Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Thawer

Written by: Aida Oquendo Peña
Sarah performing at the Tam Tam Drum Fest in Seville, Spain.

Sarah performing at the Tam Tam Drum Fest in Seville, Spain.

Career and Creativity Path

How can you build yourself up, and gain the confidence to position yourself as a drum guru on Instagram and amass a 48.2 k following only 3 years after finishing an undergrad degree?

Dedicated to her music, goal oriented and committed to excellence, Sarah Thawer (BFA ’15) received the $40,000 Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship when she first came to York to study drumming and Jazz performance, and she graduated Summa Cum Laude at the top of her class.

Fast forward to today, she has steady work on stage and in the studio, touring internationally and performing alongside musicians and artists she’s looked up to for most of her life AR Rahman, Robert Sput Searight and Jane Bunnett. She also works as a brand ambassador and is an endorsee of various drum companies like Vic Firth drum sticks, Evans drum heads, Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals and Gruv Gear, ProLogix Practice Pads and 64 Audio.

She feels fortunate to be recognized but she also credits York for teaching her to be responsible and be accountable for every choice she makes. “Learning to wake up early, be on time, manage my time to practice and get work done, and how to grow from mistakes are lessons I learned in university and now use every day.”

University Experience

“What I love most about York is the flexibility and freedom. York is one of the few schools that lets you take such a wide range of classes and offers specialized instruction in so many genres of music.”

In addition to her private lessons on drum kit all four years, she also took multiple Cuban and Brazilian/world drum and percussion classes, flamenco guitar and cajón, private bass lessons to learn how to lock in with a bass player, South Indian percussion, jazz workshops, jazz composition and theory, played in the Gospel choir, and took a MIDI class learning how to use the software Reason, Counterpoint and Harmony among others.

Sarah performing in the York University Student Centre, 2013.

Sarah performing in the York University Student Centre, 2013.

One of her challenges was being able to balance the academic work load and practice time on the drum set. “I started panicking because my time to practice started becoming more and more limited. My solution was to concentrate all the non-music related courses in summer school, and practice in the evenings right after, which left me able to focus on my music courses in the normal school year.”

Sarah had an important creative breakthrough when she discovered the York University Gospel Choir in second year. “It was the first time I learned the connection between Gospel and jazz, hip-hop, RnB. The style of drumming was completely different as well — it changed my playing and my whole approach on drums.”

Words of Wisdom

Her dedication and commitment have accelerated her career, and for her it felt right to skip the parties and stay late in the practice rooms.  “I ate, slept, studied and practiced drums and music. My eye was always on the bigger picture and the life and career I wanted after school. It is totally ok and cool to not have many friends, to not go to many parties, and to be yourself.

Some people think that university will give you the opportunities,” Sarah says. “But what it really gives you is the tools. It’s up to you to put in the work and create your own opportunities. No institution will make you a better musician nor will any institution get you a job or your dream gig. You have to work hard and put in the hours.”

Her advice to students is to be honest and realistic. She explains that it’s good to know the work that it takes to get to where you want to be, but if you don’t put in the work you won’t achieve your goal. “If you don’t want to put in the work, that’s fine — just be honest with yourself. Be clear with the consequences of your decisions.”

Ultimately, success is being happy. “It doesn’t matter what you do — if you’re happy with what you’re doing, that’s all that matters. Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind or happiness to please society or impress anyone. Life is not a race nor a competition. Everyone is on their own path and their own journey. Create your own path and keep being the best version of YOU. Believe in yourself even when no one around you does.”

Follow Sarah @saratdrumguru on Instagram, @SarahTDrumGuru on Twitter and SarahTDrumGuru on YouTube.

Headshot photo by Brendan Mariani