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Spotlight on Alumni: Adam Sarata

 Adam Sarata joined my University of Akron program in the early 2000's. He was an extremely hard worker and a serious, dedicated musician with an open mind and a powerful desire to improve. Unlike so many of my students, Adam stayed on in Akron, settling there to build his career. So its been a special pleasure to see his many successes unfolding up close. He tells his story here:

                  I was an average kid, with a guitar and a dream. A dream that someday I would be touring all around the world with a rock group in front of millions of screaming fans. Flying across the stage on ropes and wires, complimented by a dazzling laser show. At the time my loud yellow electric guitar and long hair seemed cool. I delivered a lot of newspapers to pay for that guitar. I am a product of the MTV generation, back when MTV actually played music. Those dreams never materialized, not yet anyways. But they helped me to create new and more attainable dreams. And this is how my career began.

Adam, ca. 1990.
            I painted houses for a living after High School, which quickly became dull. I knew I had to take my music more seriously if I was ever to move forward. I started looking for a college that would fit my goals. The search led me to Niagara County Community College (1996). My experiences there were rich and memorable. I struggled to keep my grades up, as I’d entered the program with little or no music reading, theory, or aural skills experience. It was the perfect place for me to get my feet wet: it was affordable, the faculty was caring, and the commitment was manageable. Eventually I began my first steps towards classical guitar playing with my guitar teacher, Thomas Kyle. Tom encouraged me to explore both jazz and classical music. He helped me prepare for my audition at State University of New York (SUNY) Fredonia.
            Studying guitar at a four-year institution like SUNY Fredonia was at first intimidating. The school had over 500 music majors and over fifty full-time faculty. There were a few times I didn’t think I would survive the program. I struggled mightily with performance anxiety. I really wasn’t ready for the commitment level and often felt like the small fish in a big pond. However, I kept plucking away, determined to finish the program. Several turning points occurred while I was at SUNY Fredonia (circa 1999). I was accepted into James Piorkowski’s studio, and I was placed in the student guitar quartet (an important opportunity at Fredonia, where the quartet has often gone on overseas tours). I began to build confidence, and worked hard at developing my musicianship. James soon encouraged me to explore opportunities at the graduate school level. He has remained an important mentor to me to this day and recently gave a wonderful performance at Ashland University as my guest. I was also lucky to have studied composition for a short time with Dr. Bohlen. Bohlen was an intense, rigorous, and caring teacher. I could easily write a piece about the influence he had on me.
Adam's second solo CD, Sul Tasto
            I began to explore graduate school program options after finishing my BM at Fredonia. I auditioned with Stephen Aron at The University of Akron in 2001 and he accepted me into the program with a full scholarship and teaching assistantship. My time at The University of Akron was extremely fruitful. I spent about half of my time being a graduate student. The other half was spent as a teacher with my first teaching posts as a graduate teaching assistant and as a private guitar teacher at various local music schools. Perhaps for the first time, I was beginning to enjoy performing classical guitar as my performance anxiety began to subside. The two years it took to complete my degree went by very quickly. All the way, Steve was a tremendous teacher, helping me to refine my tone, musicality, and musical sensibilities. I always felt like he was seriously invested in my musical future. Steve remains a mentor to me to this day. (He, too, gave a wonderful performance as my guest, this time at the University of Mount Union.)
            Shortly after graduating from the University of Akron (2003), Steve asked me to perform at the first-ever University of Akron Guitar Alumni Festival. I was the new kid on the block, sitting on a panel surrounded by alumni with years or decades more experience than I had. It was an amazing and inspiring experience, to hear what each alum had done with their music career after graduating. I was honored to be a part of it. I recall having to perform for the festival. This was my first performance at a guitar festival as a featured performer. I recall playing very well and enjoyed it. When I got back stage Steve immediately ran to me and said, “What are you doing?” Apparently I somehow missed the fact that the crowd was still applauding: I had missed an opportunity to play an encore. A lesson learned, and a good problem to have. My performing was on its way and going in the right direction.
Adam, right, at Alumni Festival, with Alex Dean, left and Stephen Aron
            Shortly after that I began to get my first adjunct positions. The first was at Muskingum College (2005). Steve recommended me for the position. I was not a very good teacher at the time. The two hour (each way) commute was tiring. No matter how much sleep or coffee I had, I struggled to find energy to teach through the entire day. Plus at that distance, I found it difficult to build a program. After a few years, new and closer opportunities came my way.
