By Annette Hinkle
Sara Hartman is not unlike a lot of other teens in Sag Harbor. The soon to be Pierson High School junior has a summer job at the Kite Store on Main Street and in the coming days, will no doubt be spending time at the beach with friends.
But these days, Hartman is also busy doing something else — honing her skill as a recording artist. The young singer/songwriter has two original songs available on iTunes — “Everyone I Love,” released on May 23, and “Catch Me If you Can” a song that became available on June 24.
With a voice far more mature than her years would indicate, Hartman’s soulful tunes will lead listeners to quickly realize this is a young talent with great potential — particularly amazing given the fact that Hartman only recently began sharing her music publicly.
It all began in the band room at Pierson this past winter where Hartman, who plays drums in the school’s band and as part of the pit orchestra for musical theater productions, went during her free period. There, she would pull out her guitar and privately sing her latest originals.
“She and another student were in the band room one day and the other girl was playing a song she had written,” recalls music teacher Eric Reynolds. “Later Sara started singing and playing her own song on guitar. I came out and said, ‘It’s like something you hear on the radio – like a Norah Jones song.’ She told me she writes her own music. I had no idea.”
In fact, at that point Hartman wasn’t even in the school chorus.
“I had a study hall — I’d always hear them singing in there,” notes Hartman.
So with encouragement from Reynolds and chorus teacher Suzanne Nicoletti, Hartman gave up that study hall to join the chorus where the alto was able to hone her skill.
“I take what I can from it vocal-wise,” she says, “All the syllables the ‘Ts’ and ‘Ps’ you’re supposed to pronounce.”
While Hartman’s talent may have come as a surprise to the music teachers at Pierson, she acknowledges it’s not new for her.
“The first complete song I wrote was about my friend, Colleen Ryan, who moved and went to Connecticut,” recalls Hartman. “I was getting it out — it’s angsty. I wrote it before she moved in 8th grade in anticipation … because I’m a worrier.”
“Listening to my old stuff, bits and pieces I really like, I am proud of myself,” adds Hartman who finds that inspiration in songwriting often starts with a single sentence — or even a single word.
“It’s about what that means and how you can approach that word,” says Hartman. “I’ve had a difficult home life — divorce —that’s where a lot of it comes from.”
And has that difficult situation ultimately made Hartman a stronger songwriter?
“Yeah, and a stronger person,” she concedes. “It’s not a rebirth — I think that sounds cheesy — but self awareness.”
Though Hartman has been quietly writing music for a while, she admits that “Putting it on iTunes made it real.”
Playing live in recent months has also made it real.
On June 24, Hartman performed at the first Hampton Coffee Company “Live Music in the Garden” series in Water Mill. She also performed at Pierson’s spring concert. But she notes that her first “official” gig — at Crossroads Music in Amagansett, which was part of “On The Air at Crossroads” a monthly radio show hosted by Cynthia Daniels — was particularly eye-opening.
“Cynthia Daniels, my producer, is beyond fantastic. She’s helping me with everything — introducing me to this whole new world I love and love to be in,” says Hartman. “It was my first gig and I was terrified. But I brought it upon myself. They handed out flyers and a lot of people came.”
“It was amazing – Mike Clark, the owner, said ‘That’s the most people we’ve ever had in the store,’” adds Hartman. “I did three original songs – that’s all I really had prepared. I listened to it afterward and it was horrible. The bits and pieces, you can fix in the studio, but not when it’s live.”
Among the “bunch of strangers” in the audience that day was Elvis Costello’s keyboardist.
“He shook my hand,” says Hartman. “That was really intense. The reaction was positive.”
Lately, Hartman has also become a ukulele enthusiast – thanks to one she borrowed from Dr. Robert Schumacher, a science teacher at Pierson. It’s an instrument that she plays on “Everyone I know.” She also had help from local adult musicians on that recording — Klyph Black on bass and Randy Hudson on guitar. While she’s enjoying the experience of being a performing musician, Hartman admits she is a little nervous about the attention that comes with “going public.”
“It’s still very uncomfortable for me at times,” admits Hartman. “I’m working on the performer part of being a singer/songwriter. I still shake a little bit. But after you finish the song and you hear this applause … it’s amazing.”