Multi-stylistic Violinist, Versatile Instructor, Arts Advocate, and Bloomingtonian!
Critically acclaimed violinist and Jacobs alumna Sara Caswell is defining what it means to be a multi-stylistic musician. Her solo and ensemble performing have led her around the world—from university concert halls, to jazz clubs, bluegrass gatherings, and everything in between.
Her teaching includes equally varied arenas ranging the Manhattan School of Music, Mark O’Connor String Camps, Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops, Indiana University String Academy, and a private studio. Sara’s eclectic mastery and diverse exposure exemplify what carving out a career looks like at a time where musical genre becomes less relevant.
Read on for a look into the life of an artist boldly defining and defying genres.
Project Jumpstart: Your career is diverse and dynamic. Could you talk a bit about how diverse musical influences have affected you as a musician?
Sara Caswell: Duke Ellington said it best: “If it sounds good, it is good”. I interpret this to mean every music deserves the respect of an attentive ear and open mind, a value my parents passed down to me early in my musical journey through attending concerts, listening to recordings, and taking private lessons in baroque, classical and jazz music. There is no question a stylistically diverse upbringing shaped me into the musician I am now and that the philosophy of exposure and exploration is guiding me now. So…to answer the question simply, I’m a better violinist, teacher, student, audience member, and advocate because of these diverse musical influences.
PJ: You seem to have become very adept at juggling more than one project at one time. How do you keep thing in balance? What throws you out of balance, and how do you get back into balance?
SC: As anyone juggling multiple projects would agree, there’s a tenuous line between a streamlined day and one of upheaval. That said, I’ve learned to maintain balance by trusting my gut when deciding which opportunities to pursue and pass by, structuring my days with opportunities for practice, writing, and concert preparation, and reserving time to care for myself via a healthy diet, exercise, rest, and hanging with friends and family. On those occasional days when juggling is a challenge, a deep breath, good meal, and glass of wine go a long way.
Enjoy Our Two Video Interviews with Sara Caswell
PJ: Along with many collaborations, you are often the driver in many of your creative projects. Are there any key principles in starting and running a successful musical project, or venture?
SC: Vision, passion, energy, and determination are key to a successful musical venture, balanced by patience, humility, gratitude, and fortitude. Because obstacles WILL present themselves, knowing how to “roll with it” becomes a seventh sense ~ when to wear a thick skin and when to be open, when to be self-sufficient and when to delegate responsibilities, when to seize an opportunity and when to walk away. These experiences will be definitive not only in the project’s realization, but also in your growth as a bandleader and human being…embrace it!
PJ: We’re interviewing you as a musical entrepreneur, but we realize that “entrepreneurship” in the arts is still being defined. What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
SC: Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as one who starts a business & is willing to risk loss in order to make money. Replace “money” with “music” and you have my meaning of the word.
PJ: One of Project Jumpstart’s functions is to help students develop professional assets (web page, CV, bio, etc.) Are there instances in which having your materials together led to successful opportunities?
SC: There is no question a musician must possess passion, skill, and dedication if there is hope in making performance a profession. But being a great musician doesn’t guarantee success, just as a small business won’t thrive simply by opening its doors. An audience needs to be built through performances, recordings, PR, networking, an online presence, etc. Once you have an audience’s attention, you can let the music speak for itself and if all goes well, this will lead to a buoyancy in profession that is sustainable both creatively and financially.
PJ: What would you say about social media to students building their careers?
SC: We’ve become accustomed to receiving news via tweets, sound bites, photo feeds…3-second nuggets of information that are forcing us to question the validity of websites and newsletters which require time and focus to experience. My feeling is all these tools have relevance, that of social media being a portal into our lives as musicians: the collaborations, concerts, travels, triumphs, disappointments ~ stories that connect fans to our music in a richer way than can be done by simply attending a concert.
PJ: What do you think the future holds for music and how do you see yourself as part of that future?
SC: I believe the days of stylistic compartmentalization are numbered. The accessibility to music from around the globe is inspiring musicians to create new sounds that seamlessly integrate these influences, thus rendering stylistic labeling useless. What a thrill to witness this musical globalization!
PJ: Looking back on your experience at IU, your current career path, and the future of music, what advice would you give Jacobs students?
SC: Simply said: explore, experience, & collaborate. Trust your gut, stay true to who you are personally and professionally, and wake up every morning grateful for the music and community surrounding you.