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MSU alumna Sarah Lewis returns to East Lansing to perform with Detroit Symphony Orchestra

May 2, 2024
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing. Photo courtesy of Wharton Center.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing. Photo courtesy of Wharton Center.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or DSO, will be coming to Michigan State University's Wharton Center today at 7:30 p.m. For DSO Assistant Principal Oboe Sarah Lewis, the performance means more than just another gig — it signifies a return to her alma mater.

Lewis graduated as a music performance major in 2009, but she didn’t always see herself pursuing the life of a performer.

“If I hadn’t gone to Michigan State, I probably wouldn’t have become a performer,” she said.

Originally, Lewis started out as a music education major. But during her time at MSU, she acquired a plethora of skills that built her confidence and provided an opportunity to apply herself.

However, it’s difficult to learn a new skill without the right person to show you how. MSU Professor of Oboe Jan Eberle was just the person Lewis needed, she said.

“I went to Michigan State for music ed and I played saxophone in the marching band — Jan Eberle was my teacher,” she said. “I think maybe she saw some sort of talent in the rough and so she really encouraged me to go into more of the performance route.”

Eberle did more than just encourage, Lewis said; she taught Lewis skills that actively fostered and grew her abilities as she moved forward.

“She taught me so many musical skills, (like) the fundamentals of breathing and embouchure — which is kind of how your lips are formed when you play the instrument,” Lewis said. “She really set me up with a strong foundation of basics.”

Eberle even taught Lewis to make the reeds that she uses in her performances with DSO on the daily. These skills paid off when Lewis put them to use in a Mozart concerto competition her sophomore year.

“I had the competition and I actually won,” Lewis said. “(Due to the victory) I was able to play the Mozart Oboe Concerto in front of the school orchestra. That was just such an inspiring and exciting experience, to play with them — it kind of gave me the confidence I needed to think, ‘okay, maybe I can succeed in some way in performance.’”

Lewis noted that a good teacher can only get you so far without hard work, and practicing smart is a must.

“Put in a lot of work, but also you want your practice to be smart practice,” she said. “A lot of times you can say, ‘oh I practice (for) hours,’ but you really just played through all the things that you're good at. If you can have smart practice and be kind of strategic about what you focus on, you’ll learn to get better.”

Lewis is glad to be performing in East Lansing again because seeing professional groups has the potential to inspire and push student performers further.

Seeing her husband, a “really talented tuba player,” perform encouraged her, Lewis said, and so did the professional groups he often took her to see in East Lansing.

“When I was in school, my husband would take me to Lansing Symphony concerts and that's kind of where I heard a lot of great orchestra pieces for the first time,” Lewis said.

When Lewis had the opportunity to see DSO for the first time, she experienced  a “different sound than what (she) had heard before.”

She recommends that music students expose themselves to groups that expand their understanding.

“As much as you can, immerse yourself with great music and great musicians, whether it's at a DSO concert, or a Lansing Symphony concert or a recording, I think the better,” Lewis said. “It's kind of like immersing yourself in a language when you want to learn the language.”

She added that the music at the upcoming DSO concert will speak to audience members by making them “want to dance." Lewis will be playing in Michael Abel's “More Seasons," a piece that takes inspiration from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and features baroque elements with a modern twist.

Ticket information for the upcoming DSO concert can be found on the Wharton Center website.

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