Student Mary Keating is a multi-talented musician

Saranac Lake High School senior Mary Keating and Director of Choral Activities Drew Benware practice singing at the high school Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — High school senior Mary Keating sings, plays saxophone, skis, bakes and takes photographs, and those are just her extracurricular activities. Pile those on top of her regular school schedule, and you’ve got an all-star student.

Keating and Saranac Lake High School Director of Choral Activities Drew Benware, recently returned from Rochester, where Keating sang in the New York State School of Music Association All-State vocal ensemble and was alternate for saxophone in the jazz ensemble. In the spring, she’ll sing with the National Association for Musical Education All-Eastern treble choir in Pittsburgh.

“The Conference All-State represents the best musicians in the state who have gotten in because of their solo performances in May,” Benware said. “The All-Eastern Conference has musicians from each state from Virginia all the way to Maine, and it includes any American schools abroad.

“These are really the culmination of hard work and like-minded individuals getting together to rehearse a unique set of music for a particular performance.”

Being accepted to all these conferences is a rarity for Saranac Lake, Benware said.

“I think this might be the first time in Saranac Lake history that we’ve had this dual acceptance for the All-State Conference,” he said. “It’s remarkable and speaks to the well-roundness of Mary’s musicianship. She can transfer skills to multiple disciplines.”

Keating’s passion for music started in the seventh grade when she began playing saxophone in the middle school jazz band.

“It just made me feel so alive and wonderful,” she said. “I always looked forward when the bands and the jazz ensemble would come from the high school and rehearse for us because I was like, ‘that’s going to be me someday.’ I was happy to find something the helped express my individuality while also focusing on self-betterment.”

When on stage, Keating said her mind is blank of anything unrelated to the performance.

“I’m just so focused on the moment and on the interaction between the people I’m playing with,” she said. “I love that connection I have with other players. It really feels like a community. At this year’s All-State, I truly felt like I was part of something important.”

Benware has been Keating’s teacher for all four years of her high school career, and he said she’s constantly progressing as a musician.

“One of the things that’s really kept Mary moving forward and not kind of resting on these laurels is the amount of intrinsic motivation that she has and how much independent work she’s able to do,” he said.

Keating said she practices saxophone for an hour a day and sings for at least half an hour a day. She’s also on the high school’s nordic ski team, occasionally photographs weddings and is in the midst of applying for colleges. She even has an audition at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam soon. Keating says she’d like to major in music education and teach younger kids, focusing more on the instrumentation aspects.

Benware said even though Keating just performed at All-State, she’s still focused on the next steps.

“It’s kind of like the beat goes on,” he said. “We’ve celebrated her great achievement in Rochester, but now it’s on to the next hurdle, and that’s a very realist situation for what life is like as a musician. Just when you think, ‘OK, I’ve crossed that one hurdle.’ There’s five more down the road that you’re looking at. I’ve noticed that Mary gets energized by those scenarios, which bodes well for her success.”

Keating said it can be hard trying to juggle music, work, sports, advanced placement classes and college, but she knows it’s all worth it in the end.

“Lots of deep breaths” is how she makes it through her days, she said. “I try to budget my time as best as I can. Usually, I’ll have to cut something out and maybe work on it the next day in study hall or postpone something until the last minute, which I’m pretty good at. I just work on what makes me happy in the moment because of all of these things are things that should make me happy. If it starts to become a chore, then I don’t think I’d want to do it anymore.”

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