Class of 2005
Director of Operations and Education
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra
Sioux Falls, S.D.
Sarah Burman-Schollmeyer ’05 spends every day thinking about music. In her role at the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, she manages much of what happens behind the curtain — arranging schedules and auditions, leading educational programs, and ensuring that every rehearsal and concert starts and ends on time.
The job is an ideal fit for Sarah, who loves music but wasn’t attracted to the traditional opportunities for performers or music teachers. As a high school student, she applied to Valpo because its concentration in music business offered a different path. When she enrolled, Sarah pushed herself to make the most of the program.
“It was something I threw myself into,” she says. “My first year, I was in community band, orchestra, and Chorale all at the same time. It was always fun being a music major because I was never bored, and I had some amazing opportunities.”
When she wasn’t performing, Sarah found a job on campus recording recitals and concerts, which allowed her to get hands-on experience with the equipment and hear nearly every performance on campus. She also joined MESA, the Music Enterprise Student Association, and helped produce its Battle of the Bands events.
“That’s really what got me interested in the production side of music,” she recalls. “I wanted to learn more about the behind-the-scenes details: ‘How does this work? Who puts this on? Who’s in charge of each piece of it?’”
Each year, Sarah served on the Battle of the Bands production committee, working to create the flow of the evening and assembling the required equipment. In addition to the hands-on experience, Battle of the Bands also introduced Sarah to Valpo alumni in the music industry, who serve as judges for the competition. One of them helped her get an internship at the production company where he worked.
The experience turned out to be an important test.
“On the first day, I arrived at the location, and he handed me a wrench and said, ‘Put this truss together,’” Sarah recalls. “I’m grateful that they put their faith in me. They did that because the supervisor knew that I had the background from Battle of the Bands.”
Sarah brought that experience back to campus, and by senior year, she was leading the event’s production team.
“That was when I realized that I was really good at this and that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “That experience directly translates to the work I do today. At the Symphony, I’m the one making the schedule, organizing all the equipment the musicians need, and renting any additional instruments. That’s exactly what I started doing with Battle of the Bands.”
Since graduation, Sarah has worked in a number of production roles with organizations including the New World Symphony and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. She says that Valpo’s well-rounded program prepared her well for this career: studying music history helps her to lead educational programs, and performance experience allows her to deeply understand the needs of the musicians she works with. Of course, Sarah also learned how to manage the pressure of a production environment.
“Starting a new job in the orchestra world, you have to jump into the deep end of the pool and you have to swim immediately or you will sink. There’s no time to just float about nicely,” she says. “After my time at Valpo, I felt well prepared to jump into the pool. Sometimes it was a little shocking, but I was always well-prepared.“