, wind ensemble and marching band. She expected to become a teacher’s assistant in a local high school wind ensemble. Instead, she was given a daunting assignment: teaching TCEP’s Adventures in Music curriculum to a class of elementary school students.

“When I got my job assignment, I was teaching elementary school general music, and I was terrified,” Reinhart said. “I almost said no. But then I thought, ‘No, I should really get this experience — this would be good for me.’”

That demonstrates Reinhart’s eagerness to get out of her comfort zone. Like Jim Carrey’s character in the film Yes Man, Reinhart has stumbled into interesting experiences simply by keeping an open mind. Though she doesn’t confine her sights to performance, even within her performance endeavors, Reinhart said her goal is to be comfortable in as many musical settings as she can. She plays in Thornton’s Concert Jazz Orchestra and builds jazz practice into her daily routine.

I asked Reinhart about her experiences in playing both jazz and classical music.

“When I was in high school, I used to do both classical and jazz, but I eventually had to abandon classical, because I would just start improvising — I couldn’t stick to the page,” she said.

Reinhart explained that she couldn’t keep her mind straight while being musically immersed in two distinct genres.

“I try to separate them as much as possible,” she answered with a laugh. “So, when I’m playing classical versus jazz, I have different setups, different mouthpieces.”

But Reinhart’s musical ambidextrousness doesn’t end with genre. Once she finished her education, she hopes to become a doubler — a musician who plays multiple instruments at a high level. Among music directors, doublers are highly sought-after musicians, since on a film score or in a pit orchestra, a skilled doubler can play multiple musicians’ parts. Doubling is especially attractive to woodwind players because the family of instruments shares similarities in their playing technique.

For her part, Reinhart currently doubles on clarinet, flute and oboe, and she will be taking up the bassoon soon. When we spoke last week, Reinhart was deciding which graduate school to attend. She’d applied to five different master’s programs in woodwind doubling and been admitted to all of them, but was waiting to hear back about a few scholarships.

I asked Reinhart if thinking about her commitment to a career in music makes her anxious.

“I think there’s in any creative field a certain amount of anxiety, just because what we do can change on a moment’s notice and you have to wear a lot of different hats,” Reinhart said. “I think now I’m more excited about that.”

Reinhart’s raw enthusiasm for music as well as her practicality shined in the way she talked about the graduate programs she was considering. After what must have been a nail-biting experience for her prospective professors, Reinhart messaged me to say she’s settled on the University of Michigan, where she will continue her education in classical and jazz performance.

Max Kapur is a junior majoring in jazz studies and East Asian languages and culture. His column,  “Ears to Hear,” runs every other Thursday.