Destined for success


Brandon Pohl

At 5:56 AM, Sr. Abby Shepard wakes up for school. She performs her daily morning routine, picks up her saxophone case, and leaves for school. She arrives at school at and heads to zero hour Jazz band at 6:45, her first of two band classes each day. It takes real dedication for anyone to wake up this early every day, especially voluntarily, but Shepard doesn’t mind. Its this natural drive and dedication that makes Shepard such a successful saxophonist.

  Shepard is known for her natural dedication. Her classmates see her as both very smart and very talented. She is able to successfully juggle her many very difficult classes, including 11 AP classes, an IB class, and dual enrolment at Hope College, while also having time to indulge in her passion, the saxophone. Many people would struggle under the weight of all this pressure, but Shepard is able to thrive in it. She loves the challenge, and is naturally drawn to it. This is why she is so successful at both school and the saxophone.

  Shepard’s success with the saxophone began in the summer before 6th grade. “Both of my sisters were in band, as well as my parents in high school. I didn’t want to play a brass instrument, and my sister had already played the saxophone, so we had an extra I could use.” This set of circumstances led Shepard to become one of West Ottawa’s best saxophonists. Now, the saxophone is such an integrated part of her life that she couldn’t imagine her life without it. “I practice at least an hour a day, and more on the weekend because I have more time.” She also has her her jazz band class in the morning, and marching band practice later in the day, every day.

  On top of all this, she also takes lessons from Dr. Adam Briggs, a music professor at Hope College. Briggs has a very high regard for Shepard, and says she is one of the best students he has ever had. Briggs agrees that Shepard’s success is a direct result of her natural drive to succeed. “She is incredibly self-motivated to improve her skill set on the saxophone, a trait which isn’t found very often in musicians her age… Abby always takes the initiative to learn things without me having to spur her on.” said Briggs “This is setting her up for major success in college and life, with whatever career path she chooses to take.”

  This drive briggs talks about is obvious when Shepard talks about her sessions with him. “We work on developing phrasing. I practice short parts of songs, and work on a couple major pieces. I’m currently working on Creston Concerto for solo and ensemble,” Shepard said. She also blows into her sax without the mouthpiece, and tries to match pitch with the piano to “develop throat muscles in order to reach pitches higher than the saxophone can usually reach.”

  All this practice has paid off. Shepard has been first chair almost exclusively since 6th grade. The only time she spent in second chair was freshman year, because first chair was occupied by a senior. She has also won multiple awards for her hard work. She has consistently won first division ratings at state solo and ensemble, and earned honorable mention for state all band. For the last two years she has been Drum Major for the marching band.

  The saxophone will continue to play an important role in Shepard’s life. “I plan on double majoring in music and science in college. After college I may play in a community band, but I probably won’t make a career out of it.” Shepard has already made many memories by playing the saxophone. “Just being in band is an interesting experience. The people are always very entertaining and weird.” One of Shepard’s favorite memories was Sax Day at CMU. Every year on Sax Day, hundreds of different types of saxophone players come together to jam. “Normally the sax isn’t an orchestra instrument. But, when you have all these different saxophones playing at the same time, you can close your eyes and it sounds just like a full orchestra,” said Shepard, recounting the experience.
  Shepard plans on double majoring in music studies and engineering in college. This will be a very difficult task, but Shepard should have no problem with it. “I know she has an interest in engineering as well, which is also a very difficult major, but if there’s anyone who can double major in these two subjects, I think she can do it,” said Briggs. “She is dedicated to her craft.” Shepard can be seen at every home football game, leading the Drum Line, and can be heard playing a variety of saxophones at any West Ottawa jazz concert.