Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.
When graduating violinist Sarah Abbott began research for her doctoral project on composers of violin sonatas, she discovered a great number of contributions from women in classical music that had been overlooked or even lost throughout history.
Her research is considered a significant contribution to the field of violin compositions by both violin and composition faculty in the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre.
Abbott will graduate from Arizona State University in December with a Doctor of Musical Arts in violin performance.
“I began my research on 19th-century women composers while at ASU and was surprised by my discovery of the massive amount of incredible music that is hardly known today,” Abbott said. “Many women composers were admired during their lifetimes but are presently largely unknown. My research led me to learn just how brilliant they were despite receiving less opportunities than were given to men of that time.”
Abbot’s website, violinsonatasbywomen.com, identifies women composers of violin sonatas with biographical information and provides access to music editions and recordings.
“Sarah is a very caring person, determined to make an impact in the field,” said Jonathan Swartz, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and Abbott’s advisor. “She identified an area of research largely neglected and has created a resource for others to learn about and access violin sonatas by women composers. The website she created will continue to grow with her ongoing research, and I expect it to make a huge contribution to our profession.”
Abbott has performed throughout the United States and Europe and has played alongside classical artists such as Lynn Harrell, Robert McDuffie, Gil Shaham and Stefan Jackiw. She has been invited to perform with Michael Bublé and the Osmonds, and most recently with The Killers on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Abbott also performs regularly with the Utah and Grand Rapids symphonies.
Abbott also teaches young children violin and viola in her home studio, tailoring lessons to help meet the student’s specific goals. One of her top priorities is to inspire a love of music in students of all ages and capabilities and to guide them to reach their musical aspirations.
“One of my greatest joys has been teaching younger children, which I will continue,” Abbott said. “I have had the great honor to work with programs such as the Sphinx Organization, which provides free access to music instruction, and I plan on continuing outreach to students who are disadvantaged.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study violin performance?
Answer: My realization to pursue a career in violin was a gradual process rather than an "aha" moment. A few meaningful experiences during high school directed me to my decision. The first was taking violin lessons with Jack Ashton, former member of the Utah Symphony. Jack’s dedication, artistry and commitment to music education inspired me to reach new musical heights and start my own violin studio. The second experience was my orchestra classes. Being part of something bigger and playing such a vast variety of music was tremendously rewarding and led me to continue in my career path.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: ASU's music program provides so many valuable opportunities. I was first drawn to ASU because I wanted to study under my violin professor, Jonathan Swartz. The opportunity to learn from him, as well as the other professors I studied with, was an incredible opportunity. I was also drawn to ASU because of their esteemed orchestral and chamber programs.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Jonathan Swartz taught me numerous lessons, the most important being that attention to detail is often the difference between a good artist and a great artist. Solving each small problem often leads to the big difference that sets one apart as an artist. Dr. Swartz taught me to search for better solutions and discover all possibilities. I was pushed to continue striving for excellence.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?
A: Do not be afraid to pave your own path. I have seen some people through the years wait on life or opportunities to happen to them. It is so important to create opportunities for yourself. Continue to have something to work toward like an audition, project or dream job, and then make it happen. No one else is going to do it for you.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The field outside Gammage Auditorium where I would play frisbee with friends.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan to focus my attention on continuing my research on women composers and expand my website. I will also continue to perform with the Grand Rapids and Utah symphonies while working toward a university teaching position.
Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?
A: I had the honor of being both a member of the Herberger Quartet and the TA for the orchestral program. These two awards also provided scholarships for my doctoral program. I have been incredibly fortunate to have amazing professors and faculty at ASU who believed in me and supported me. I would not be here today if it were not for the opportunities they provided.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would work to provide more music education early on to lower-income schools and communities. Not everyone has the same privileges, talent or background, but everyone should have the opportunity to learn music and excel in it. Providing a musical education can have an incredible impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and give them an outlet they would not have otherwise. Music moves people and can change the trajectory of a child’s life.
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