For Sarah Off (BM ’10), good music and doing good are all in a day’s work. Since earning her undergraduate degree in violin performance at the CU Boulder College of Music—studying with Lina Bahn and Judith Ingolfsson—Off continued her academic pursuits at Arizona State University, earning master’s and doctorate degrees in violin performance. Along the way, she also co-founded the Mt. Blanca Summer Music Conservatory, a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality, affordable music performance experiences for young musicians.
“Since graduating from CU, the most exciting thing I’ve done—together with my dear friend and colleague Randy Macy—was gaining community support in rural Colorado to help students of all ages and abilities achieve their musical aspirations,” says Off, who serves as artistic director of the conservatory. “Bringing music performance and education opportunities to the San Luis Valley is what I’m most passionate about.”
Adds Off, who herself grew up in the rural Colorado town of Del Norte, “Opportunities like these are few and far between in geographically remote areas, and we decided to fill that need by establishing a nonprofit.”
Now in its fifth year—and coming up on June 23-29 at Adams State University—the Mt. Blanca Summer Music Conservatory is a week-long program for young instrumental and vocal musicians of all abilities. Specifically, the program provides intensive personal study and practice opportunities, private lessons, collaboration with other young artists through small and large ensembles, and education through various workshops and classes.
“Students have the opportunity to perform solo, chamber and orchestral works,” Off says. “We aim to inspire them through live performances, including a faculty concert. And, for a well-rounded learning experience, we offer a variety of music workshops—from music history and theory to improv.”
Off recalls the College of Music as her own source of inspiration. “CU Boulder shaped me as both an entrepreneur and a philanthropist,” she explains. “There’s a real emphasis on nurturing a sense of community at the College of Music, which underscored how much I value community and how important I believe it is for like-minded people to come together.
“I’m so pleased with my decision to attend CU, I’ll never regret it. Because the more well-rounded you can be, the more successful you’ll be.”
Case in point, the enthusiastic music educator also serves as violin instructor and orchestra director at South Mountain Community College in Arizona. Additionally, she’s a strings instructor at Prestige Music Academy in Phoenix , Ariz. and maintains her own private studio. She has also performed and taught as a guest artist at Sam Houston State University, Sacramento State University and Southern Oregon University, among others.
With a keen interest in new music—motivated by her work with Associate Professor of Composition Carter Pann and Pendulum New Music—Off further maintains a regular performance schedule as a soloist and chamber musician. As the violinist and co-founder of Tandem Duo with percussionist Marilyn Clark Silva from 2011-18, they commissioned and premiered newly composed works. She has also performed in Iceland’s Harpa International Music Festival, the Manchester Music Festival in Vermont and the Music in the Mountains Festival in Colorado.
Additionally, Off has toured Latvia and—closer to home—appeared as soloist with the Boulder Symphony, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s “Up Close and Musical” and the Music in the Mountains Conservatory Chamber Orchestra. “Technically, I’m a freelancer,” she says. “I do a lot of traveling, including with fellow CU alum Mathieu D’Ordine. I like to be busy.”
Alongside Off and cellist D’Ordine, pianist Sami Froncek rounds out the Three Corners Trio.
“My experiences at CU taught me to seek out a broader definition of what success can mean,” concludes Off. “I feel really strongly that, no matter what field you’re in, if you’re close-minded, you limit progress, creativity, innovation and fulfillment.
“When we’re willing to keep our minds set on what we really care about and not just on our egos, we gain a more rich and varied perspective on our field.”
In 2017, Off completed her doctoral dissertation—“Arts in Rural Areas-Building Musical Communities in Rural Areas”—and has since presented on this topic at the College Music Society Great Plains, Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Conferences, Arizona Music Educators Association Conference and Colorado Music Teachers Association Conference. In 2018, she was invited to present on “Musical Arts in Rural Areas” at the College Music Society National Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.