A 20-year-old North Battleford, Sask., musician has hit all the right notes to earn a chance to perform at Carnegie Hall.

After winning a music competition, Cole Knutson will be the only registered Canadian to play a solo act on June 10 at the famed New York City performance hall.

"It's a really exciting experience," said Knutson, a third-year student at the University of Manitoba studying for his bachelor's degree in saxophone performance.

Yet the saxophone wasn't his first love. A week before his 12th birthday, Knutson began taking piano lessons. He says it was a late start compared to most musicians but he enjoyed the ivory keys and has ever since.

'Unfortunately, or fortunately now, all I could get a sound on was the saxophone.' - Cole Knutson

His piano teacher, Jaya Hoy, suggested he start taking singing lessons or learn another instrument to help improve his playing.

So when the band program started at his school, Knutson got to test his aptitude on the various musical instruments. He was hoping to be assigned the trumpet or the French horn.

"Unfortunately, or fortunately now, all I could get a sound on was the saxophone," said Knutson.

After playing in band for a few years, Knutson was encouraged by his teacher, Gene Aulinger, to audition for honour bands and orchestras.

Sax success

Knutson earned himself a spot as the principal saxophonist in the Saskatoon Youth Wind Orchestra, the Saskatchewan Provincial Honour Band, the National Youth Band of Canada, the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra and the World Youth Wind Orchestra.

It's given him the opportunity to perform in every Canadian province and elsewhere across North America, as well as in Europe, and produced an appetite for the international stage.

Cole Knutson on Sax

Cole Knutson has played concerts across North America and Europe. (Submitted by Cole Knutson)

"There are very short and brief moments throughout my short career so far as a musician where I sit back and I think this is something I am content with doing for the rest of my life. I can't imagine doing anything else," said Knutson.

Last year, Knutson auditioned for the American Protégé International Competition, which offers winners the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. He won first prize in the College and Professionals category, awarding him the performance slot at the famous venue.

Piano pro

After his concert in June, he'll jet off to Austria for a program at the Franz Schubert Institute as a pianist, fulfilling another dream. He is one of only roughly 13 musicians who were selected from around the world for the honour, and one of the youngest.

"It's regarded as one of the best programs, if not the best program, of its kind in the world," said Knutson.

"It's a humbling experience to be so young and to work with so many experienced and mature musicians."

Even though Knutson will be performing at some of the world's most prestigious music venues, he says he enjoys coming home to North Battleford, and credits the community for his success.

Homecoming

"I come home to North Battleford, where I play a concert or help teach piano, and look back where it all started," said Knutson.

"It is really important, because  … I'd say most of my accomplishments now have been with the great help of the many teachers I had in North Battleford."

Knutson plans on continuing his studies in Europe but hopes to return to Saskatchewan to teach music and inspire another generation of young musicians.