Centre sophomore and biology major, Sarah Beth Freytag took on a very important role at the Norton Center that placed her, quite literally, under the spotlight.
Raised in Lexington, Sarah Beth isn’t a stranger to the stage. Although she hasn’t yet declared, she thinks her minor at Centre will be focused on music, specifically the piano. So, last season when Norton Center Executive Director Steve Hoffman asked her to serve as the page turner for the American Chamber Players, she didn’t hesitate. She did such a remarkable job in fact, that she was asked to fulfill the same role for the debut Club Weisiger performance featuring violinist HAHN-BIN and pianist John Blacklow. After the performance Steve Hoffman sat down with Sarah Beth to chat about her experience.
SH: What did you think about the opportunity to turn pages for HAHN-BIN and John Blacklow?
SBF: It felt like such a good opportunity to explore the music world and I like feeling that I’m part of the production and getting a behind the scenes look. That was really neat.
SH: What were your expectations?
I didn’t know what my take would be on Hahn Bin himself. I am more of a traditionalist, and I didn’t know if his style would offend me. That was the most curious thing: I thought “what’s he going to be like?”
SH: How did this experience compare with the American Chamber Players (ACP) last year?
SBF: Well, for the ACP, it was more of a unit. They wanted me to come practice with them beforehand, and rehearse with the pianist…we did a complete run through, basically. Then when we were backstage I was able to chat with the pianist: musician-to-musician. With HAHN-BIN, I got there early because I was supposed to get there early, but John Blacklow didn’t really need me until five minutes before the show, and then he just said, “It’s pretty easy, just turn the page when I have the ‘yes’ there. Otherwise, it’s no problem.” It was just “here, you do it” whereas with ACP it was “here, let’s get this settled first and then we’ll have fun with it.”
SH: Was it stressful?
SBF: Oh yes. Extremely. It’s so stressful; it feels like you’re the one who the whole performance depends upon. HAHN-BIN is depending on John Blacklow, because John is the backbone of the recital, and I’m making sure that John has everything he needs to be that backbone.
SH: And how did it go?
SBF: It went really well. It was cool to see him play even though I couldn’t really watch his fingers on the piano. I was basically sight reading and some of it is so fast that I had to make sure that I was keeping up with everything he was doing. I tried to watch HAHN-BIN at some points, because I really wanted to, but I had to focus. But when I could take it all in it was totally a front row seat.
SH: There were times when he was sitting on the piano bench with John Blacklow.
SBF: Yes! And I would think “I hope he doesn’t hit me, or I’m not in his way…”
SH: You said that you weren’t sure about how the performance would be, being a traditionalist; how did you feel after the experience?
SBF: Enlightened. Once I got used to how he was, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t a traditional recital because he was amazing and he played beautifully from his soul, which is really important to me. I determined by the end of it that it didn’t really matter how he is, just what he does.
SH: And he’s virtuosic, too.
SBF: Yeah… even though I technically prefer the normal, I could appreciate the theatrics. The cape I would wear. And the mask…maybe.
SH: Were there any unique or unusual moments you encountered either onstage or backstage?
SBF: The first was when HAHN-BIN sat down next to John Blacklow during the matinee. I was sitting there wondering what he was doing, and thinking “Am I supposed to just sit here?” because I wanted to smile and chuckle, and my friends who were in the audience noticed that. I also heard that he would stand on the piano and I’m very sensitive about the piano. Of course I didn’t want him to get hurt, but I was more worried about the piano. It was actually really interesting when he was up there, and I was looking up at him—whatever song he played, it was gorgeous. I think it fit because it was so beautiful and was accentuated by him being in this high place.
SH: How has this experience prepared you for the future, or graduation, or life beyond Centre College?
SBF: Even if it sounds cliché, I guess I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover. I wasn’t sure if I’d like HAHN-BIN, but I loved his music and you could see the beauty inside of him come out. Both of them played so much from the heart. It inspired me to also put everything into MY music, I feel as though I do, but this motivated me to push farther.
SH: Would you rather be performing piano onstage, or do you like page-turning for artists?
SBF: I was more stressed out being a page-turner than I have ever been actually performing, and that might be because with most of my performances it’s just me. If I mess up, I know how to fix it. But with this, if I messed up then potentially John would mess up and he needed such connectivity with HAHN-BIN. They were so in sync with each other, I felt that if I messed up then that in-sync-ness would be out of balance and it would be my fault.
SH: Who would you love to turn pages for?
SBF: Right now I’m working on a Rachmaninoff piece, but I don’t think he’s alive. He would have it memorized anyway. The other person I’m interested in is Andrew Lloyd Webber but he doesn’t really perform.
SH: What words of wisdom would you give to a Centre student who might be given an opportunity like this in the future?
SBF: I would suggest that they do it. The music community can be really neat. It’s also a really great opportunity to meet people. I feel more part of the concert because I got to talk with the musicians and hear their stories.
Centre College students operate in many capacities at the Norton Center. They take tickets, direct patrons to their seats, manage concessions, valet parking and artist transportation, as well as assist with load-in and load-out of performances, box office support and our marketing efforts. For more information about these opportunities, or to be in touch with a member of the staff, contact the Norton Center at 859-238-6688.