M4Arts piano student Sarah Hocutt talks to us about how she fell in love with the piano, how music helped her during the pandemic and her recent appointment as piano teaching assistant at the The M Institute for the Arts.
Hi Sarah, first of all congratulations for your recent appointment.
Thank you so much. It is such a honour and a pleasure to be part of the Institute faculty. I can't wait to get started.
Can you tell us how you made your first encounter with music?
My first exposure to music was with my great-grandmother, Ada, who lived in Knoxville, TN, and played the piano for enjoyment in her home.
She would play popular tunes from the early 1900s, church hymns, gospel music, blues, and songs from musicals, but I believe her favorite genre was Ragtime music, including pieces such as “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin.
The energy and vibrancy she put into playing was truly contagious and made for such a joyous atmosphere in her home, so I always knew I wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument from the time that I was very young.
When did you decide to take piano lessons?
I began taking piano lessons when I was 8 years old in Winston-Salem, NC.
As soon as I could read music, I started playing every piece I could get my hands on, including cabinets full of sheet music that had been collected by my great-grandmother and grandfather, who also played the piano among other instruments.
In the 6th grade, I began playing the clarinet in addition to the piano, and had the privilege of playing an antique Selmer Signet clarinet that belonged to my grandfather, Tim. This was very special both because it was a family heirloom, and because it was made in the 1940s from Grenadilla wood, so the quality of the sound was superb.
In middle and high school, I participated in a number of honors bands and orchestras, as well as the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony, which really cultivated my love of great orchestral works. In addition, being part of a large group making such beautiful music on stage was a really magical feeling.
In 2006, I started college at Appalachian State University as a Biology major, and was luckily able to continue my study of the piano taking lessons at the School of Music as a non-music major.
While most of my time became dedicated to my major and eventually going to Physician Assistant (PA) school, piano has always helped me maintain a sense of balance in life - it is just fun to play!
What made you decide to take piano lessons again, after a few years break?
I returned to the study of piano in fall of 2019, after losing my mother to cancer.
She was someone who always supported my musical endeavors from an early age. Like many artists and musicians throughout history who have experienced tragedy and difficult times, music provided me with a means of expression that enabled me to translate the emotions of grieving a loved one into something meaningful.
Sorry to hear that. Did music also help you during the pandemic?
Music has continued to be a source of hope, joy, and artistic expression over this past year as well, as the world has experienced the pandemic.
I currently work full-time as an emergency medicine physician assistant (PA), and over the past several months, having balance in life has been more important than ever.
The concept of mindfulness has become very popular in recent years as a stress reduction technique, and if you think about it, playing a musical instrument is the perfect way to practice mindfulness.
Playing music demands the use of your auditory, visual, and tactile senses, as well as complex motor functions. As with any mindfulness practice, this helps focus your attention on the present -and couldn’t we all use more of that in the age of endless technology and devices?
Furthermore, with all the current restrictions due to COVID, I am immensely grateful to be able to experience the joy of music from my own home, having the ability to play a musical instrument - however, I can say I will be the first person in line when concerts resume!
How did you go from being a piano student to being appointed teaching assistant?
I have studied piano with Radina D. at The M Institute for the Arts here in Washington. She is amazing! I have become so passionate about piano playing and teaching that the Institute offered me a position as a teaching assistance in 2021 for which I am super thrilled and cannot wait to start soon.
To have the opportunity to help introduce beginners to the world of music is truly a blessing. Seeing the profound effect that music has had on my own life, I hope to enable others to find their own passion for music.
And finally, what would your favourite piano repertoire include?
My favourite repertoire would consist mostly of pieces by composers of the romantic and post-romantic, including Schubert, Chopin, Brahms and Debussy.
Most recently I’ve been working on the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op.2 n.3 in C Major, which has been an exciting challenge for me.
I hope to play this in an upcoming recital or masterclass.
Thank you, Sarah. We look forward to hearing you in concert soon.
More About Sarah
Sarah is a pianist and music enthusiast from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
She has played piano for 24 years, beginning in grade school and continuing her piano studies for two years at the college level, while earning her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Appalachian State University.
In addition to piano, Sarah also played clarinet for 7 years in grade school, performing with various honors bands and orchestras, including the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony, the North Carolina All State Band and North Carolina All State Orchestra.
Currently she continues her study of piano with Radina D. and she has just been appointed teaching assistant at the M Institute for the Arts.
She believes music can enrich people's lives and is excited to share her passion for music with beginning students.