The Sound of Music


Ainsley Nichols

“Music changed my life,” said Cahill as he practiced his alto saxophone, the instrument he qualified for All-State with. He also plays an additional 13 instruments.

Sophomore Jacob Cahill has always been an avid fan of music, but he didn’t realize his own musical ability until middle school. “I didn’t really start doing anything with it [music] until seventh grade,” he said. “I realized my talent for it in eighth grade.” Over the past two years, Cahill has dedicated a large chunk of his time and money to develop his skill.

It’s difficult for most to understand what music means to Cahill until you’ve sat in his bedroom and watched him work through some advanced pieces. He always practices in his “Music Fortress,” a rather large set-up that he spent weeks putting together in the middle of his already small bedroom. He has a music stand in front of him and to his right. There’s a packing crate overflowing with books and sheet music at the base of the right stand. There are six instrument stands that surround the main music stand. The four on the right hold his tenor saxophone, oboe, clarinet, and soprano saxophone while the two on the left hold his alto saxophone and flute.

On this particular day, Cahill was practicing his alto saxophone. He always starts with warm ups. To him, the quality of his sound isn’t as great as it could be without starting there. Once Cahill gets in “practice mode”, as he calls it, there’s no going back. There’s virtually nothing that could break his focus, and he has a solid determination to master the piece in front of him. Cahill believes he can always be better, and that’s what drives him to push himself to the limit.

Cahill’s preparation before an audition or recital could easily be compared to an athlete’s training before a game. “I try to be at school by 6:50 every morning and practice for an hour and then I try to practice after school too. How long I practice after school depends on if I have work or lessons,” he said. When he doesn’t have any after school obligations, he practices for as long as he can. “Typically, I go to school, come home and practice for lessons, get ready for my next lessons, then I have an hour or two of free time. It’s a constant cycle,” he said.

Along with practicing on his own, Cahill also takes three private lessons, all with different mentors, in flute, piano, and saxophone. The piano and flute lessons are done out of the mentor’s homes in North Platte, but every Tuesday after school, he goes to the University of Nebraska at Kearney to receive saxophone lessons from professor Dr. David Nabb. On these days, he usually doesn’t get home until after 9 p.m.

On top of spending hours upon hours alone with just his instruments and some sheet music, Cahill also spends a fair amount of money on various necessities for music. “I take $160 out of my paycheck every two weeks to pay for lessons and spend at least $50 a month on music books. Reeds are also fairly expensive,” he said. Most would have trouble parting with that much money, but to him, it’s worth it.
Cahill’s persistent hard work has opened many doors for him, but he won’t deny that he hasn’t done it alone. “I wouldn’t be as good as I am today if it wasn’t for Becky Brittenham. She taught me all about theory and how to play. She’s the reason I have my passion the way I do,” he said. He is also grateful for and aspires to be like his UNK mentor, Nabb. “He was a lot like me when he was younger. He played all the woodwinds too. I want to be just like him,” he said.

Some people are born with gifts, and Cahill admits that he’s already naturally inclined in the music field. “Not everyone can go in and understand what a piece is saying; what emotion it’s giving off,” he said. ”I’ve always been able to tell that.” He believes that if you don’t have a natural talent for something, you won’t be as invested in it.

Due to all the hard work that Cahill has been putting in, he decided to audition for the Nebraska All-State Music Conference. A big difference this year compared to previous years is that you only had one chance to play your music. If you messed up, there’d be no chance to do a retake. Once you finished recording and pressed the stop button, that single take would be sent to the judges who determined the outcome of your audition. Band instructor Brett Bradley was in charge of recording Cahill’s audition. Despite the pressure, Cahill said he wasn’t very nervous. “Bradley was more nervous than I was because he didn’t want to start or end the recording too early,” he said. “I was scared until I got past my first scale, but then I was like, ‘I got this!’ “

As far as ensemble music goes, Cahill thinks that All-State is the biggest it gets here. “Now that I’ve made it in, I can audition for Nationals. Nationals is a big deal to me because it’s ensemble on the national level,” he said. On Oct. 19, it was revealed that Cahill and senior Joshua Lindenberger had made it into the All-State band, a first for North Platte High in eight years.

The end goal for Cahill is simple. “Someday, I want to be able to play in big orchestras and be a big soloist. You’ll never be famous like Ariana Grande for instrumental music, but in the music world, I want to be known as a virtuoso,” he said.