LA junior Cooper Swartzentruber at the Lincoln Academy spring 2021 outdoor band concert. Swartzentruber was recently selected as an all-national saxophone player.

LA Junior Cooper Swartzentruber has been selected to participate in the All-National Honor Ensembles (ANHE), an honors music festival that celebrates the best high school musicians in the United States. The saxophone player from Newcastle will participate in the January festival virtually, as the in-person event was canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.

This year’s All-National musicians were chosen out of the pool of last year’s All-State musicians. Instrumentalists who were selected to All State band and/or jazz band ensembles in each state were invited to submit an additional audition video to the all-national panel of judges. In the 2020-21 school year, when he was a sophomore, Swartzentruber was accepted to both the Maine All-State Band and the Maine All-State Jazz Band. He could have auditioned for both at the All-National level but chose to take only the classical audition.

“I still love jazz, but I felt that I was more prepared for a classical audition,” said Swartzentruber, who auditioned on alto sax, generally considered to be more competitive than tenor or baritone, saxophone.

According to LA Band Director Liz Matta, the executive board of Maine Music Education Association (MMEA) ranked the Maine students who auditioned for the festival and sent this list to the Festival committee of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). “Cooper was at the top of the Maine list,” said Matta, “but even with that ranked list, the national audition panel listened to audition recordings accepted or declined students by how they played on their audition. Cooper could have been at or near the top of the Maine list but still could not have been selected if he hadn’t played well enough to get in.”

Swartzentruber started playing saxophone in middle school, but fell in love with music and “really started to progress and take it more seriously once I got to LA,” he said. In addition to playing in the LA Wind Ensemble, Jazz Big Band, and 5 O’Clock Combo, Swartzentruber plays in the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble (PYWE) and takes an Independent Study in Saxophone Performance with Matta.

“To play at the level needed to be accepted into an All-National High School Band takes years, months, hours and more years of work,” said Matta,” and there are many other saxophone players doing the same. This creates a very high skill level that needs to be reached and it creates a large number of students playing at that level. It’s very difficult and you have to have a very good audition to be accepted into a festival of this caliber.”

Due to COVID restrictions, Swartzentruber did his audition at home. “I researched what the materials would be and set up the whole thing in my kitchen,” he said. In order to prove that he wasn’t cheating, he had to record on his phone with an ipad timer behind him in view on screen during the audition. While this sounds complicated, Swartzentruber said “I have gotten used to this kind of thing. Since my freshman fall I have done all my auditions and festivals virtually.”

He was accepted to the All-State Band in 9th and 10th grades, and All-State Jazz Band in 10th and 11th grades. He will submit the audition for the 2022 All-State Wind Ensemble this week.

Matta said that “Cooper’s success was bolstered by his peers at both LA and at PYWE. They all push each other to work hard and play better. This will play a role in any musician’s successes.”

Swartzentruber is hoping to attend conservatory after high school, and go on to study both classical and jazz saxophone. “I want to study both so I can be more well-rounded and have more opportunities to play professionally.” He would also be open to teaching music as a complement to performing.

Playing music has been challenging during the pandemic, but also helped Swartzentruber get through challenging times. “During COVID playing definitely brought me comfort and reduced stress,” he said. “You don’t need anyone else to practice. You can just put a backing track on headphones, and play.”