Studio visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with violinist Sara Sasaki, 24, of Champaign.
Q: I'm curious as to why you moved back here after you graduated (in 2011) from the Oberlin Conservatory.
A: I actually sprained my ankle four days after I graduated and tore three ligaments. The logical decision was to move back here. I initially wanted to move to Nashville to see if I could make it out there.
Working here at the Conservatory of Central Illinois, I realize there are a lot of opportunities here to play and teach a lot of different kinds of music.
Q: What do you teach here?
A: Violin and viola. I have 11 students right now.
Q: You have other jobs, too, right?
A: I work part time at the Music Shoppe near Barnes & Noble four times a week. I help families looking to get started on instruments or who need accessories if they're already in band or orchestra. So it's a great experience learning the sales side of the music business.
And then I also am the orchestra manager for the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra, so I work with Kevin Kelly and Jo Ellen DeVilbiss — the orchestra is a program of the Conservatory.
Q: You play in a lot of orchestras and bands, too.
A: Yes. Don't Ask, a klezmer group. I'm a regular member of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra and The Prairie Ensemble. I also am a member of Morgan Orion's band, and I play with Megan Johns. And I occasionally sub for the Danville Symphony and Heartland Festival orchestras.
Q: What position do you play with the C-U Symphony and Prairie Ensemble?
A: I'm a section first violinist, and in the summer, I play in the Urbana Pops Orchestra. I'm the associate concertmaster for that. It's really fun. We have a concert coming up July 6.
Q: Aren't you a regular at the Urbana Hootenanny at the Rose Bowl, too?
A: Yes, I try to go there as often as possible. You'll probably catch me there on Monday nights.
Q: What was your major at Oberlin?
A: I was a violin performance major, so I got my bachelor's of music there.
Q: Ideally, what would you like to do?
A: Ideally, I would like to be in a very successful orchestra in a large city, like San Francisco or Los Angeles. But I also would like to play in different bands on the side, like I do right now — like a bluegrass or klezmer group so I get the best of both worlds.
Q: Did you study classical at Oberlin?
A: Yes, that was my concentration, but I did start a bluegrass group while I was there.
Q: Do you plan to go to grad school to study music like your brother Miki is doing? (The recent Juilliard grad will study classical trumpet performance at Yale.)
A: Yes, next year I plan to apply. I won't know until April or May where I'm going. My plan is to get a master's of music in violin performance, so I would focus on the classical side of things.
Q: Why didn't you move back to Austin after you graduated from Oberlin?
A: I wanted some familiarity. My parents have a place here, and I thought it would be a good place to start and figure out what I wanted to do after graduating from Oberlin. After working and teaching, I realized I just love playing classical music for an audience in an orchestral setting, to bring joy to people in that way.
Q: When did your family move from Urbana to Austin anyway?
A: I think it was July 2000. I graduated from Leal and then went to Urbana Middle School, but only for sixth grade.
Q: Are you studying violin now with anyone?
A: Yes, Sun-Young Shin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois. She went to Oberlin at the same time as my teacher there, David Bowlin. She's been a great fit. I'm really learning a lot. I take two lessons a week from her. She's helping me get ready for graduate school auditions.