West Fargo middle schooler heading to national music competition with new sax donated by supporters

Eighth grader Enoch Orukotan first picked up the saxophone two years ago, now he's playing at a college level.

3202023 Enoch.6_0001_P2144426.jpg
Liberty Middle school saxophonist Enoch Orukotan will be competing in the Music Teacher National Association national competition in Reno, Nevada, Saturday, March 25.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

WEST FARGO — Three years ago, Enoch Orukotan had never played a saxophone. This weekend, he’s in Reno, Nevada, playing against kids from all over the country in the biggest student competition in America, the Music Teachers National Association Competition.

The 8th grader at Liberty Middle School in West Fargo earned a spot as one of six finalists in the junior age bracket for woodwinds. He represents the West Central Division, an area that extends from North Dakota and Minnesota south through Kansas and Missouri. He first won the state category earlier this year and in February discovered he won the regionals.

“I was surprised. I knew it was people all over the nation and I didn’t think I’d be good enough to win,” he says, sitting in his school’s band room.

Orukotan flew to Reno with his father, Moses, on Thursday. The competition is on Saturday and on Sunday the winners play for everyone.

His dad plays a little piano and his mom sings, but the band is in his and his brothers’ blood. His older brother plays trumpet and his younger brother is set to play trombone next year


Orukotan only picked up the saxophone when he started the 6th grade. Now he plays in the school’s jazz band and concert band.

“I really loved how it sounded,” he explains. “The sounds you make with this are better than all of the other instruments. It’s not too low, not too high.”

3202023 Enoch.3
Enoch Orukotan playing a piece from a Jascha Gurewich concerto at Liberty Middle school in West Fargo. The eighth grader is competing in the Music Teacher National Association national competition in Reno, Nevada on March 25.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

He’s drawn to jazz saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins and Phil Woods, but at this weekend’s competition, he’ll play a concerto by Jascha Gurewich, “Aria” by Eugene Bozza and a sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Shortly after he started playing, Orukotan signed up for lessons from Russ Peterson, who teaches at Concordia College and plays in the Fargo- Moorhead Symphony Orchestra and Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome.

“I have been working with Enoch for two years and have seen amazing potential in his playing,” Peterson says. “Competitions are a great motivator to work up a difficult program and keep you excited. Enoch is playing three difficult pieces that I normally assign to college students. He has really risen to the challenge.”

It’s a challenge the young student is up to.

“He gives me motivation to one day be as good as him. Maybe better,” Orukotan says.

The teacher keeps pushing him, having recently assigned his pupil “Scaramouche” by Darius Milhaud and “The Carnival of Venice,” by FrederickHemke.


“Again, these are pieces I would only give to college students,” Peterson says.

Orukotan wants to keep playing after high school. Having heard Peterson’s tales of playing around Europe and using music as a universal language, the student wants to follow in his teacher’s steps and play in Germany.

3202023 Enoch.1
Enoch Orukotan is an eighth grader at Liberty Middle School in West Fargo. The saxophonist will be heading to Reno, NV on March 25 to compete in the Music Teacher National Association national competition.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

“I have a lot of work to do to be a real jazz player,” he says, explaining he needs to learn more about improvisation.

This weekend, however, he’s just focusing on the music in front of him. To combat nerves, he plans on just keeping his eye on the music and letting his hands do the talking.

Even if Orukotan doesn’t take home top honors, he’s already won something.

To make sure he’d be able to make it to the competition, Peterson started a fundraiser. The amount made not only paid for transportation, but also covered a new saxophone for the emerging artist.

“I was really excited. I felt like I really outgrew the other one,” he says.

“I was not totally surprised when I heard Enoch won the regional division of MTNA,” Peterson says. “He is very talented and playing extremely well,. The truth is, I don’t even care if he goes to Reno. The growth I have seen in him working up this program is worth it. Competitions are more about pushing you to do your best than what some judges say after you play. That being said, go get them Enoch!”

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
What To Read Next
Get Local