Stages of growth

Saxophonist Melodie Peet pushed through the pandemic to emerge from her degree as a confident and accomplished performer

Carmen Rojas - 24 August 2022

Last November, Melodie Peet (‘22 BMus) had a moment of realization on stage at the Winspear Centre.

Accompanied by an ensemble, the saxophonist stood in front of the audience performing the Paul Creston Concerto for Alto Saxophone Op. 26, having received this opportunity as the winner of a music concerto competition through the U of A Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE).  

“I really felt the results of my degree paying off,” she recalls of that moment. “When I was in first year I wouldn’t have been able to fathom being able to learn such a large-scale piece, so being able to give that performance was a great way for me to end my time at the U of A.”

In February, Peet played the same piece in the finals for the Northern Alberta Concerto Competition, competing in the Senior Woodwind and Brass division, and took the top spot once again. 

These accomplishments were the crowning achievements of an educational journey that at times challenged Peet far more than she ever expected. 

Despite growing up in a musical family – where she took piano lessons, sung in choirs and played in bands before studying saxophone – Peet was uncertain about pursuing music as more than a hobby. That changed when her first saxophone teacher, Dr. Charles Stolte, introduced her to Dr. Allison Balcetis from the U of A Department of Music. 

Motivated to study under Balcetis, Peet entered the bachelor of music program, following the performance route. The performances, Peet says, were both the greatest challenges and the highlights of her degree. 

“While I love performing, a crazy amount of prep goes into it and a lot of young musicians put a lot of pressure on themselves,” she says. “Preparing for performances is stressful, but if you put in the work the results are gratifying. Being able to share music is why we do what we do, and it makes the countless hours in a practice room worth it.”

Pursuing a performance-based degree in the middle of a pandemic, however, presented Peet with a different kind of challenge – one she almost didn’t overcome. 

“I appreciated all the hard work the professors at the U of A put into making the online courses interesting, but there is only so much you can do with a large ensemble online. The entirety of our time online just left like loss after loss,” she recalls. “I had a hard time convincing myself to continue and remembering why I began in the first place.”

Fortunately, Peet had two mentors in the department to help her find the motivation to keep going. Along with Balcetis, who Peet calls an inspiring performer, she also credits SWE conductor Dr. Angela Schroeder with helping her grow as both a musician and a person. 

From making efforts to feature female composers to designing a program centered on truth and reconciliation, Schroeder’s example taught Peet to be more mindful and empathetic. 

“Getting to see a woman stand up for what she believes in has empowered me and Dr. Schroeder has instilled in me the strength to do the same,” she adds.

For Peet, this includes a desire to play works by underrepresented composers. “My biggest goal is to commission pieces and put together a recital of works by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ composers,” she says. “I hope to have an influence on the music scene through bringing more representation to new young voices in the music scene.”

For the time being, Peet is focused on her role in the Canadian Armed Forces, which she joined in 2021, and preparing to move to Vancouver in the fall to start a master’s of music program at UBC. 

Her long-term plan is to continue her military career, joining the regular forces and winning a seat in one of the military bands – a goal that could take her anywhere in Canada.

“Through all the travel I’ve done so far with the military I’ve enjoyed getting to meet people from all over Canada so as long as I have my saxophone with me, I’d happily go anywhere!”