Sabrina Learman is pure joy. Each Saturday, her energy and deep vitality radiate through NEC’s halls. She is a captivating performer and a dedicated voice teacher. Not only is she a wonderful person and musician, but she is also the visionary leader of the new Musical Theatre program at NEC Prep.
As of the last academic year (2012-13), NEC Prep offers classes specializing in the art of Musical Theatre performance for singers, instructed by Sabrina.
About Sabrina Learman: Singer and voice teacher Sabrina Learman grew up in Connecticut and always envisioned living in Boston. After studying at the Eastman School of Music and then living in San Francisco for a few years, she arrived in Beantown for grad school at NEC and has been here ever since. She teaches voice in the musical theatre program at Emerson College and is proud to head up NEC Prep’s first-ever musical theatre classes. Sabrina teaches private lessons, too! As a performer, she has sung with the Boston Baroque for over 20 years, and was the singer of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble for the group’s first 12 years. Sabrina lives with her husband, Dean Laabs, also an NEC grad, and their 14-year-old daughter.
Fun fact: Sabrina came very close to being the Gerber baby.
Q&A with Sabrina Learman
What is your earliest musical memory?
When I was about 5 years old, I was in the back seat during a long car ride, and a Bach orchestral work was on the radio. I had this epiphany. I suddenly realized that the sound I was listening to was not something mechanical – it wasn’t a machine. It was a collective sound made up of many human beings playing instruments. It actually blew my 5-year-old mind.
What made you decide to sing?
As a kid, I tried flute for a very short time (my lips weren’t made for flute), piano for several years (I had a short attention span for practicing) and classical guitar for three years (what was I thinking?). I always knew it was music and theater I wanted, but I didn’t immediately hit on the right outlet. When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for a solo in chorus, and the director asked me to stay after rehearsal. I thought I was in trouble for some reason, but it turned out that she merely wanted to suggest I take voice lessons. I respected her, and that’s the reason I started lessons. It didn’t take long for me to understand that voice was my instrument – practicing felt both natural and interesting to me. And I now understand that singing was the “healthy screaming” I had probably been looking for. To this day, I am a completely satisfied performer, teacher and student through my found instrument.
Are there any musicians in your family?
My uncle was a violinist, my dad played the clarinet and my mother played the harp. But I believe I am the first in my family to have a career in this field. Next in the family are two of my young cousins – one in acoustics at Berklee and another who is a jazz pianist in Michigan.
If you could be anything other than a musician, what would you be?
A psychologist. Turns out it’s somewhat of an accidental facet of what I do as a teacher.
What do you like doing outside of music?
Spending time with my husband and daughter whenever our busy family happens to be home at the same moment – we’re very competitive when it come to board games. I love doing crossword puzzles; listening to NPR on the weekends while cooking; reading cool non-fiction (like The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell) and well-written fiction (like The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery). I enjoy trying to find the perfect cup of espresso. And I absolutely love new places – could be a new road I’ve never been on before, or a completely new city to explore.
Most inspiring composer or piece of music?
Oh, that’s the hardest question you could have asked me. Today, my answer is Copland’s Appalachian Spring, for both musical and sentimental reasons.
What are the last 3 pieces/songs you listened to?
Iris DeMent’s album Infamous Angel, Court and Spark by Joni Mitchel and You Angel You by Bob Dylan. Hmmm… guess I don’t listen to so much classical and musical theatre rep on my time off.
What do you love most about NEC Prep?
The palpable energy and obvious pride you can feel from the students who choose to spend their Saturdays in music at NEC!
What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
It always has to be about the music. When connecting with others in rehearsal or in regard to a musical project of any kind, if everyone is focused on only one common goal – SERVING THE MUSIC – this leaves no room for egos and other wastes of time to intrude. My mentor, Tamara Brooks, gave me this piece of wisdom when she was my conductor during my grad school years at NEC. I take this concept, with a twist, into my teaching; all of my decisions, actions and advice must be in service of the student. Even when things aren’t easy, this bit of wisdom helps me to feel more assured that I am making the best decisions.
Any advice for young musicians in general?
I actually recommend not thinking too far into the future or feeling nervous that you won’t “make it”. Just keep taking the next step on your list and always work hard. This could simply mean practicing in a particular way, making extra contact with a teacher, getting ready for a recital or competition – or whatever it may be. Before you know it, all of those little steps will add up to a life in music. Or – they will add up to something equally great that you weren’t expecting.
Be the kind of person with whom you would like to collaborate – do the little things like being prepared and on time and responsive (and, yes, even having a pencil). You can hardly imagine how much those things are valued, and how they accidentally become symbols of all the other things you do well – these are the attributes that lead others to recommend you for opportunities.
Lastly, whether you can believe it or not, every single person you are collaborating with now could likely become your colleague and be helpful in your career at some point. This includes both your classmates and your teachers. So, the way you rehearse, treat others, prepare for your lesson…all of those things…will be reflected back to you later in your career.