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Concert in Albion will be a homecoming for world-class saxophonist

Posted 3 April 2014 at 12:00 am

Susan Fancher – By Marsha Rivers, Eastman at Albion

ALBION When world-class saxophonist Susan Fancher thinks back on her growing-up years in “lil’ old Albion,” she attributes her early success to encouraging teachers, excellent peers, and two highly motivating factors in the life of any kid: Praise and attention.

Albion school music teachers Mike Snyder, Bill Furioso, Sid Bolton and Mike Grammatico “just gave me so much encouragement and confidence,” Fancher recalls. “It goes to show that being a music teacher is more than just teaching an instrument it’s grabbing onto the interest you see in your students and nurturing it.”

Albion Central School announced last week that it is being recognized for the seventh straight year among the “Best Communities for Music Education” by the North American Music Merchants.

Not only did Fancher’s teachers keep her motivated. So did her fellow students several of whom also pursued music careers and her church and community. She gave some her first performances for the congregation of the Barre Center Presbyterian Church and at the Orleans County nursing home.

Fancher also credits her parents, Judy Fancher of Barre and the late Laverne Fancher, for their tremendous support. And she cites her sister Sandy Fancher Bastedo as “one of the most important fellow musicians of my childhood. I grew up listening to her beautiful piano playing and had the good fortune of having her as my accompanist.”

Many of Fancher’s family and friends will be present Sunday to enjoy a decades-more sophisticated performance at the First Presbyterian Church, 29 East State St., starting at 3 p.m.

Fancher will team with fellow saxophonist and Eastman professor Chien-Kwan Lin in the final installment of this year’s Eastman at Albion Courthouse Square Concert Series. Lin’s wife Pi-Lin Ni, who also teaches at Eastman, will collaborate with the sax players on piano.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back and performing for the hometown crowd,” Fancher said. “And Chien-Kwan and I we’re part of this tight-knit group of ‘sax geeks’ from around the world. We’ve talked about playing together for years, and now the stars have aligned for this to happen. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Fancher’s path to professional musicianship took some global twists and turns. Mike Grammatico, who became her main teacher in Albion, accompanied her to the All-State Music Festival her senior year. While she was in rehearsals, he inquired of other New York music teachers about the best colleges for studying saxophone. She applied and got accepted to all four recommendations but landed at Northwestern University in Chicago, mainly because of the excellent financial aid package they offered her.

Chien-Kwan Lin

Fancher jokes that she was “Miss Practicality” and didn’t plan to rely on her music to pay her bills. She started out as a music education major, so she would be prepared to teach, but her love of mathematics led to her first “twist.” After feeling challenged and invigorated by an invitation-only honors calculus course her freshman year, she decided by sophomore year to pursue math even more rigorously, while still studying and performing on sax.

Graduating three years later with a dual degree in music performance (not education) and math, Fancher faced the next “turn”: An invitation to study sax in Bordeaux, France, which did and loved for a year. There, she met Mark Engebretson, who was to become her partner in life and music. After a brief time putting her math degree to work at a major health insurance company in Chicago and not loving it Fancher returned to Northwestern as Ph.D. math student. A year later, another opportunity found Fancher and Engebretson returning to Europe as husband and wife and musical collaborators.

After two years in Stockholm followed by three years in Vienna, Fancher says she and her husband “finally felt secure in their desire to be professional musicians.”

She laughs about how difficult it was to make peace with that possibility. “We talked about how we didn’t want that freelance life,” she says, “with no money, no security we thought it would be too scary.”

But they lived it and loved it and, Fancher says, “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Back to the States. Both earned their doctoral degrees in music and now teach Mark, music composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Susan, saxophone at Duke Univeristy. The couple has a daughter, Eva, and both spouses play in the Red Clay Saxophone Quartet, named for the distinctive soil in the area where they live.

Though fully committed to the musical life, Fancher admits she sometimes gets discouragedabout the lack of pay, the long hours of practice, the odd hours of performance.

“But it gives me so much joy to play for people when they enjoy it so much and when it provides therapy for them.”

Fancher recounts a time when a social services worker approached her after Rollin’ Phones sax quartet concert in Sweden. The woman had obviously been weeping and she told Fancher how much she had gleaned from the performance.

“I had a horrible day,” she said. “I had to remove a child from her home and it was awful. I wasn’t going to come tonight. I wasn’t feeling up to it. But I’m so glad I did. The music meant so much to me.”

“When things like that happen,” Fancher affirms, “it’s worth it. Music shows there is still beauty and kindness in the world in a way nothing else can.”

For more information on Sunday’s “Sax Appeal” concert, visit EastmanatAlbion.com. Tickets are available for purchase in Albion at Bindings Bookstore, 28 W. Bank St.; Blooms Flower Shop, 139 S. Main St.; Fischer’s Newsroom, 105 N. Main St, and in Medina at a lily and a sparrow, 510 Main St., and in Batavia at Roxy’s Music Store, 228 W. Main St. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Albion Alumni Foundation Scholarships. The church is handicapped accessible.