DERRY — He learned to work the saxophone and is taking on the nation as a result.
For Adam Claussen, 17, playing smooth jazz sounds on his alto saxophone is something that keeps him grounded and makes him smile.
“It’s my favorite thing to do,” he said, wearing a shirt sporting a jazz emblem.
His talents on the brass woodwind instrument also earned him a top gig as part of the All-National Honors Ensemble later this month in Nashville, Tenn., hosted by the National Association for Music Education.
Claussen, a junior, said it’s a great honor to be chosen.
He took it upon himself to research online and found the opportunity to apply to be part of the Honors Ensemble. He applied, had to send in a video of himself playing the saxophone and also had to secure teacher recommendations.
Music has been part of his life for a long time. His parents, Karen and Marty, are both musicians. His mother plays flute and his father, a percussionist, is also the band director at Salem High School.
In fact, the couple met at an all-state musical festival in Ohio.
Adam took up the alto saxophone while attending South Range Elementary School. The instrument became his musical partner from the fifth grade on.
Pinkerton music teachers knew of Claussen’s talents even before he stepped on the high school campus.
“We were aware of Adam and the hard work he was doing on his saxophone back when he was as a student at West Running Brook Middle School and very much looked forward to having him in the Pinkerton music program,” Pinkerton band director Mike Adams said. “Once he arrived, he had an immediate impact on the ensembles as he raised the level of musicianship of everyone around him.”
At Pinkerton, Claussen earned top alto saxophone scores in both the New Hampshire Jazz and Classical All-State festivals in 2012. He also spends summer time participating in summer arts festivals and travels all over New England to take lessons or music theory studies with some of the region’s top instructors.
Adams said it was no surprise that his student wanted to go national.
“I was not very surprised,” he said. “Adam is well above his age level in his musicianship and perhaps more importantly, his focus.”
Adam takes his talents out of the high school band room, too. He took up arranging and found joy in taking on his own compositions. His listening favorites include the big band sounds of Count Basie, and more contemporary saxophone talents like Chris Potter and Branford Marsalis.
He performs with a big variety of area musicians, taking on private gigs with other jazz combos. Around that and his busy junior class workload, he also finds time to take lessons on saxophone, piano and clarinet.
“The aural tradition of music being passed down and around from one player to the next is arguably the best way to learn how to play, and that is what Adam is doing,” Adams said. “He has a desire to learn, grow and perform and has the work ethic to get him to wherever he wishes to be as a musician.
After high school, Claussen hopes to continue his music education. In the meantime, it’s the jazz and his saxophone that keep him going.
He describes the feeling as being able to listen to a piece of music and just knowing that’s what brings a smile.
“You listen to a piece of music you like and you hear a part, and it just gives you that awesome feeling,” he said. “Jazz does so much for me. There’s not much else. This is what I am best at.”