KTL Founder Sara Kushner
Sara Kushner is a well-rounded musician and a Renaissance woman: she is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, teacher, trained yoga instructor, business woman and mother of a vivacious eight year old girl! She is a highly trained pianist with a unique form of perfect pitch: she has the ability to hear all sound with Solfege (do re mi) attached to it. She attended UW Madison’s music school from 2002–2004 and studied privately with Professor Emeritus Bellamy Hamilton. She graduated with a BA in Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2005. She opened KTL in 2007.
Sara has been teaching piano and guitar since 2001, voice lessons since 2007. Sara’s first guitar and piano students came by way of her job as a song leader at her childhood camp (Camp Shalom) in 2001. As an undergraduate, she had her own teaching studio in Madison and also taught music at her synagogue. When she moved to Portland in the fall of 2005 she taught piano and guitar at an independent music studio in the Alameda area of Portland and taught piano and accompanied students at recitals for the Oregon Music Academy in Tigard. Sara enjoys working with people of all ages and makes it her priority to push her students to reach their goals and embrace their challenges with focus and humor.
Early Years: Synopsis
Sara has been studying and playing the piano since the age of three and has perfect pitch (more on that below). She has been playing viola since age ten and started studying classical/jazz/improv guitar at 14. She played in the state youth orchestra in high school and performed Poulenc’s 2nd movement from his piano concerto for her high school’s concerto concert at 17. She attended the Interlochen Arts Camp the summer before her senior year where she studied classical and jazz piano as well as the Alexander technique.
Early Years: Perfect pitch
From the ages of 3.5 to about 8 Sara took group classes with the local Yamaha Music School. The curriculum focused on fixed Do Solfege (Do Re Mi) and as a result of learning to sing many songs on Solfege (and play them) Sara soon realized that she could correctly identify the key of anything she heard and know exactly what the notes were. This was because every time she heard a tone she heard the Solfege syllable superimposed on it. Sara became obsessed with figuring out everything she heard by ear and for many years she was resistant to reading notation (she eventually warmed up to reading music and mastered this ability). Sara continues to hear all sound with Solfege attached to it and it has informed Keys to Life’s pedagogy and curriculum, especially the following programs: Seeds of Harmony, Piano Forever, Music, Memories, and Wisdom, and Alive with Music.
University Years: Retraining Piano Technique
Retraining with the Taubman and Alexander Techniques
From age 17 to 22, Sara retrained her technique with the Taubman technique, a physiologically-sound approach to the piano developed for injured pianists by Dorothy Taubman. Retraining meant ceasing to practice and play but rather sit at the piano and use her thoughts and sensations to slowly rewire the way she approached and moved at the piano. Through the Taubman technique she learned the underlying mechanics of a natural technique and her playing and body-use improved dramatically.
Sara traveled to New York with her teacher Bellamy Hamilton so she could study with the top Taubman teachers. In fact, they also traveled to Portland to attend the Coordinate Movement workshop held at PSU in the summer of 2001 (Sara’s first time in Portland). The workshop was a wedding of the two subjects Sara was studying most intensely: the Taubman technique and the Alexander technique: a discipline for developing one’s kinesthetic sense through neuroplastic means.
During her last year of high school and first year of college Sara studied the Alexander technique privately with Jane Peckham in Madison. It had a profound effect on her posture, kinesthetic sense, and, most importantly, her ability to learn and unlearn.
She was able to apply what she learned to help her play music with great ease. She uses principles from the AT and the Taubman technique with her students.
Music School and The Mendota Philharmonic
Sara got into the UW School of Music and made her way through its program for two years, primarily studying counterpoint and music history and writing about classical compositions.
During this time she played the viola with the Mendota Philharmonic; a group of music school students conducted by a grad student. Some of their repertoire included Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” For Sara, this was a dream come true, to play and perform music so dear to her.
In 2004 Sara studied voice with Kitt Reuter Foss, a Broadway seasoned singer, who taught her a thing or two about vibrato and vocal technique. Sara has sung in various choirs, jazz jams, and performed as a cantor for Hillel’s High Holiday Services in Madison, WI in her final year of University (2005). In 2011 she worked on improving her Passaggio (the break) with noted Portland Jazz/Blues singer Karen Maria Capo.
Sara continues to develop her voice with Keys to Life teachers Bronwyn Jones and Ashley Tuhy as part of a continuing education series of lesson trades between Sara and the faculty.
Studying the Drums
In 2004–2005 Sara studied the drums and stick technique and went on to perform in a local Samba Carnival Band, the Handphibians. She also learned traditional West African polyrhythm and played djembe and dununba for African dance classes in Madison. Sara enjoys playing the drums at jams, with her students, and at KTL performances.
Studying the Electric Bass
Sara picked up the bass in 2006 but didn’t truly begin to play and study the instrument until 2010. As a bass player, she joined KTL drum instructor Ty Phelps’ band, Secrets in the Salt, and played several shows with them including Kenny and Zuke’s pickle festival. Sara enjoys playing on flatwound strings on her Fender Jazz bass.
Sara’s improvisation-based compositions can be listened to below.