Though many people associate the saxophone with jazz music, Nick DeWalt ’21 demonstrates the saxophone’s classical potential through his serious study of the instrument.

DeWalt began playing saxophone in sixth grade, a time when students in his home state of Texas tend to learn a wind instrument and play in the school band.

“I was drawn to the versatility of the instrument,” DeWalt said, noting that the saxophone can play many styles of music, including pop, jazz and classical.

DeWalt added that the saxophone can produce numerous special effects and imitate the sounds produced by other instruments.

When he was in seventh grade, DeWalt played in a regional band comprised of seventh- and eighth-grade musicians. Around the same time, he began receiving more serious instruction on saxophone and got a new one. He cites these three events as early signs of his deeper commitment to his instrument.

In high school, DeWalt met other saxophone players who inspired him to improve. During his sophomore year, he earned a place in the all-state band, but he was not asked to return the following year.

“Not making all-state junior year was a life-changing experience, even more so than when I made it,” DeWalt said. “It really reinforced what makes music important to me — music is subjective, and I couldn’t let that stop me from doing what I love.”

When deciding where to attend college, DeWalt was torn between Yale and Northwestern, which offers a dual-degree program in which students earn degrees in both music and another field.

Yet DeWalt found that at Yale, he could play saxophone in a variety of contexts at a high level, while still fulfilling requirements of the premedical program.

“Here, I can play, perform and take lessons, but without the pressure of a getting a degree,” he said.

DeWalt currently studies with Yale School of Music Lecturer of Saxophone Carrie Koffman, who he said “treats [him] like an actual music student,” even though he will likely major in some sort of biology.

Next year, DeWalt will perform with the Yale Symphony Orchestra, an opportunity he earned after competing in the 2018 William Waite Concerto Competition. He and violist Sarah Switzer ’19 were named winners — the first time a saxophone player has won since 1982.

Koffman noted that this is the second year Yale has offered saxophone instruction to its undergraduates. She added that she is pleased that DeWalt will bring saxophone representation to the YSO performance, especially after such a short period since saxophone instruction became available to Yale students.

DeWalt also plays in the Yale Concert Band and in a saxophone quartet. Jacob Hillman ’19, who plays saxophone in both groups, said he admires DeWalt’s “tone, technical ability, and overall musicianship.” He also commended DeWalt’s methods of rehearsing.

“[DeWalt] balances sarcastic and lighthearted remarks with excellent musical preparation and high standards for himself and those around him,” Hillman said.

Julia Carabatsos | julia.carabatsos@yale.edu