Most people who come in contact with me realize that I have established a framework for my life as a student at SMU.  To me it seems very simple.  Over the next four years, I plan to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a minor in applied physiology.  In addition to my degree, I am taking the pre-requisites to attend medical school, which I plan to attend after graduation. In order to reach each of these goals, I have many courses to take. Music history, music theory, accompanist classes, and conducting classes are just a few that I must complete in order to complete my major. Other classes I need to complete include anatomy, nutrition, and sports exercise in order to fulfill the requirements for med school and a minor in physiology. However, I cannot begin taking those classes until my first semester as a sophomore. Fortunately, at the end of my freshman year I will have completed half of my pre-med courses. This includes introductory biology and chemistry courses with organic chemistry and physics remaining for me to complete during my sophomore year.  It all seems simple enough.

Even though my plan is to go to medical school and become a doctor, I still want to further my musical talent and utilize it even after I graduate from SMU. I would love to be able to accompany singers, dancers, actors, or choirs during my free time. In order to do this, I need to further develop my accompany skills during college. SMU does not offer classes in accompanying, so I have to seek other opportunities to do enhance my skills. I plan to do this by accompanying the musical theatre classes, playing for SMU student directed theatre productions (you can see me this weekend performing in “[title of show] a Broadway musical” at SMU), and accompanying solo performances.

I realize that beyond the technical skills I need to accomplish my goals, I also need to broaden the spectrum of opportunities to perform as an accompanist, I plan to talk with people at SMU or in the Dallas metro area who play for Broadway shows or who are professional accompanists. Dr Karp, my piano teacher, has agreed to provide me with an introduction to Kevin Gunter, who is a sought after musical director. While my ultimate goal is to become a medical doctor, I do not want to lose sight of the opportunities that I have to utilize my musical skills in the future. Who knows, I could always change my mind and go to graduate school for collaborative piano as nothing is set in stone right now and will probably not  be set in stone for some time. I still have three and a half years to consider my options and decide what I ultimately want to do with my life.

When I graduated high school last May, I closed one chapter of my life.  In August however, I started a new chapter, beginning a new journey at SMU. I have a goal of becoming a medical doctor and have framed my course work over the next four years to allow me the opportunity to continue to pursue my goal. However, I am making sure that I do not develop tunnel vision and miss opportunities to enhance my musical skills.  Over the next three and half years, my goals and dreams may change and thus, I want to make sure that I have a basic framework in place.


Heres my elevator pitch video! Hope y’all will take a second to watch it! Thanks!!

I do many different things. I am a pianist, accompanist, handbell soloist, and pre-med student and I find that I have many skills that help me with each of these talents or activities and some skills that I need to develop or improve to make me better.

I am determined, dedicated and I persevere. My first semester in college is packed with music and science classes that are a lot harder than high school. My piano teacher wants me to live in the practice room and has me working on some of the hardest music I have ever seen. While I have thought about it, I have not dropped any of my classes. I am determined to push through, go to class and study even when there are so many other things that I would like to do instead.

I feel that caring is one of my strengths. While I am invested in my craft and schoolwork, I am also invested in the craft and studies of my peers, roommate and other friends at SMU. I support others when they are performing and am willing to help anyone who asks, especially if they need a pianist to accompany them. I also find time in my busy schedule to spend time with my roommate because I care about her and I’s relationship and want to make sure that we are friends and nothing goes bad between us.

I am an excellent communicator because I am direct and to the point. I am also a good organizer. I need to be organized in order to keep track of my daily schedule, as well as keep all of my music, schoolwork, and notes organized. Look in my dorm room and you will see my schedule written out down to what time I take a shower depending on what day of the week. With no mom or dad to around, if I was disorganized, I would be late to my appointments and concerts, as well as not confused as to where I put my stuff.

I think of myself as being resourceful. I wanted to bring a car to school so that I could drive myself wherever I felt I needed to go, but then my parents said no. Therefore, I am figuring out how to get around when I need to go off campus. I signed up for a Zip car, got a DART pass and am making friends with students who have cars. I can bake a mean cupcake and am willing to trade them for rides to nail salons, the mall and other places. Of course though, they will need to supply the oven, as there is no baking in the dorm.

