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Sax phenom Claire Maue turned grief into a musical tribute to her late sister

Claire Maue
Claire Maue started writing the music for her debut album when her music teacher suggested it could be a way to work through her grief over the death of her twin sister.

When her twin sister died unexpectedly a year ago, Claire Maue found healing in music.

Maue was in her first year as an advanced saxophone student at Jefferson College when her sister, Hana, died after a drunken driver struck her car.

The musician had been playing saxophone since elementary school and was a member of the Jazz St. Louis All-Stars, a student group. But she hadn’t written much music.

Musician and educator Joel Vanderheyden, who had known the Maue sisters for years and gave lessons to Claire, suggested that she try writing her way through her grief.

The result is “Gemini,” a polished collection of straight-ahead jazz tunes.

Maue, 20, will play her first Jazz St. Louis gig as a bandleader Wednesday, leading a quartet that includes bassist Bob DeBoo, drummer Ron Sikes and her father, Shane Maue, on guitar. The same group plays on the record.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin spoke with Maue about the inspiration behind her album.

Jeremy D. Goodwin: After your sister died, was music a big part of your recovery process?

Claire Maue: Yeah, it definitely was. Just playing, in general, always makes me feel better. But then writing the music — I think all but one of the songs I wrote after she passed away. She always supported me so much, so I knew it was something she would want me to keep doing, and it was easy to put a lot of time into it because of that.

I knew that she would be supporting me a lot and want me to keep going with my music.

Goodwin: How did you get started writing music?

Maue: I got started just with my teacher, Joel Vanderhayden, telling me I should start writing music. And I hadn't really done it because it was just really kind of a scary thing. I didn't really know what I was doing, but he encouraged me to get started, and I realized that I could do it. And with his help, I was able to write those eight songs, and I'm working on more now.

Claire(13) copy.jpg
Maria N Truesdale
Claire Maue will headline Jazz St. Louis for the first time this week, backed by the quartet that plays on her debut album.

Goodwin: What was it like taking on that new challenge and being creative when things must have been tough for you personally?

Maue: It's always something that makes me feel better. So it was kind of an escape a little bit, but also just somewhere to go with my emotions.

Goodwin: Are there moments on the album where we can hear some of that happening?

Maue: The song “Little Flower” I wrote specifically for Hana. The whole album is inspired by her a lot, but that one is specifically for her, because Hana in Hawaiian means “little flower.” That’s just a song I wrote for her, just to tell her how much I love her. I miss her a lot, and I think you can hear that in the song as well.

Some of the other songs are playful and fun and are just kind of reminiscent of a lot of the memories we had together and fun times as kids. The song “Apple Pickin’” is about going apple picking every fall. That was always something fun to do as a family.

Goodwin: What are your plans for after graduation?

Maue: School's been really hard for me lately, and I need to take a break from that. But I'm just planning on writing a lot more music and hopefully doing more recording and hopefully more gigs.

Goodwin: Is that the direction you want to go in? Are you focused on building a career in music?

Maue: Yeah. And I teach private lessons as well. So with that and living at home right now, I'm able to not have to work any other kind of job. I don't know how long that'll last, but that would be the dream.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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