            Soon, I received a call from Ashland University (2008). They were searching for a guitar instructor and Steve had recommended me for the position. I have been teaching there now for six years. In that time my Class Guitar course went through significant changes. In a carefully planned move, I arranged the transformation of the course into a 3-hour class that meets a College-wide required elective requirement. The process took several years of meetings, re-writing the curriculum, and a semester’s trial run. Now, the course is in full swing with over 30 students registered in two separate sections. This change is a guarantee of sorts for the guitar program there. Ashland also had a defunct guitar when I started there. I resurrected the club, and went on to win several grants, for it, enabling us to bring in guest artists. We even had a “guitar hero” contest which was a blast and a great success. The winner of that contest was awarded a new electric guitar donated by Guitar Center. I also have a guitar studio at Ashland University with about four students, all studying classical guitar repertoire. I have collaborated with several faculty members there. Recently I performed Four Civil War Songs by Jeffrey Van with the Ashland chamber singers. The performance went beautifully, and was very well attended, giving me a larger audience there than is usually possible as a soloist. With my revamped class guitar (now called Basic Guitar Musicianship), and numerous students registered in my course, I am excited for what the future holds for me at Ashland University.
Adam Sarata with members of Ashland University Guitar Club after winning support grant
            I was studying jazz guitar with Dean Newton for a few years when he asked me if I was interested in teaching at the University of Mount Union. He was currently the teacher there and was moving on. I was hired there in 2010. I frequently collaborate with my colleagues there. I have performed in an authentic Celtic group, performed on several faculty recitals, recorded several tracks for a collaborative faculty sampler recording, and recently performed the Concierto d’Aranjuez there with the Alliance Symphony Orchestra. My willingness to work with the faculty helped earn me an honorary induction into Pi Kappa Lambda, a music honors society. I also created a guitar ensemble at Mount Union, which has performed a variety of my arrangements, original compositions, and music from a wide range of composers and genres. Along with teaching applied lessons, I also teach guitar for the Preparatory Division. In addition, I find I receive numerous requests to perform outside gigs (weddings, fundraisers, etc.) through the University of Mount Union. Overall my experiences at Mount Union have exceeded my expectations and even led to my getting the dream gig of being featured as a soloist with an orchestra.
University of Mount Union Guitar Lab rehearsal
            Recently, Steve recommended that I apply to teach at the Community Music School of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. I was hired there in 2010 with humble beginnings: I started with one or two students. It was a long commute for so few students. I stuck with it, though, and every semester my studio grew in number. Today I have eight students, all studying classical guitar (electric guitars are not allowed!) The Community Music School is essentially a preparatory division. The building I teach in is a gorgeous Victorian mansion that has been refurbished into a music lessons facility (The Burrell-King House). The student level of playing is outstanding and it is common to see children as young as 8 years old playing substantial concerti from memory at senior college performance level. I feel privileged to teach there and am excited for the endless possibilities the connection to Oberlin College may offer.
Adam with his and other students after an Oberlin Community School performance
I cannot stress enough the importance of my teachers in my development as a musician. Each one of them inspired me, and stuck with me through the ups and the downs. Steve in particular has been instrumental with helping me to find most of the college teaching jobs that I have today. I have been blessed by having many great and inspiring teachers such as James Piorkowski, Dean Newton, Dr. Bohlen, and even my high school music teacher Dan White who recently passed along a full time guitar teaching job opportunity to me which resulted in an interview. I can never pay them back for what they have done for me, but I can and do pass on their passion, concern, and inspiration to my students.
Adam's private students after one of their recitals
            My career today has come a long way. I teach guitar (part time) at three colleges. I also teach privately at my home studio, sell guitars (as an Alhambra dealer), and perform regularly as a freelance artist. I have released four recordings (two are compilations). One thing that has helped shape my career is versatility. I enjoy performing in many styles ranging from jazz, classical, sacred, chamber, pop, and my own compositions. A recent stretch of six gigs over four days encapsulates my current performing career. One gig was a jazz performance at a fundraiser. One performance was at a Nursing Home for an open house. I played a variety of classical music. Another was at a church where I played Christmas Carols and contemporary worship music on electric guitar. Another gig was a performance of a Christmas Cantata with a full choir and chamber orchestra. And the other performances were for the University of Akron’s commencements, in front of thousands of people, a gig I have repeated for over ten years now. I find myself switching from reading Renaissance music to jazz fake books, from classical guitars to electric, from one location to another in a matter of moments. It takes organization and effort, but I enjoy it. These experiences have helped me to develop a reputation, expanded my versatility, and marketability.
Adam plays Concierto d'Aranjuez with the Alliance Symphony Orchestra
I may not be swinging from ropes, dangling over fireworks and lasers, playing rock music in front of millions of fans all over the world. However, I have carved out a great career in music for myself that I couldn’t even have imagined just ten years ago. There is a lot of commuting involved, and I wish I taught at one place instead of several. I am always on the lookout for my next opportunity, recently applying for a full time teaching position the day it was announced. I have many other blessings in my life such as a supportive wife, a beautiful nine year old daughter, and my own home.  I am able to pursue other interests such as astronomy and mountain climbing. I have no idea what opportunity is coming my way next. In the meantime, that kid with a guitar is only beginning to live his dream.

Why Mixed Chamber Music?

Making Faces While Playing