Adapting is one of my strengths while being strong willed and direct is a weakness. While I love Broadway show tunes, I like playing all types of music, from classical to popular, to choral to church music and other forms. I also, can take direction from a director to speed up, slow down and even change notes around as directed. I am learning how to successfully adapt to dorm life. Tiny closet, communal bathroom and a roommate are all new to me. My roommate and I get along great and I am learning to adjust to the bathroom as well as how to make the most out of our limited space in the dorm room.

When I look at my personality, two words that can describe me are strong willed and direct. Each of these is a good quality/skill to have but they can also be negatives. I need to learn to be more flexible at times and not be so direct. I believe it is important to stand up for your principles and support your friends and classmates but you have to be open to other people’s points of view. If I make it to med school, I hope to be an emergency room doctor. I have been told, I will be the doctor that says to patient “I going to fix your broken whatever but you must be the stupidest person I’ve ever met and don’t try that stupid stunt ever again.” I need to find a balance between adapting and strong willed as well as softening my approach sometimes.

Creativity is the number one skill that I lack. Do not ask me to improvise a piece of music, come up with a catchy phrase or slogan or design a flyer for the play you are directing. I have zero creativity in my bones. The most creative thing I have done is having my name monogrammed in pink on my lab coat. Further evidence can be seen when you go to my website. As you can see, my website is very basic. It includes the minimum requirements to get me a passing grade. When I made it, I chose a theme that would show my simplicity in taste rather than showing off that I am very creative and artsy, which I am not. I think my lack of creativity stems not from being unable to think of new, different and unique ideas but rather my unwillingness to take chances.

Taking chances is all about being able to accept rejection. This is a skill that I possess but also lack. I know rejection does not mean failure but I still get upset over rejection. I was waitlisted at two other universities and one music school rejected me. I did not like receiving those letters nor was I happy when they came in the mail. However, as I look back those rejections helped narrow the field of choices and so far, I am very happy with my college choice. I like that my FACE (fine arts community experience) class forces me to do things out of my comfort zone. Taking chances is all about getting out of your comfort zone. So far, I eaten at a vegan restaurant (I’m a carnivore at heart) and went to the Texas State Fair (first local, county state fair I ever attended). I tried the vegan burger at Spiral, which was excellent and fried margarita at the fair, awful, and had a great time at both outings. This summer I went skeet shooting for the first time. My family does not own guns and I was scared I was going to be knocked back twenty feet when I pulled the trigger. It took a while before I hit my first “bird” but now I am hooked and love blasting clay pigeons out of the sky – who knew?

I also need to broaden my horizons. I have only traveled abroad once and it was to the Dominican Republic. The trip was for Spring Break this past year and we did not leave the resort compound, so that does not really count. I hope that during my time at SMU I plan to travel abroad to Europe or Spain in hopes of gaining a more worldly view that will then help influence my work as an artist and as a pre-med student.

I told my mom that I needed to go away to college. I have never lived anywhere but Atlanta and while I have visited many places, I have never spent more than a week somewhere other than home. Going to the University of Georgia would be within “walking distance” of Atlanta. The night my mom checked me into my dorm, I told her I did not want her to leave and that I should just come home and go to UGA. She told me no, that this was the school I was meant to attend. After going to Corral, I realized that yes; SMU is indeed the place where I belong. I was dropped off from Atlanta with a set of skills and hopes of gaining a whole new set over the next four years.

“Look how far I have come without anyone holding my hand…There’s still so much to learn, so many dreams to earn, but even if I crash and burn ten times a day. I think I’m here to stay. I’m gonna find my way” – Legally Blonde

I am currently working on an elevator pitch. Here are two of my options, I would love to hear some feedback.

