When Little Things Lead to BIG Possibilities | Sophia Kickhofel

Young student playing saxophone into a microphone

The little things. That’s what Sophia Kickhofel enjoys most about life. If she could trace all the little things back to childhood, she would realize they brought her to where she is today.

Pick an instrument or sing in the choir. That was the choice given to Sophia Kickhofel and the other fifth graders. They needed to pick an elective. She was too young to know at the time, but that decision would impact the rest of her life. And so, she chose. Soon she had a saxophone in hand, a trusted companion, an instrument that offers a mix of harmony and rhythm.

Casual playing became a hobby. A hobby became an interest. Passion followed. In the seventh grade, one of Sophia’s teachers told her to audition for the Minnesota state band. Here again there was another choice. Play music for fun within her school and local community, or step outside what’s familiar. Sophia took a chance.

From that last year of elementary to the beginning of high school, Sophia remained committed to mastering the sound. Her talent was not something to keep to herself, but to share, and share she did. In time, that instrument became more than just a display of talent. Music was her way of engaging with people and the world.

In her freshman year, another teacher took notice of Sophia. They directed her to the MacPhail Center for Music. She knew the name, but was a stranger to the school, but just like before, Sophia took a chance.

At MacPhail, Sophia says she was “introduced to a whole new side of music.” Instead of just listening and playing with those around her, she was studying the greats, people she began to admire like Charlie Parker and Cannonball Addy. She was shown work that was contemporary and obscure. There was a wider spectrum of music than she initially thought.

While learning, she found new opportunities to play music too. “The MacPhail Dakota Combo is a high school program that allows students to work for as many years as they like,” Sophia remembers. She auditioned to be a part of the ensemble every year. The more she played the more she discovered she had a “genuine impact on people.” The people affected weren’t just those playing alongside her, but those who heard her music, and the instructors teaching her. The recognized ensemble had a new face, one many came to know and appreciate.

One of her teachers, Dr. Christopher Rochester, director of the Jazz Program, MacPhail Global Music Initiative, and the Dakota Combo, thought just as much. To him she was a “crazy sponge.” Sophia had an innate impact on the people she came across. She was at the center of the youth jazz team and her reputation preceded her. If people did not know her face, they knew her name, from middle school to high school, even college students.

“She’s out here playing her butt off! She’s been the face of youth jazz in the twin city area,” Dr. Rochester said.

The ensemble performed concerts at various venues including MacPhail’s Antonello Hall, a record store called Barely Brothers, a cafe called The Black Dog in Saint Paul, and Crooners’ Lounge. Crooner’s “fancy space” and “energetic vibe” made this her favorite.

Each of these experiences made her a better person and a better saxophone player. She wanted to keep growing. Teachers like Dr. Rochester pushed her to keep going. Sophia recalls hearing feedback along the way that helped her improve.

“Think about music this way,” “Here’s what you can practice,” “Here’s what you can improve on,” she can hear it even now from Dr. Rochester. He spoke these words and more, going as far as challenging her – learn the difficult transcription for a song played by an expert saxophonist.

The transcription was something most professionals cannot play. If Sophia could learn the song, she could have her teacher’s tenor saxophone. Today, Sophia has it.

Those four years at MacPhail and hours of practice every Tuesday feel like just yesterday. Time has gone by, and Sophia is no longer a student with us. Still, her impact is felt, and the example she left behind has been set.

She carries with her fond memories, insightful experiences, and a trophy instrument. Most of all though, she carries passion with her.

“MacPhail was like one of the main things that made me want to pursue music.”

Today, Sophia’s musical journey continues. Though absent from MacPhail, her musical pursuits have taken her to The Juilliard School in New York. She is studying jazz and continues to play the saxophone (now with some experience with the clarinet). The saxophone remains her instrument of choice, a device she uses to enjoy the little things in life.

When she looks at the trees or the sky, she feels something. Sophia notices how other people feel too, observing nature, enjoying a bowl of soup. The little things bring so much joy.

With “big things happening all the time,” Sophia finds pleasure in the things often overlooked. “The little things make life interesting,” she said with a wide smile. “Enjoying the little things is like the sprinkles on top of ice cream. That’s the best part.”

The little things. As life continues for Sophia, we can rest assured there’s more joy to follow. Just listen to the jazzy sound of her saxophone and look for that bright smile.

-September 2021

Published on Date: Sep 30, 2021
To Top