Rewarding Young Musicians With Talent: Walt Sayre
By John K. Blanchard, September 2020
Almost everyone knows the phrase "one-man band." But what would you call someone who can sing and play organ, piano, drums, trombone, and all the brass instruments? Someone who can train madrigal singers, a pops choir, and a concert band? Someone who has mastered such diverse musical styles as rock 'n' roll, jazz, classical, opera, sacred, musical theater, and Motown? Can teach beginning children and advanced college students? Can arrange cabaret songs and reduce orchestral scores? Can plan a music festival? Sing the tenor roles of Gilbert & Sullivan professionally? Contract musicians for weddings? Teach handbells and accompany dancers? And what would you call someone who could actually do several of these things in one day?
You'd call that person Walt Sayre, who earned a bachelor's degree in trombone (1974) and a master's degree in music education (1979) from Manhattan School of Music.
Walt had barely finished his undergraduate studies when New York City's High School of Music & Art (featured in the movie "Fame") hired him to teach and mentor brass students. "My job was basically to help the underperforming kids improve and graduate," he explains. This led to four years teaching music at a public school in Waldwick, New Jersey, followed by a position at Keene State College and 24 years teaching music in the Fall Mountain Regional School District in New Hampshire.
It was at Keene that Walt won his first full-time job as a church musician. Having always possessed an inquisitive and restless mind, he had taken his years of piano study and taught himself how to play the pipe organ years earlier. "I was fascinated by how the organ majors at MSM would practice their foot-pedal technique while casually eating lunch in the cafeteria," he explains. "I was full of questions and learned a lot from them, without ever taking a single lesson."
Walt is currently organist/director of choirs at St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, where he prepares their senior choir, bell choir, youth/adult orchestra, and Joyful Noise band. For the past 40 years, he has been a vital musician to many communities throughout New England, working on projects and productions for a variety of organizations, such as St. John's Episcopal Church in Walpole; the Raylynmor Opera Company; Main Street Arts and the Saxton River Summer Theatre; the Keene Chorale and Pops Choir; and the Royal Academy of Dance in Amherst. Since 2003, he has been an artist-in-residence at East Hill Farm resort in Troy, New Hampshire. All the while, he has also maintained a robust private studio, teaching piano, organ, and trombone.
His deep appreciation for the opportunities that he has been given have inspired him to make a generous planned gift to Manhattan School of Music. "In a way, I'm repaying my beloved MSM for all the times my résumé went to the top of the applicant stack because of my education there," Walt says. "It also didn't hurt that I was able to study with the principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic!"
Through a bequest, Walt will augment an endowed scholarship he created at MSM, which is earmarked specifically for trombonists. He has ensured that for years to come, young musicians with talent and dreams—much like himself those years ago—will be rewarded with an education at one of the world's great conservatories. Perhaps among them will be another "one-man (or one-woman) band"?
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