Reaching for the Stars: Sara Brimer
From Music Education to Music Performance
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE | February 22, 2010Originally from Greeneville, Tenn., Sara Brimer, 27, also lived in Bristol and Johnson City.
"I actually never planned on leaving Tennessee, but I sure did leave!" — - now on tour with the Swingle Singers based in London, England. The ensemble is "a world-renowned vocal group celebrating 47 years of close harmonies."
Throughout her high school and college years, Sara was active in her school choir and community productions, and participated in choral festivals as well as All-East and All-State Choirs. At Greeneville High School, she took part in The Music Man, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and My Fair Lady (as Eliza). While studying Music Education at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) on several scholarships, she portrayed Suzanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, The Diva in La Divina, and took part in productions of Carmen and Dido and Aeneas.
While at ETSU, Sara says, "I also participated in opera and took voice lessons, primarily from Karen Smith but also from Dr. Oliver Lo. I had settled on a Music Education major but I didn't feel like it was my real calling. I considered other majors but kept returning to Music Education. I never considered Music Performance because I only thought of options in opera. Even though I enjoyed doing small-scale opera, I feared that the real opera scene was "cut-throat' and that I didn't have the "diva' attitude required for it."
In 2006 Sara toured in Germany as a soloist and ensemble singer with the ETSU Chorale, led by Dr. Thomas Jenrette. In 2008 she auditioned for the Swingle Singers and moved to London in January 2009 to begin touring with the internationally acclaimed group.
Sara recalls, "I thought for years to myself — and a few of my friends suggested — that I should try out for a group like the Swingle Singers. I thought this was only a pipe dream. I was very familiar with the Swingle Singers' repertoire and style of singing and had sung a few of the arrangements in small ensembles. When my brother William — also an avid Swingle fan — told me about the Swingles having auditions for a high soprano, I could not contain my excitement! Luckily, the group was touring in the U.S. at the time. I found out where the next show was and quickly compiled a resume, found a friend to take a photo headshot, and put together a CD of my singing examples in about 24 hours' time. Hoping to make an impression, I drove to the Swingles show five hours away and handed them my audition packet in person. It worked!"
She continues, "About three months later, I received an email asking if I could make my way to London, England, for the second and third round of auditions with the Swingles. My parents were very supportive and somehow found the means to send me and my grandmother to London for one week in July. Neither of us had been to England so we were very excited. After intense memorization and practice, I attended the auditions and, after returning to the U.S., I received a phone call from them to tell me I had been chosen for the job. I was ecstatic!"
During all the excitement, Sara says, "I knew I had to graduate from East Tennessee State University — and quickly — so I scrounged around for options. With the help of my department chair, Dr. Frank Grzych, I quickly changed my major to Vocal Performance and began completing the requirements. I went to London again for a rehearsal in October 2008, I graduated in December, and then I moved to London in January of 2009."
According to Sara, performing with the Swingles is "a whirlwind of travel, meeting new people, and singing exciting and historic music. One of the audition tests was to see how well we got along as a group. This is very important considering we are together in small quarters nearly 24 hours a day while on tour — including hotel rooms, buses, trains, and airplanes!"
She notes, "Although we do most of our touring outside the United Kingdom, we rarely get to experience the country we are touring. Usually we experience the food, the lodging and the travel, but not much else due to our tight rehearsal, traveling and stage-time requirements. However, there are rare times when we have a free day on tour and get to explore and enjoy the area we are in. The members of the group have varying linguistic abilities, from knowing five different languages to just English, but we can all make our way around nearly any restaurant menu."
Looking to the future, Sara says, "Currently I don't have any plans. I would love to continue living in England but would also like to experience more of my home country, America. After my Swingle career is over, I have tossed around a few ideas for a means of income such as voice work for movies, commercials, and radio, but also things like office work in the music industry. My future is wide open and I cannot wait to see what happens. I didn't plan on Swingling and I can only imagine what might come next!"
Sara's whole family is musical. Her maternal grandmother plays piano and organ at church and "still has a lovely singing voice which we are privileged to hear on occasion," says Sara, whose father leads the worship service at church and her mother sings in the choir. "Both my parents are talented singers. My mother was offered singing scholarships at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn. My sister Linda is pursuing a Master's in Music performance and is currently applying to graduate schools across the country. My brother William plays multiple instruments, mainly baritone sax, and also leads a small singing ensemble at King College. My brother Joel also sings very well and plays drums and guitar. We have always been encouraged in music by my parents, and often we sing as a family. I love having a musical family and I intend on providing any and every music opportunity for my own family one day."
To those who consider themselves musicians or lovers of music, Sara suggests "keeping an open mind. Try to find musical attributes and some sort of appreciation concerning all kinds of music. I am not saying you have to like it, but give it a chance. Preferring one kind of music is natural, but if you only listen to that genre, you are limiting yourself and your knowledge of music. A well-rounded musician is the best kind. There are wonderful things about all genres. I appreciate many types of music from bluegrass to heavy metal to opera. I don't have one favorite composer but, as a good music student, I know about Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. They are legendary for good reason. I enjoy discovering lesser-known composers and also new composers and arrangers. The great thing about music is that there is no end to production and discovery!"
— Derek Miller, who was active with the Kingsport Theatre Guild and is now the site coordinator for NBC-TV's primetime series Law and Order: SVU.