My name is Sarah Bonsignore, but my students have called me “Ms B” for over twenty years. I’m a South African born American living in Nashville, a classically trained pianist and singer, songwriter, teacher, producer, sync artist, conductor, arranger, composer, sometimes cook, wannabe organic farmer, wife, sister, and mom of three boys. Yep, like you I wear a lot of hats!
I have a Bachelors degree in piano performance from the University of Natal, South Africa, and a Masters in opera from Mannes College in Manhattan, and I love, love, love to teach students of all ages and all abilities. I was on the faculty of two amazing schools in New York for almost 20 years, and I taught early childhood classes when my kids were toddlers. I love watching faces light up when they hear songs they love, or when the penny drops and a student finally understands a tough concept. It’s as simple as that really.
I can’t imagine my life without music. Can you? All those great movies without the soundtrack. It’s impossible to imagine. And all those songs that take you right back to the greatest moments of your life in a matter of seconds. I think there’s a reason for that. Music is encoded with our shared human emotions, our love stories, our deepest loss and heartache, and timeless messages that were meant to be shared. It truly is a language of love that has the power to connect us to our past, and our future, filling us with hope and inspiration. We don’t have to understand how it works to feel its power, but when we do know a little more about it, it makes it all that more exciting. And if we know it well enough to begin creating our own music, something from nothing, well that is where the true magic lies.
Singing, composing and playing the piano brings me joy on a daily basis, and I have seen how studying an instrument or singing in a group can change a person’s outlook on life. I believe everyone has music and creativity in them, whether they know it or not. Think of your favorite song or piece…hear it in your mind’s ear. Now hum the first few notes, or tap out the rhythm on the table…you see, you’re already doing it. Music! Most songs have just a few chords in them, so within weeks you could be singing and playing multiple songs, in keys that are suited for your unique range and ability. And there is nothing quite like being able to sit down at a party and leading a group of random strangers in song! Just wait ’til you’re in Nashville and they all spontaneously break into four part harmony, and start playing along. It’s totally MAGIC!!
My dad is a guitarist and my mom is a multi-instrumentalist who still teaches high school music full time in South Africa (she’s my hero and she is a total ROCK STAR, more on her later). My sister Annie is an amazing songwriter and artist in Canada, married to an equally amazing jazz musician. My brother is a drummer and teaches music with my mom. So yes, musical families tend to produce musical offspring. I get it. But, I also think every family is musical, they just don’t know it yet. So if you’re a new parent, I suggest you start singing songs to your infant immediately. Sing anything that you can remember, your favorite song, or your favorite melody, or make something up about how amazing your little one is and all the adventures you will have together. It doesn’t matter really. What matters is that you are singing to your baby, and they are listening, soaking up your voice and your emotions, and your attention and your love. And if you have kids, sing together in the car, or dance in the kitchen. I know you might think it’s nuts, but try it just once and see how it goes.
When I was in high school and college, I would always feel queazy and light headed before a performance, no matter how prepared I was. My knees would often shake when I began to play, but within the first few measures the nerves would subside and pretty soon I would feel like I was flying. Does the idea of getting up and performing a song in front of a bunch of strangers scare you? Well imagine what it can do for your public speaking skills and your general confidence if you get over that fear through performing a song or piece you love?! When I look back at my life, it’s the moments when my heart was racing and my palms were sweating that I remember the most. Because that’s when I really felt alive! Performing is about the most thrilling thing we can do (that doesn’t require jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping).
One of my earliest memories is of my dad showing me (with what seemed like the hugest hand I’d ever seen) how to play a C major chord on our very ancient upright piano when I was four. The image is etched in my brain and I remember feeling like something amazing was happening all around me. I immediately had to know more and begged him to show me another chord. Once I had mastered the three major chords I soon realized I could use them to play almost any song by ear. It was like magic, and I felt like I had a superpower. I took off from there!
I was quickly figuring out little melodies, and imitating my Grandpa with his “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” rendition (to the point where my Granny Babs came flying into the room one morning shouting “Derek, it’s too early for that” and realizing it was me at aged 7, at which point she said, “Carry on”. My mom decided it was time for some lessons, and so I began playing in earnest with my new, super cool, (retired) British master piano teacher, Mrs Phyllis Hunt.
At the age of ten (after pretending to read music for three years) I got a little job playing at a local ballet studio where I ended up working for 11 years. Now that’s commitment! I had to sightread these intimidating books of ballet music and improvise for movement in real time for many hours each week. My mom made me learn the whole books before my first day on the job, forcing me to connect the dots between my ears and my eyes so that after a few months I could pretty much sight read anything. And that’s when things got really interesting.
I figured out (without really knowing what I was doing) that sight reading is basically like learning a new language, but one that every human instinctively knows when they listen and are open to tapping into their innate gifts. Sort of like the way birds just know which way to fly and spiders know how to make those intricate webs. Humans are designed for music and creativity, and music is, at its essence, one of the most creative things we can do.
I taught choirs for 25 years, and I would always tell my students that no one in the world has YOUR VOICE. It’s as rare as a fingerprint, and when you sing you are sharing a piece of your soul. When we sing together in harmony, well that’s a whole other kind of magic!
I am passionate about teaching, can you tell??!! And I love music, people, stories, and creating community. I invite you to do something positive and joyful for a few minutes a day (or week). The more you practice, the better you are going to get. And it’s quality verses quantity. My big dream is to provide tons of mini lessons here each month, as well as live streamed house concerts and song writing tips. I also want to get a global (online) choir going! Yes, I’m THAT teacher and I want the whole world to sing…in harmony!