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Ashleigh Sadler is anything but blasé

June 15, 2021 — 

We often hear that Desautels students have had a passion for music at a young age, and some secretly knew that they wanted to be musicians when they grew up, but not many have visual proof of their aspirations.

Well, Ashleigh Sadler has kept the receipts.

“I started making music as early as I can remember,” says Sadler, who hails from Winnipeg.

“I danced and sang from a young age and would not go to sleep unless my Disney Princess record was playing! I can remember singing along to Shania Twain and Hannah Montana and practicing my stage face in my mirror almost every day after school!” she says.

Even at school Sadler’s thoughts were never far from music, as this early childhood drawing proves!


Ce que je veux etre quand je suis grande, it reads, or “What I want to be when I grow up.”

“Music has always captivated me, and it still does every day,” she says.

The path towards her future in music

She began performing with choirs as an elementary school student, and picked up tenor saxophone and clarinet in middle and high school. Her time in teacher Jeff Johnson’s College Sturgeon Heights Collegiate Jazz Band introduced her to jazz, and her work in teacher Kathy Byrne’s Band and Wind Ensemble, and teacher [and 2020 DFOM Master of Music graduate!] Avonlea Armstrong-Green’s choir gave her a strong foundation in music.

Rather than apply directly to the Desautels Faculty of Music out of high school, Sadler decided to attend the University of Manitoba’s U1 year while she weighed whether she would pursue biology or music.

“One day something clicked,” she says of that first year of exploration.

“I realized that I had to pursue music, and that there simply wasn’t any other path for me to take at that moment. I knew I wanted to recreate for myself and share with others the amazing feelings I get when I perform and make music,” she adds.

She hasn’t looked back since, and her passion has now led Sadler to earn a Bachelor of Jazz Studies in voice.


In the faculty

Her talents and hard work have earned Sadler multiple scholarships during her time in the DFOM, including the UM Guertin Centennial Entrance Scholarship, the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music Scholarship, the M.A. Faculty of Music Endowment Scholarship, the Corus Radio Jazz Major Scholarship, and the Reg and Anne Hugo Memorial Fund Scholarship. She was also on the Dean’s Honor List every year that she was in the faculty.

The endowment she received allowed Sadler and her sister, 2020 Bachelor of Jazz Studies graduate Elizabeth Sadler to travel to New York City in 2019 to take part in a cultural exposure experience to study jazz music and its history.


Additionally, Sadler took every musical opportunity available to her to expand her musical horizons in the faculty, performing not only with the ensembles of Kyle Zavitz, Assistant Professor Karl Kohut, and Instructor Karly Epp, but also with Elroy Friesen’s Women’s Chorus, with which she toured the Netherlands and Belgium.

If her assiduous attention to her academics and her performance schedule weren’t enough, Sadler also threw herself into learning the technical side of music, serving as a student technician for recitals, and ensemble performances.

“One of my favorite jazz pieces I performed [in the faculty] was Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley’s version of “Never Will I Marry,” says Sadler.

“Karl Kohut brought it into ensemble, and as soon as I heard the recording I fell in love,” she says.

“On the classical side of things, one of my favorite pieces that we worked on in Women’s Chorus was called “That Yongë Child” from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28,” a piece in which she was awarded the solo.

“I never would have thought that I – a jazz voice student – could sing a classical solo at the Winter concert that year,” she says of her pride in being able to excel on both the jazz and classical side.

“It was really special and I’m so happy to have been able to have the opportunity to work in various styles with different directors,” Sadler says.

Those opportunities working with different musicians have led her to better realize, appreciate, and outright own her abilities.

“[One of my proudest moments] would be seeing my musical growth as a vocalist after I started taking classical voice training with Shannon Unger in the first year of my degree,” says Sadler.

“I was able to start doing things with my instrument that I never knew I had the capability to do and that was amazing since it helped me realize that with hard work and practice, I could achieve anything I wanted to,” she says of the experience.

“Another [proud] moment was in my final year, when I composed my second original jazz composition. What started as an assignment grew into a piece of art that I am proud to have made. My younger self would be proud of all the growth I have made this far, and it only pushes me to continue on to make and create more music!” she says.


Faculty mentors

“I’ve been fortunate to have had many mentors in this faculty,” says Sadler of the professor and instructors she has worked with during her time in the DFOM.

“Karly Epp, my MPS instructor and UMJVE [University of Manitoba Jazz Vocal Ensembles] ensemble director has taught me so many valuable skills in both music and in life that I will be able to use for the rest of my life,” says Sadler.

“I am so happy for the time we had together, and I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart, for all the support she has given me throughout my time here” she adds.

For her part, Jazz Voice Instructor Karly Epp also has glowing things to say about Sadler.

“Ashleigh has been a hard-working and dedicated student for the duration of her time in this program,” says Epp.

“She has a wonderfully light-hearted demeanor – even when things get challenging – and that was one of many reasons that she was joy to teach! She’s also a supportive and caring person and that was felt in a significant way by many of her peers,” adds Epp.

Indeed, Sadler always volunteered to help lead DFOM Open House Tours for high school students, giving them their first taste of how kind and generous Desautels students are in lending a helping hand to newcomers.

“In addition, she is extremely organized – a skill which was not only valuable to her in her own studies, but, in combination with the rest of her wonderful traits, also served our wider jazz community well. Ashleigh is the kind of person who will excel no matter what path she goes down, and she will be sorely missed!” says Epp.

