For weeks senior Matt Chalk waited by his phone. Every time it rang his stomach churned. He glanced at the caller ID hoping to see an unfamiliar number. When it was just one of his buddies from ensemble his stomach settled but his nerves never went away. Eventually he knew that call would come and the caller would tell him if he would be playing in the band at the Grammy Awards.
As a child Matt would wander into the basement. He would rifle through the boxes stacked together. Hidden between the boxes was a black instrument case. It belonged to his family and had always been there. One day he opened the case and found a saxophone. He pulled it out, put it together, and played it. The sounds he found were ‘squeaks’ and sounded terrible he remembers.
He had always wanted to play the drums but his family couldn’t afford a drum set. Instead Matt would play around with the ‘horn’ he found in his basement, never knowing how far that instrument would take him. He fell in love with the sound and expressiveness of the saxophone. He began lessons but never stuck to them. It wasn’t until fifth grade, when Matt was ten years old, that he decided to take a step in his saxophone playing career and join elementary band at Clear Creek Elementary in DeSoto, Kansas. That is when his passion began.
“I just remember it was the only fun thing to do,” Chalk said. “I could express myself but still interact with other people.”
For the past seven years Chalk has been perfecting his saxophone skills which he shows off every day in symphonic and jazz band at school. His instrument is his art, and it’s still the main way he expresses himself.
“I love the expressiveness of it,” Chalk said. “There really is no other art form that allows you to be as expressive as jazz does. It’s creativity, right there on the spot.”
Fellow senior jazz and concert band member Cameron Robles admires Chalk’s musical talent and ability to create his own musical style.
“He practices all the time and also spends a lot of time listening to jazz,” Robles said. “By listening so much, he incorporate other’s styles into his own music.”
But his love extends outside of school too. He plays in multiple musical groups with his friends and members of his community. He has gigs with ensembles all over the metro. On Tuesdays he plays with New Jazz Orders in Midtown. He has a monthly performance with New Vintage Big Band, and has small groups that he and his friends put together.
“It could be 11 o’clock at night and we all just decide to meet at someone’s house at midnight,” Chalk said. “Then we play into the wee hours of the morning.”
Matt is content with the success he’s achieved so far. He’s performed solos at school concerts, was recognized as an outstanding soloist at every festival he’s played in, was an inspiration both to the other saxes in his sectional and the entire band, and even got the chance to teach for Mr. Harrison, the band teacher at East.
Harrison sees Chalk’s hard work and dedication as a major asset to the Blue Knights jazz band, which he’s played with for three years.
“He works very hard, practicing for probably 3-5 hours a day,” Harrison said. “His love for the sax is unsurpassed by any other high school student.”
One day though in beginning junior year, he decided it was time to take his musical career to the next level. It was that day he began researching the Grammy Band, a program run by the Grammy in the Schools. Auditions for the Grammy Band were open to all high school students across North America. They only accepted five saxophones. Once students are accepted to the program, they are flown out to Los Angeles to play during the Grammy’s and all the festivities that surround it. It was an honor to be accepted into that program, one that Matt hoped he would obtain.
“It is more or less the high school ‘all star’ band,” Chalk said. “[Being in it] is the musician’s equivalent of [being] an all-American athlete.”
The first time he auditioned he made finalist, but lost out to other players across the continent. He wasn’t going to let that get him down; he was determined to audition again next year. He knew he could make it, he knew he could be great.
Audition tapes were due October 22. Matt needed to get a group of friends together to record his video audition into the Grammy’s. They were more than willing to help.
“I was just told them I needed there help getting this together and they were there for me,” Chalk said.
Hoping to impress those viewing his tape, he played his renditions of “Billy’s Bounce”, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”, and” Stable Mates”. He wowed his friends standing by. Matt hoped the judges would be as impressed.
He had to wait weeks to hear back from the Grammy Orchestra. Although, he admits that there response was speedy, it still seemed like an eternity. He tired not to let it bother him. For those weeks, he continued to play his music, letting that calm his nerves. He put on a brave face but others could see that the wait was getting to him.
Then one day it happened. Matt received the phone call he had waited weeks for. On November 14 Matt’s phone rang while he was in his car, it was an unfamiliar number.
“As soon as I saw that number I knew it had something to do with the band,” Chalk said.
His heart raced as he answered it and a smile quickly appeared on his face.
He had made it. After years of hard work Matt had reached his dream. Everything he worked for had paid off. He will be playing baritone saxophone for the Grammy Band. When he flies out to LA to perform his art he knows he will be with others who enjoy music as much as him. He was finally the ‘all-American athlete’ he hoped to become.
“I can’t really describe how neat it is to communicate through music to people and how you can express yourself,” Chalk said. “It is a very unique art form.”