Sara Bendel Ryan is not only one of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s veteran violinists, she is an advocate for children’s music education, composer of the musical “Hardy Girls”, and an author! I had the pleasure of diving into each of these areas with her, and boy was it a treat.
Sara got her start in the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra as a student at Northern Arizona University, where she studied Arts Management and Violin under the instruction of recently retired FSO concertmaster and NAU Violin Professor, Louise Scott. 33 years later, she is a staple not only of the violin section but of the orchestra and Flagstaff community as a whole.
Throughout her time in Flagstaff, Sara has made it her mission to bring music education to young students in the community and has provided fun and informative music classes to nearly every preschool and elementary school in Flagstaff. She explained starting the endeavor when her own kids began school and she noticed that the preschool and younger elementary students didn’t have access to music classes. It was then that she began to offer them herself and essentially self-started an outreach program. Over the years, Sara has also partnered with FSO to bring music education to young grade levels that otherwise wouldn’t have it.
Fast forward to the pandemic. Upon being asked how she coped with the worldwide freeze on normalcy, she answered plainly: “I couldn’t just sit around”. So, her energy was channeled creatively. The end product? She wrote a musical named Hardy Girls.
“The Hardy Girls arrived in Northern Arizona in 1900 to work in a new food joint along the railroad, which serves railway clientele and the cowboys. Each Hardy Girl has her own reason for coming to the wild west. Along with 12 original songs and snappy dialogue, the Hardy Girls is rip-roaring fun for everyone.”
Blown away by this accomplishment, I immediately asked about her process. “The stories were in my head, it was just about how to put them to song. That was the hardest part”, was her reply. She went on to explain that her training in violin helped develop the melodies and the learning curve came with composing the harmonies and supporting lines. She emphasized how rewarding it was to direct and engage with each member of the cast and ensemble. “The advantage to writing your own musical is you can tailor the parts to the cast’s strengths. That was really special.”, added Sara. Her work was not in vain, The Hardy Girls premiere drew three sold-out audiences!
Sara also casually revealed that she recently authored a young adult fiction book, and is working on a second. However, Flagstaff and the rest of the world will have to wait to get our hands on those as she is seeking out publication options.
Looking forward to her 34th season in the FSO, Sara is eager to tackle Brahms Symphony No. 4 in this upcoming concert, collaborate with Flagstaff’s Ballet Folklorico de Colores, and perform with NAU’s Shrine of the Ages Choir in April. She adds, “I’m so happy that we are sitting two people at a music stand again. The comradery is great.” I’m sure the rest of the orchestra and guests alike would echo the sentiment that we are all excited to be together for Season 73!
Written By: Emma Riebe