By Annette Hinkle
Two years isn’t a long time in the arc of most lives. But for Sara Hartman, it’s represented an incredible period of growth — particularly where her music is concerned.
Back then, the Pierson High School sophomore was just finding her voice as a singer/songwriter. She had written some original songs by then, but was largely sharing them quietly among friends and acquaintances. Two years ago she had only recently joined the school’s chorus and taken up the drums in the school band. She also had recorded a few of her songs and was just beginning to perform in public at small venues around the East End.
But now that she’s a senior, you could say Hartman’s future is focused in forward motion. Though she still has a few months of high school left before taking that next step, her career seems to have firmly taken root and is blossoming. Hartman’s playing a range of gigs these days, not just as a solo artist but as part of a band as well, where she now finds herself performing with seasoned professionals who are far older.
And Hartman already knows where she will be next fall — in Boston at the fabled Berklee College of Music, a school she set her sites on long ago. Dream met reality last year when Hartman took part in a summer songwriting workshop at the campus. She notes how much it helped put her work into perspective.
“Before I wanted to go to Berklee and play music because Berklee is Berklee,” says Hartman. “Now it’s a whole different level of understanding.”
“There’s a science to writing songs I didn’t realize before,” confides Hartman. “It’s about the imagery and how to make people feel something — like poetry but with a different name. I can take what I’m thinking and feeling and make it into a package now that makes sense. Before it was a lot of vague metaphors — now I’m writing with purpose.”
Hartman’s other purpose is to get her music out there and heard by the public — which she’s doing not only through live performances, but online as well. She is working with East End sound engineer Cynthia Daniels to record many of her originals (she one EP already with another soon to follow) and recently began delving into Sound Cloud — a music sharing website — to garner an online following.
“I really love Sound Cloud because you do get followers. I think I have 300ish now,” she says. “If I put up a new mix, people can comment on it. You can get feedback right away.”
Now, with the science, technology and a few musical secrets under her belt, Hartman’s songs are coming fast and furious.
“I say every two to three weeks I’ll come out with a decent one,” says Hartman who adds that perhaps the other big influence on her music has been the experience of playing live —especially alongside seasoned performers.
“It has really changed a lot,” says Hartman of her music. “I play with the ‘all star band’ — which is Klyph Black, Randolph A. Hudson the III and Anthony Liberatore.”
Though they refer to her as “the kid,” the musicians take Hartman — and her music — pretty seriously: venues have included places like Stephen Talkhouse and Guild Hall, where Hartman sang with Inda Eaton. She also performed solo recently as part of HarborFrost.
“HarborFrost was amazing,” says Hartman. “I played at Grenning Gallery. I’m a nerd, and when you stomp on the floor there it echoes perfectly. I thought, ‘this is my bass drum now.’ The Kite Store people came by in their silly hats — I work there — it’s really nice to play for people there.”
But for Hartman, perhaps the most significant gig was not the one for the hometown crowd, but the venue she played last April in New York City.
“It was a big deal and at the Living Room Club on Ludlow Street,” says Hartman who credits Anthony Liberatore with setting the wheels in motion to make it happen. “He knows all the people. Where I’m lazy, he’s like ‘you should play here,’ which is nice. He really set that up. We learned a whole bunch of new originals – and shipped them to Manhattan. It was a beautiful gig.”
“It was also terrifying — different than playing HarborFrost,” she adds. “People you know who listen to you play here, those people aren’t there. It’s like a new proving ground… challenge accepted.”
Though she’s come to realize she truly is a singer/songwriter, Hartman’s not shy about picking up an instrument or two. She has experience as a drummer, and is becoming very strong on the ukulele, which she uses as accompaniment on many of songs. Because of her newfound knowledge and confidence in the songwriting realm, Hartman is also doing very few covers these days.
“I’m doing all originals – though every once in a while I’ll throw in ‘Mr. Sandman’ and ‘Valerie,’” she says. “I’m working on new originals all the time and I’m writing from a different place.”
Hartman’s immersion into the world of adult musicians has also put her in that different place and is focusing her vision in a way most high school students could only dream of at this point.
“I learn a way lot from them,” says Hartman of her band mates. “You just don’t stop playing.”
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Hartman is still in high school, but she’s still very active in Pierson’s music program. In February, Hartman performed as part of Suffolk’s All-County Vocal Jazz ensemble which will travel to Albany soon to perform for state politicians as part of “Music In Our Schools Month.”
“I think I’m the first from Pierson,” says Hartman of the ensemble. “It’s a small group – 30 kids from all over the county. I met peers who were passionate about the same things I am. It was a big deal because I never sang jazz music like that. To be exposed to it was great.”
“It’s also nice to know what other people are doing,” adds Hartman who also credits Pierson music teacher Eric Reynolds for helping her make the grade at her Berklee audition. Though teenagers are often fond of saying, “When will I ever need that?” in reference to a high school course, Hartman has no such delusions.
“Thank God I took AP music theory,” she says. “There’s a science to music – it’s more of a math than a science. You have to know all the notes in a chord. For example during my audition they asked what were the notes in an e flat 7 – a dominant not a major.”
“I’m a product of Pierson’s music program and it’s an honor,” says Hartman. “I’m going to miss Pierson.”