From Classrooms to Cruise Ships

“I didn't really feel like I had a life. I was just existing.”

Image of Sarah Chandler

From Classrooms to Cruise Ships

Sarah Chandler was bored and uninspired, stuck in a cycle of early starts and long commutes. Here's how one brave decision transformed her life, and set her on a remarkable career path combining travel, music and inspiration.

What work were you doing previously?

I was a peripatetic flute and saxophone teacher for Kent Music School.

What are you doing now?

I'm now a professional saxophone player.

Being a professional musician, I have a range of jobs. I perform in clubs around the world with famous DJs, using the UK's only sax covered in over 2,500 Swarovski crystals!

I have a one-woman sax show, which I perform in theatres on cruise ships around the world.

I've also created 'Saxation', the all-female sax brand which provides the UK's top female sax players as soloists and also as a four-person production show.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make a change?

Bored and uninspired.

I wanted to perform rather than teach. I also wanted to help inspire women in music.

Why did you change?

I was given an opportunity to perform in a band on a cruise ship.

This ticked all my boxes: I wanted to travel and to play sax more.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I had to make a decision within a day (more on that below).

I think if you don't have much time, you just have to take the plunge (pardon the pun!).

Are you happy with the change?

YES.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I missed my boyfriend at the time, and jacket potatoes (they never have baked potatoes on ships!).

But I completely changed as a person when I started travelling, and realised that I was more interested in sorting out my career than in staying at home.

How did you go about making the shift?

I wanted a change.

I wasn't happy in my job: getting up at 6 a.m., driving for four hours a day and teaching.

So, I auditioned to perform in the band for P&O Cruises. I passed. I was then given two days to make my decision, and to pack and fly to the Caribbean.

I had a lot of commitments at home, a boyfriend, and a house, but I had to take courage and give it a go. I told myself I could always quit and go back to teaching if I needed to. As it turned out, I ended up staying there for three years.

My career then catapulted. This is how it started.

I backed famous people by performing in the band onboard. I used to work with people like Paul Daniels, Jayne McDonald, etc. I learned everything I could from these people and then, each night, I used to work on my own saxophone show act.

After three years, I started doing my own show on cruise ships. This was a real game changer for me. I still do this now, but my main passion is performing with DJs. I started this about six years ago after seeing Lovely Laura (a phenomenal sax player in Ibiza) performing with a DJ in a club. It was great! I started networking and developing my sound and look. I now perform with top DJs all over the world.

I've played for all kinds of events, from performing for Google's CEOs to performing alongside Tim Minchin. I've also performed for Hed Kandi (the UK dance label).

I quickly realised that I wanted to develop my show work to complement all this, and seeing a gap in the market I started Saxation. This began with auditions in London, where I was able to create a group of the top female sax players around. I put together a show, and we've been performing this on cruise ships for the past three years.

We also work with female DJs, providing glamorous and sophisticated roam-around sax solos.

Now, I'm a mixture of performer and agent. I absolutely love it! I also love the fact that I'm inspiring women to travel and perform.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

It was obviously upsetting leaving my whole life behind.

Then again, I didn't really feel like I had a life. I was just existing.

The first few weeks on the ship were hard. But then I adjusted. I met people, and we became a family. Everyone looked after each other.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I was lucky because on a cruise ship you get free food and accommodation.

I didn't own a house in the UK so I managed to save. This was enough to start working on my own one-woman show, and then the Saxation brand a few years later.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Leaving my whole life and being scared.

What help did you get?

I didn't really get any help as such; I just embraced every opportunity.

I had to explore different cultures and meet people. This helped me decide what I wanted in life in general.

What resources would you recommend to others?

I would recommend anyone to get on a cruise ship and work.

You need to network and find out who the bookers are, or employers. Work in the shop, work in the salon, work doing anything on the ship. You travel the world, meet amazing people, grow as a person and get paid.

What have you learnt in the process?

That life is for living and not existing.

Also, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it!

There's no way that ten years ago I would have thought I'd be travelling the world, with a fan base and my own agency for female sax players and DJs.

To find out more about Sarah's work, visit www.sarahsax.co.uk or www.officialsaxation.com.

What lessons could you take from Sarah's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.