Sarah Jarosz heading north

Sarah Jarosz - photo by Scott SimontacchiSarah Jarosz will be among the thousands of college freshmen descending onto the city of Boston next month. Long regarded as one of the biggest college towns in the US, Boston is the home of The New England Conservatory, where Sarah will begin her studies in September. She will join a first year class filled to the brim with talented young musicians, but she may be among the few who had a critically-acclaimed recording released while she was still in high school.

Sarah will surely be among the very few with a folk and bluegrass background in this prestigious conservatory of classical music. Her debut CD, Song Up In Her Head, was released earlier this year on Sugar Hill, showcasing her skills as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, banjo, guitar, mandocello).

Hailing from Texas, Sarah has been a recognized prodigy in the bluegrass/old time/Americana music world for several years. By the time she was 13, Sarah was appearing at festivals and catching the eye of professional entertainers like Tim O’Brien and Sugar Hill signed her before her senior year of high school. At 18 years old, she is already an experienced stage performer and had award-winning producer Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek) with her in the studio.

We spoke with Sarah about making the move from Texas to Massachusetts, and how she came to chose NEC from among the other schools she considered.

“I did visit several other schools in the fall of my senior year of high school – The Juilliard School and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, and Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory in Boston. I applied to, and auditioned for Berklee and New England Conservatory.

The atmosphere at New England Conservatory and Berklee are incredibly positive, and everyone I met seemed so excited and serious about learning as much as possible about music. One of the most appealing aspects to me about NEC, however, is their program called Contemporary Improvisation which really lets each student create their own personal style through the study of world music and ear training.The size of the school is also very appealing.There are about 750 students in the entire school. NEC also has a great liberal arts department which was an important factor to me in deciding on a school.”

Boston has been a hotbed of adventurous folk and bluegrass music for the past ten years or so, with groups like Crooked Still emerging from the pool of energetic young string musicians in Beantown. Rounder Records is located in nearby Burlington, and the neighborhood where NEC resides also houses Boston’s superb symphony orchestra and a number of other small, arts and music schools.

“I have many friends already living and going to college in Boston! The exciting acoustic music scene in Boston played a huge role in my decision to go to school there and start the next chapter of my life in that city.

New England Conservatory of Music awarded me the Presidential Distinction Award merit scholarship. Berklee College of Music offered me a full tuition merit scholarship for four years. It was a difficult decision, but after weighing the pros and cons, I felt that NEC would be the best fit for me at this time.”

Despite being known as a classical school, New England Conservatory also offers programs for jazz musicians and composers. Sarah feels that she will be able to pursue her fairly wide range of musical interests at NEC.

“I will be studying voice in the Contemporary Improvisation department at NEC, but I will also be able to incorporate the instruments I play (mandolin, octave mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, piano) into my musical studies.

Contemporary Improvisation gives students an opportunity to do non-classical studies in a conservatory environment. One of the main reasons I decided to attend NEC is because I want to challenge myself at the highest level with the exploration of new musical styles that I haven’t studied yet. I’ve always been open to new types and genres of music, and I’m curious to learn as much as possible about all styles of music. The more musical influences I’m exposed to will make me a more well rounded musician, singer and songwriter in the long run.”

The school must se something special in Jarosz, as they have offered her substantial tuition assistance.

“New England Conservatory of Music awarded me the Presidential Distinction Award merit scholarship. Berklee College of Music offered me a full tuition merit scholarship for four years. It was a difficult decision, but after weighing the pros and cons, I felt that NEC would be the best fit for me at this time.”

With a professional career already taking off, and a world of opportunities as a performer in the wake of the success of Song Up In Her Head, we asked what value she placed on continuing her education at this time.

“My view towards music has always been to learn and grow as much as possible. I feel that going to college and studying music will broaden my horizons and give me more tools to work with for future musical aspirations, collaborations, and opportunities. It will also be a great way to meet other musicians who love music as much as I do. Sugar Hill Records has been incredibly supportive of my decision to go to college and study music while I continue to develop my professional music and recording career.

School has always been important to me. I was in the top ten percent of my graduating class at Wimberley High School, and I’ve always had the desire to go to college. I don’t think that college is for everyone. College becomes a personal choice for each individual that gets to that point in their lives. In the music world, there are many incredibly successful people who didn’t attend college. I just think at this time in my life, it’s the best place for me to continue my musical experiences while I continue to pursue my professional career.”

Finally, we wondered how her parents felt about her moving so far from home.

“My parents are both teachers and are incredibly supportive of my decision to go to college in Boston. They’ve definitely told me they’re going to miss me, and they’ve assured me that they aren’t going to rent out my room just yet. They’re really excited for me to have such an amazing opportunity to study at NEC, to live in such a historic and vibrant city, and continue my music career.”

Bluegrass Today wishes Sarah the very best of luck in college, and expects that she will be a great credit to New England Conservatory.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.