Meet the Undergraduate Researcher: Sarah Marze, School of Fine Arts

Sarah Marze’s research involves microphones, not microscopes.

She’s one of seven student recipients of 2021 UConn IDEA grants, which supports summer projects in entrepreneurship, community service, research, and the arts. With her classically trained vocal background and majors in voice performance and music composition, Marze (’23) already had an impressive portfolio.

But she knew that she wanted to take her work to the next level for the IDEA grant. She decided to bring it back to the place where she first got her start in composition—high school classrooms.

The resulting project, entitled “Let Us Sing!,” is a collection of six art songs—short pieces composed for piano and a solo vocalist—geared toward high school singers, anchored in Marze’s study of vocal pedagogy. Marze created a set of beginner, intermediate, and advanced difficulty songs for higher voices, and a corresponding set for lower voices. The songs, she says, all have “strict parameters, so they work for a lot of different developing voices.”

Writers from the Connecticut Poetry Society worked with Marze to provide the lyrics. Many of these poets are current or former teachers, giving them a sense of the themes that would resonate with high school audiences. Her collaborations with these local poets were natural continuations of her engagement with educators and mentors throughout her life.

“I got to work with composers a little bit in high school, and I found that to be a really empowering experience as a musician,” Marze says. “It’s really shaped who I am as a student and musician. I wanted to give back, especially, to the high school age group.”

“Let Us Sing!” is designed to provide students with engaging, accessible performance pieces from a young, contemporary composer. It was motivated by the gaps in the existing repertoire of similar pieces for young voices.

“Any voice teacher can tell you that there is a dearth of contemporary art songs that are vocally appropriate, emotionally appropriate, and financially accessible for younger students,” Marze explains on her website.

High school singers Emma Banton and Kyra Rook enjoy UConn Dairy Bar ice cream as a reward for helping Marze workshop the song series.

Working with Constance Rock, coordinator of applied vocal studies at UConn, and Kenneth Fuchs, professor of music composition, Marze compiled a book of sheet music and instructional guidance for each song. Her final research task was to demo the songs with two local high schoolers and their teachers in a collaborative workshop. Afterwards, everyone got ice cream from the UConn Dairy Bar to celebrate.

This hands-on teaching experience helped Marze solidify her pedagogical takeaways from completing her IDEA grant project. She transformed her understanding into thoughtful notes that accompany the pieces in the book. (She notes that the song “Hush,” for instance, features “repeated ‘shh’ sounds [which] are ideal for teaching beginning breath support.”) The finished project is a testament to her conviction that “artistic endeavors are research.”

“In the same way that science is necessary for furthering human knowledge, music and art are really necessary for furthering the human spirit,” she says.

With “Let Us Sing!” now complete, Marze has turned to work on her honors thesis project, a rhapsodic piece for solo clarinet and chamber orchestra called “Morning Rhapsody.” She’s also wrapping up an auspicious undergraduate career studded with other composition and performance highlights, like her “Songs of Salem, 1692” song cycle memorializing the Salem Witch Trials.

Marze sees a multifaceted future for herself after graduating.

“The thing to know about people in music is that we all tend to wear five hats,” she says. “I want my career to be a combination of performing, conducting, composing, and teaching.”

Materials for “Let Us Sing!” are available for free educational use on Marze’s website. To the songs’ young performers, she writes, “I ask that you sing with your whole heart! Making your audience feel something is more important than being ‘correct.'”

Marzealongside high school singer Emma Banton, will pray performing the pieces from “Let Us Sing!” in the von der Mehden recital hall monday, Nov. 4, from 5-6 p.m

October is the Month of Discovery, when undergraduates are introduced to the wealth of research and innovation opportunities at UConn. This month, enjoy profiles of outstanding undergraduate researchers on UConn Today, attend a full slate of programming on campus and online, and register for Discovery Quest to launch your undergraduate experience to new heights.

Students interested in learning more about research and innovation opportunities at UConn can check out the series of events offered as part of the Month of Discovery.

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