Sabrina Charney

Sabrina Charney is a graduating senior from Billings Central Catholic High School. She plans on joining the Army Reserves and attending Montana State University for music education.

Music has always been a part of Sabrina Charney’s life. Her parents immersed her in it, and she picked up her instrument of choice, the saxophone, like a natural.

But her ear for jazz or ability to hit the right notes might not even be her best trait when the Central Catholic High senior plays in a band or orchestra.

“She’s also probably one of the best leaders we’ve had,” said Central band director Codie Wahrman.

Charney will graduate Sunday, eyeing a future in the military and in music y education. She relishes the idea of leading young musicians.

“You’re sharing your passion,” she said.

Family interests

Charney picks her words like musical notes, intentionally placed but free-flowing once they begin. Her demeanor seems more teacher than student, but she talks about the band like it’s her family.

“The band room is our sanctuary,” she said.

Charney’s family has deep musical roots. Both of her parents are musicians, and through their work at Eckroth Music, have a deep imprint across school music programs.

“My friends tease me, they grew up with Looney Tunes, and I grew up with music,” Charney said. “I would just sit for three hours in our basement, in our low-lit music room. … I never second-guessed it. It was just a part of my life.”

She began playing the saxophone in sixth grade at St. Francis Intermediate School, and took to it quickly. It became her primary instrument through high school, where she went on to rack up awards.

Charney felt like her growth as a musician wasn’t just about learning skills, but mastering a mindset — “to not care so much what the audience thinks, but how the music resonates with me.”

“You get completely lost in the passion,” she said. “The outside world disappears.”

But music wasn’t the only family influence. Relatives on Charney’s father’s and mother’s side of the family had served in the military, but her uncle made a distinct impression.

As an Air Force officer, he cut a figure that Charney found emblematic of military service, even iconic. Combined with activities like civil air patrol, she grew especially interested in military service early in high school.

Charney has signed up for the U.S. Army and is slated for basic training in June. She hopes to eventually train as a helicopter pilot. She plans to attend Montana State University to study music education, then earn a master’s degree at Indiana State before pursing teaching jobs. Throughout, she plans to remain an active member of the military, and hopes to play in military bands.

“She kind of fully encompassed what we try to get out of a student, both on a leadership and a musical sense,” Wahrman said. “If somebody’s struggling, she’ll also, very quietly, pull someone aside and say, ‘hey, what’s going on?' ... That’s so much more than just being a great musician.”

Wahrman gave Charney the opportunity to conduct the band this year, but after some practice sessions, she demurred, saying that she felt like her place was alongside her peers, not in front of them: “I’m going to play with my friends,” Wharman recalled her saying.

But he has no doubt she’d have done well conducting.

“I think she sees the bigger picture,” he said. “She’s able to get her classmates to follow that same passion.”

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