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A musical homecoming

A performance in North Battleford by the National Youth Band at the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts in North Battleford last week wasn't just part of a provincial tour of Saskatchewan, it was a homecoming.

A performance in North Battleford by the National Youth Band at the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts in North Battleford last week wasn't just part of a provincial tour of Saskatchewan, it was a homecoming.

On stage and in the audience were friends, family and former musical colleagues as Dr. Jason Caslor, who grew up in North Battleford, conducted Canada's premiere youth wind ensemble. Playing alto saxophone in the band for his fourth year was 19-year-old Cole Knutson, who also grew up in North Battleford. The parents of both were in the audience.

A third connection could be found in the presence of Gene Aulinger, a music teacher, conductor and adjudicator who inspired both Caslor and Knutson and who conducted the second piece of the evening. Caslor counts Aulinger, who was his high school band teacher, as one of his mentors, and Aulinger was also Knutson's first saxophone teacher.

Yet another local musical connection was found in the performance by the band of A Study of: The Colours and Contrasts of Grief, written by Paul Suchan, a former North Battleford Comprehensive High School band teacher who is now based out of Montreal.

Every year the National Youth Band travels to a different Canadian province for one week of intense rehearsals and performances. This year, from May 8 to 14, they were based at the University of Saskatchewan which included accommodations and rehearsal facilities.

The band met together for the first time Sunday, May 8 for an evening rehearsal, followed by three more days of intensive rehearsal. The band performed several concerts in Saskatoon, Regina and North Battleford. In addition to the public concert in the evening in North Battleford, an afternoon concert was held for schools.

Knutson, son of Leslie and Theresa Knutson, said it was exciting to play at home and was especially glad local students had the opportunity to see and be inspired by what can be achieved by a high level ensemble. The band played a variety of music, he said, and he felt some of the newer music really caught the students' imagination.

Knutson is pursuing a saxophone performance degree at the University of Manitoba with plans to follow up with a master's degree in collaborative piano. He and trumpet player Miles Thomsen, a former member of the Canada Youth Band, held a concert May 7 in North Battleford at Third Avenue United Church. It went well, said Knutson, although he found it more nerve-wracking to perform in the intimate venue that's been familiar to him most of his musical life than on the Dekker Centre stage.

"This is relaxing!" he said.

It was a thrill to be on stage with Dr. Caslor and Gene Aulinger in his hometown, he said.

Theresa Knutson said she was proud of her son and how much he has accomplished in his 19 years. She said he knew the first time he played the piano that he wanted to follow music as a career.

In addition to being accepted to the National Youth Band of Canada and the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra, the premier honour concert band in Canada, last summer he was accepted to the World Youth Wind Orchestra for the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensemble’s annual conference – a week-long event attended by musicians and enthusiasts from around the globe.

Caslor, the son of Karl and Irene Caslor, who are now retired and living in Meota (most of Meota seemed to have attended the concert), told the audience, "It means a lot to be back home in North Battleford to share this concert with you."

He was pleased to see "a couple of rows of family that flew in or drove in" for the concert.

"I won't say a whole lot because I'd just be a blubbering mess," Caslor laughed. "Anyone knows, the Caslor gene, tears flow rapidly."

Currently associate director of Bands and Orchestras at Arizona State University, Caslor was this year's guest conductor for the Canada Youth Band, the first ever former member of the band to conduct it. He played saxophone with the ensemble in 1991, when it toured Ontario, and in 1995, when it toured Alberta.

At Arizona State University, Caslor conducts the wind ensemble and symphony orchestras, as well as teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting. Prior to his appointment, he spent five years at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He also spent three seasons as resident conductor of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra as well as numerous years as a public school instrumental and choral instructor.

Dr. Caslor received an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students' Union in 2012 and is extremely active as a clinician, adjudicator and conductor for festivals, honour bands and music camps across Canada and the United States.

He completed his Doctorate of Musical Arts (Conducting) at Arizona State University, a Master of Music (Conducting) at the University of Manitoba and a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education degrees at the University of Saskatchewan.

His dad, Karl, says Jason knew from a young age what he wanted to do. He comes from a musical family.

"I kind of sing, the wife kind of sings, our whole family was musical," he told the Regional Optimist. "My mom played the piano, my sister played the piano, Dad played ukulele."

Jason's sister Heather also sings.

Retired from a 30-year career with the RCMP, Karl sings with the Meota Men's Choir.

"I've sung in choirs all over the place, the Saskatoon Boys Choir when I was going to high school, when I was in Regina I sang with the Regina Male Chorus, before I came here."

Karl also had a DJ business.

"I retired from that a while back," he laughed.

Karl said Gene Aulinger was his son's high school band teacher. In the conductor's biographical information, Aulinger is listed as one of his conducting mentors.

Aulinger's presence was integral to the performance of the National Youth Band in North Battleford, as he was the contact person for the afternoon performance for students, along with co-ordinators Jan Michael Bourgeois, Amy Francais and Amy Klippenstein.

Aulinger, recently retired from directing the senior North Battleford City Kinsmen Band and a founding member of the Community Youth Strings program, was busy throughout the evening acting as stage crew, tuning conductor and general helping hand in addition to conducting El Capitan by John Philip Sousa.

Aulinger is a music educator with the Light of Christ Catholic School Division bands. He was also a music consultant with the Living Sky School Division for 16 years. Before coming to the Battlefords, he was a full-time band director with the Kindersley School Division for 14 years.

Aulinger earned a Bachelor of Arts in performance at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, completed several courses at the University of Saskatchewan, and completed a Master’s of Music in 1998 at Northwestern State University in Louisiana.

He taught at the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts at Fort San for eight years, and co-ordinated the SMEA Honour groups for five years. He was awarded an outstanding achievement award in 1996  and the SMEA Honourary Life Membership award in 2005.

The same year he was also awarded the Distinguished Band Director Award, and was co-ordinator of the summer band camp at North Battleford from 1986 until 1991.

He has adjudicated festivals and led workshops in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Louisiana.

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