“Hi! I’m Sara,” it says casually, on the web, “I write songs and play multiple instruments. Though I am a drummer at heart, I also play ukulele, guitar and bass.” She modestly doesn’t say, not there, anyway, that she also sings—but “also” hardly describes her sound, smooth and earthy, which can be heard on YouTube, ReverbNation and SoundCloud, online audio distribution platforms. Chances are, though, unless you’re a young adult following collaboration, promotion and distribution sites for musicians, you probably don’t know about her—yet. But if you’re from Sag Harbor, you may well have heard about this accomplished high school senior. After graduation in June, she’ll be off to Berklee College of Music in Boston, the premier music education institute in Boston that specializes in contemporary, pop and jazz. Recently, she sang with the all-county vocal jazz ensemble SCMEA (Suffolk County Music Education Association), the first person from Pierson to do so. And there’s more, though it’s an “I almost forgot” kind of reference, when she’s asked what else she enjoys—Oh, she played varsity soccer for four years at Pierson. Factor in as well her writing for her middle school literary magazine—short stories and poems—and taking AP English.
Though she started out on drums, she’s making her mark these days as a singer-songwriter, accompanying herself on guitar. Born in Texas but moving north with her family when she was one, she attended local elementary and middle school. When she heard that the school band needed a drummer, she applied, but a teacher encouraged her to consider chorus as well. Composing would soon follow. She likes jazz, blues, folk, experimental and new wave rock in the tradition of Radiohead and Talking Heads. “The more you sing, the better you sound,” she says of recent informal performances with friends, including her brother Paul (though she lovingly describes him primarily as a “theater nerd”). She’s already made EPs (Extended Play mid-length recordings fuller than single tracks but slighter than regular studio albums). She enjoys writing songs about personal feelings. Her pieces sometimes allude to something “deep and dark” and, well, “some people get it,” and those who don’t, that’s okay.
She speaks admiringly of the open mic scene on the East End, citing in particular North Sea Tavern and the former Phao on Main Street in Sag Harbor, places where the customers (“a kind of underground crowd”) are respectful of the music. Otherwise, she concedes, it’s difficult for serious musicians to be heard over the din or to compete with food. An open mic is an excellent way for up and coming folks to show their stuff. “No one says anything critical, it’s a safe place to play.”
It’s not all music for her, though everything else comes in second. When asked about books she’s recently enjoyed, she says without a moment’s hesitation David (Talking Heads) Byrne’s How Music Works, which was an Amazon best book of the month and got a starred review from Booklist. She adds to its online raves, saying that the book describes music as “a beautiful, unifying thing you can’t touch or hold but know deeply affects you.” She also likes to follow the music scene in Rolling Stone where, of course, readers get more than just music commentary, but she particularly likes reading the magazine for its “appreciation of weird [musical] stuff,” encouragement of new music and sympathy for recording artists. And, oh yes, she has also come to admire Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, for sure in its day, an avant-garde exploration of rhythm and style.
Where does she want to be, say, a few years from now? “Music brings me complete joy and happiness. I hope in five years that I have spread this joy to as may people as possible. I hope that with my music I can make the world smile and sing along. That is the official mission statement for the Sara Hartman project .”
Hear Sara Hartman live at 230 Elm in Southampton on May 15 and at the Montauk Music Festival May 16-19.