By Annette Hinkle
A year ago, Sara Hartman was a freshly minted Pierson High School graduate on her way to start life as a college student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Today, Hartman is a singer/songwriter on the verge of hitting it big … she hopes.
Fresh from her second visit to Berlin where she recorded several new songs, Hartman is back home in Sag Harbor … for now anyways. Since January, she has also been in Nashville and the U.K. where she has co-written and recorded more songs.
This Saturday, Hartman performs at the Grenning Gallery as part of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. She will also be doing a few other local gigs in the coming weeks before heading back to Berlin in mid-October for more recording sessions and live performances in Berlin’s thriving music scene.
But one thing Hartman will not be doing this fall is returning to Berklee.
“I lived a lot of life in college. I’m not going back, I have too many things to do,” says Hartman definitively. “The reactions to my music have been so positive, so I’m thinking, ‘Let’s give this a shot, see how far we can take it.’”
“My parents are kind of glad they don’t have to pay another 60 grand,” she adds.
It’s hard to believe that just four years ago, Hartman was an unassuming 15-year-old with a love for ukulele and a singing voice, which she largely kept to herself. In fact, she had to be coaxed by music teacher Eric Reynolds to give up study hall and join Pierson’s chorus after he heard her singing in the music room during her free period.
And now at 19, she is a young woman hitting her stride who is suddenly seeing the world open up to her. She has a New York manager and another in Nashville, both of whom are working hard to help her make connections around the world and further her career.
“It’s crazy good – excitement is not the right word,” says Hartman of the music she’s making these days. “It’s the kind of thing where the music is pure and honest and really from me, but in a form that’s easily digestible, if that makes sense.”
“People can’t help but get it,” she says.
Hartman has been quite prolific in 2014. She has written 70 songs since January – 30 of them are co-writes and her writing partners include Nashville-based musician Jamie Kenney and Judie Tzuke, who had a big hit in the UK in the 1980s called “Stay With Me Till Dawn.”
“It was a cheesy ‘80s production, but I love her,” says Hartman. “And slowly but surely I’m making connections globally,” says Hartman.
While Hartman still has her beloved ukulele, she has been focusing on her guitar playing a bit more in recent months and is also learning piano.
“It’s been a massive growing time and I’m just doing it,” says Hartman who is happy to share her new songs with others by handing over a pair of headphones plugged into her iPhone. Among her many new tunes are “Stereo,” “Dear Life” and “You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk” a song with a theme worthy of a Nashville recording studio for sure.
“Well, I was born in Texas,” admits Hartman.
Though Hartman has decided to call it quits on college and give her professional career a chance, she is glad to have learned quite a bit in her year at Berklee.
“I was in Nashville with session players who speak in this code and your song is dissected. I understand that because I went to Berklee,” she says. “I spent two semesters at Berkelee and it was amazing. It was the initial step away from home – I thought, ‘OK, I can go to Europe.’”
But Berkelee was also something of a wake up call for Hartman and she quickly came to understand just how difficult the music business can be — especially for female vocalists.
“I started there last September – I was a singer and a girl and young,” says Hartman. “You’re a big fish here in this small pond. But at Berkelee, there’s some competition – a couple thousand people who do the exact same thing. As much of a bring down to earth it is to make you think ‘I’m nothing,’ at the same time, you find your own place.”
And Hartman’s place is as the prolific creator of original songs — that fact, in and of itself, sets her apart from the typical girl singer competition.
“The songwriting aspect is a little rarer,” she admits. “You enter Berklee as a girl and a singer, people think you suck. But if you can write and speak their language, it’s a little different.”
“You are the seed that starts these massive projects,” she says. “You go into the studio, you have this idea and that song that could make you a star one day.”
And incidentally, being sarcastically super-confident is part of Hartman’s persona these days, “so no one knows how unsure I am of my choices,” she admits.
When asked if she’s surprised how this music stuff is all panning out, Hartman responds, “I’m not going to lie…yes,” she says. “But I always knew what I wanted to do – I knew at 15. I knew this was going to be the path I was going to be on.”
“I love the feeling you get when you’re on stage and see that someone has a tear in their eye or you really reached people with your music,” she adds. “I feel it’s deeper – everyone has their own pain or own joy.”
“It’s overwhelmingly exciting and I’m reaching.”
Sara Hartman performs Friday, September 26, 6 to 9 p.m. at Coffee Pot Cellars, 31855 Main Road, Cutchogue (631-765-8929). Her performance at the Sag Harbor American Music Festival is at 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 27 at the Grenning Gallery, 17 Washington Street, Sag Harbor. On Tuesday, October 7, Hartman appears in a 10 p.m. show at the Sidewalk Café, 94 Avenue A, New York City (212-473-7373), and on Friday, October 10 at 8 p.m. Hartman headlines at the Stephen Talkhouse, 161 Main St, Amagansett (631-267-3117).