Music professor Sarah Frook ’07 now teaches in the same rooms of Ewell Hall where she was once a student, splitting her time as a director at both the College of William and Mary and Christopher Newport University. However, Frook, who acknowledged she had a passion for music during her college days, was almost dissuaded from pursuing a career in the field.
“I had it in my head that because I loved it so much, I wasn’t allowed to major in it,” Frook said. “I was disabused from that notion fairly quickly because I realized I can’t escape this, I love it too much. It was something that I spent all of my time doing anyway. I said to Dr. Bartlet, who then became my advisor, ‘This is what I need to be doing.’”
Frook was originally born in Austria but spent most of her childhood in the northern Virginia suburbs of Centreville, where, after attending Chantilly High School, she found her way to the College.
“I applied early decision,” Frook said. “I made that decision actually when I came and visited a couple of different times. … The second time it felt very comfortable, almost homey. I remember walking into the music building and hearing some group singing in the hallway and being really excited about that.”
Frook, like many students, was drawn to the opportunity to double major, and thought about also majoring in linguistics. Though she ended up only majoring in music, one of the reasons she chose the College was because of the variety of academic opportunities and alternative career paths it could provide.
“I liked the idea that I didn’t have to know exactly what I wanted to do yet,” Frook said. “I liked the idea that I could have a variety of experiences before I really made up my mind because I didn’t feel ready to decide.”
“I liked the idea that I didn’t have to know exactly what I wanted to do yet,” Frook said. “I liked the idea that I could have a variety of experiences before I really made up my mind because I didn’t feel ready to decide. I had passions and I knew I loved learning … I knew I wanted to be challenged academically. And I knew I would get that here.”
While Frook embraced the College’s academic rigor during her time here, as a music director for the Christopher Wren Singers and a member of the Botetourt Chamber Singers, finding a balance was something with which she struggled.
“Because of that passion and because of that drive, sometimes business became a default mode of operation,” Frook said. “Learning how to balance my work with rest was something that I found difficult and still something that is a lifetime journey of learning. … I see my students struggle with that as well.”
Despite the challenges Frook faced, she said she appreciated the variety that the music department at the College offered. She was able to play instruments ranging from the recorder to the harpsichord, and found that the department prepared her well for her career after college.
“One of the great things about being a music major here is that you can do a little bit of everything,” Frook said. “You get a really wide breadth of experience, and I found that really useful going forward because I had some experience doing things and being in leadership positions that some of my peers who didn’t go to a liberal arts school didn’t get to have.”
After Frook graduated from the College, she worked in a variety of part-time jobs, including work in internet technology, marketing, teaching and choral-related jobs while she applied to graduate school. Frook would later attend the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she received her Master of Music in Conducting.
According to Frook, one of the perks of going to a liberal arts college was that she was able to use academic coursework unrelated to her profession to further her career. During the second semester of her senior year of College, she took a Russian literature course. The course would later help her with her work at Eastman.
“In grad school, we started singing Soviet-era literature,” Frook said. “We started singing a piece from the same time period as the literature we’d read, and I was able to make some really interesting connections about art-making in the Soviet era and just having that breadth of knowledge makes you a better musician because you can understand the context of when the music was written and why, and I think that’s something really special about this place. I felt that my music professors really encouraged us to ask a lot of questions about the music we were learning and doing.”
When Frook moved back to Virginia after completing graduate school, she was able to create many connections through the Virginia Chorale, a professional choir in Norfolk, that helped her find the jobs she has now.
“Through that ensemble, I met my husband and also met the woman who was working at Christopher Newport University at the time,” Frook said. “I started working there, as an adjunct professor. I was also teaching voice at the University of Richmond as an adjunct professor. I heard from Dr. Bartlet that she needed somebody to fill in for her while she was department chair, and that is how I ended up here. … This is my third-and-a-half year now.”
Today, Frook still sings for the Virginia Chorale, works for UR and serves as the current artistic director of the Virginia Choral Society. Though Frook described having many different obligations as “hectic,” she values her variety of involvements because of the diversity of people and music that she is exposed to.
“I love all the students I get to work with,” Frook said. “I love making music in lots of different places and lots of different contexts.”
“I love all the students I get to work with,” Frook said. “I love making music in lots of different places and lots of different contexts. … I love getting to work with a variety of people. I don’t think it’s something that I will want to do forever — have six or seven different little things — I like the insight that it gives me into higher ed and the academic world. I get to see different departments and how they function and different student bodies and different campus culture.”
For those interested in pursuing music as a career, Frook said that a career in the music field “is definitely something that you have to want.”
“But if you show up and do the work, it’s possible and it can be a really powerful and special thing,” Frook said.