“I would also love to thank Jon Gordon,” says Sadler.

“We spent a lot of time together in my third year with his Composition and Arranging class and his emphasis on learning and mastering the rudiments. Jon cares so much about the success of his students and it shows in how dedicated he is to this faculty and its students. Thank you, Jon, for all the help you have given me, it was a pleasure to have studied and learned from you,” she says.

“Ashleigh was always a pleasure to work with during her time at our program,” says Gordon, an Associate Professor of Jazz in the DFOM.

“She has a beautiful voice and great instincts for interpreting melodies. It was really a joy to watch her grow as an improviser and composer and I can’t wait to see and hear how her music develops going forward!” he says.



COVID-19 has nothing on the Sadler Sisters

In the 2019-2020 academic year, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of about 40 student credit recitals, which serve as a sort of capstone project showcasing what students have learned at various points in their university studies.

Fortunately, thanks to the creativity and dedication of faculty members and administrators, the Desautels Faculty of Music was able to ensure that students’ final credit recitals could resume in the 2020-2021 year, with invited audiences able to watch students perform via Zoom, instead of in person.

“My jazz recital centered around jazz standards from the Great American Songbook,” says Sadler.

“One of my favourites was ‘You’re Blasé’ with music by Ord Hamilton and lyrics by Bruce Sievier. I came across it one day earlier in the year and was instantly drawn to it due to its lyrics. I felt they really related to how I – and I am sure many – have felt during the pandemic,” she says.

“You’re tired, and uninspired, you’re blasé… there’s nothing new for you to do, you’re blasé,” she recites.

“It makes me chuckle now, but this is one of the reasons I love music: it helps you cope with life’s troubles and turns it into something special,” Sadler says.

“I performed this song as a ballad with the incredible Evan Miles on piano, who I just know will one day soon be all over the jazz scene,” she says.

“I was also able to perform my original composition titled ‘No Longer Lost,’ which tells the story of someone who is reminiscing about a past relationship, where they are no longer in the stages or grief, but rather remembering the moments they shared together,” she says.

Sadler’s ability to smirk in spite of the pandemic began late last year, as rising case counts in Winnipeg caused a significant lockdown just prior to the holiday season. With an isolating Christmas on the horizon, Ashleigh and Elizabeth, who perform together as the Sadler Sisters, decided to bring some cheer back into the season.

“[Elizabeth] and I created a COVID-19 friendly caroling business,” she says.

“Dressed up in many layers, hand-warmers and Christmas lights attached to our clothes, we travelled in our faithful steed – a Honda civic with antlers attached – and went all across Winnipeg singing Christmas carols and winter favorites,” she says.

In 12 days, Ashleigh and Elizabeth, along with a portable amplifier, performed 780 minutes of music at 52 stops, driving more than 480 kilometers!

“Whether it was 30 below with gusting winds, or a beautiful winter’s evening, it was so special to not only sing live, something we had desperately missed, but to also bring some joy and Christmas spirit to families, friends and even Professor Jon Gordon!” Sadler recounts.

You can see and hear more of the Sadler Sisters on their Instagram account (@thesadlersistersmusic)



Sadler would like to thank the following people, who have all contributed to her success in the Desautels Faculty of Music:

“Thank you to Avonlea Armstrong-Green for being both an amazing mentor and friend; Thank you to both Professor Elroy Friesen and Dr. Catherine Robbins for the joy you bring to your teaching and music; I also want to thank Shannon Unger, my classical voice teacher of two years for her dedication and incredible instruction. You care so much about your students’ success and I am so lucky to have been able to learn and grow as a vocalist with your guidance; Thank you to Sue Stone Scott, it was a pleasure to work for you and I appreciate your friendship and the tools you have taught me; Thank you to my parents, Jeff and Karen for all the love and support you have given me – from helping haul my gear from one venue to the next to always showing up to watch me perform, thank you for being with me every step of the way in my musical journey; Thank you to my Grandma Pearl, who you will always catch a glimpse of in the first row, and who will always be my number one fan, I love you so much; Thank you to all my amazing family, friends and musical community, the support you have given me in this degree means the world to me; Lastly, thank you to my sister and best friend Elizabeth Sadler. I couldn’t have done it without you, and it’s so special to be able to not only have the bond of being sisters, but to also share a bond and passion for music. I can’t wait to make more music with you and see what our future holds!”


Next steps

As someone who has consistently guided both high school and university students through the Desautels Faculty of Music, Sadler has some words of advice to impart to incoming students as she moves into the next part of her journey.

“Hard work, dedication and passion go hand in hand – your hard work and commitment will pay off,” says Sadler, who will finally take a well-deserved breather before pursuing more musical gigs with the Sadler Sisters and also furthering her education in the field of labor relations.

“I would also say that you should never be afraid to ask for help from a fellow student or instructor. They are invaluable resources and are there to help you learn and grow! I am certainly glad for all the help and experience I received from my peers and instructors,” she says.

We know that the music-obsessed little girl who grew into the woman with the powerful and beautiful voice will continue to accomplish big things, in music and in life. The Desautels Faculty of Music is incredibly fortunate to have had Ashleigh’s talent, perseverance, and spirit throughout her time with us, and we can’t wait to see what she does next! Congratulations, Ashleigh! You have definitely earned this milestone!


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