1. There are “mall rats”, “gym rats” and even “dorm rats”. My name is Sarah Lynn Woodruff and I’m a “pit rat” playing piano and keyboards for musical theater productions.  To me live theater with prerecorded music is like warm apple pie without ice cream.  Its good but not great.  I live in the pit to make great music for live theater productions.  I am as passionate about the music I play as the actors are about the characters they play and the words they speak.  My goal is to direct a Broadway orchestra one day but for now am comfortable honing my craft in the pit.  Here is my business card; I would like to be able to work with you sometime.

2. Did you watch finals of Broadway or Bust on PBS this past Sunday night?   If you didn’t you missed seeing Evan Greenberg – he was one of six male finalists and absolutely incredible.  I’m Sarah Lynn Woodruff and I was Evan’s accompanist in high school.  I love working with actors and vocalists as they learn and perfect songs.  I pay attention to the details of the song and the singer. Working to find the right tempo, guiding them through tricky (whatever you call this musically) and always willing to be there when they ask, “can we run through that one more time”. My goal is to be a musical director on Broadway and working as an accompanist I am learning what it takes to turn good music into great.  Here is my business card: I would enjoy the opportunity to play for you sometime.

Fear of failure is my constant motivator. I am terrified of failing or always scared to fail or doing poorly in anything.  School work, playing piano, running for VP of Community Relations of my residence hall, I am of afraid of failing. I do though. People ask me why I am continuously working, practicing piano, or studying, and it is because I simply do not want to fail. Well that’s not entirely true.  What I really want is to succeed and make the best grades possible. I fear that I never want to failure because if I do fail then I feel as though I will not be able to recover. Therefore, I work as hard as I can because it is a lot easier to continually make strides forward and do my best rather than fail once and try to work back up from that moment.

If you ask me what my primary motivation is, I would say what motivates me more specifically is my parents. I want to please them and do everything in my power to make them feel proud of who I am. They don’t put pressure on me and I know they are always proud of me no matter the outcome.  They simply want me to be happy.  They are there for me in everything I do, even when I do stumble. However, that does not seem to matter; I push and push to succeed as if their affirmation was the most important thing in the world.  Last week was a prime example.  I finished a test in my music theory class, which included having to listen to, identify seventh chords, and dictate melodic and harmonic progressions.  I thought I had failed for sure and called home freaking out about the class and thinking should I be even taking this class. My mom just listened and offered words of encouragement. When I got my grade, I found out that I made a 91. What was I thinking? I guess I was not as I was letting fear creep in.

I am not a perfectionist. I try not to put pressure on myself to perform perfectly because I believe that that will do more harm than good. By not putting pressure on myself to be perfect, I am able to learn from my mistakes and enjoy my success.  When I do score perfectly, or perform perfectly, my mindset is that I can do this again. When I listen to a performance, I can hear my mistakes and while I want to improve, I do not get so wrapped up in hearing the mistakes that it paralyzes me like I have seen happen to other people.

The other major motivator for me is my friends and family. They are always pushing me forward, motivating me to do my best. They want the best for me and to succeed in all I do. They are my biggest motivators because they are my biggest supporters.  They back me up and make sure that I do not fall off the path. I feel that your friends and family are your biggest fan base especially as a musician. Even if no one else shows up to your concerts, you know your friends and family will be sitting in the audience to support you.  I watched my best friend’s brother-in-law’s band win a contest this summer.  The band’s success was in large part due to my best friend’s father who went out of his way with emails and texts asking for people to go online and vote for his son-in-law’s band. I have to believe that when he performed he could feel his entire family lifting him and helping to play the best he had ever played. I feel the same way when I take the stage, especially when I know my friends and family are in the audience.

I believe that to be a great musician you have to be passionate.  You have to be motivated to take risks, challenge yourself and face your fears.  You look for the energy and desire that motivates you to be the best musician you can possible be. Because if there is no driving force behind your playing then what are you to play for? 


I value my friendships.

First and foremost, I value my family and friends. They are the two most important groups of people and the closest ones to me. I value their love, friendship, and support. However, I will get to them later.

I value my church. St. John United Methodist Church is where I grew up. I was baptized and confirmed, twice, at St. John. That was my home for the past 18 years until I moved to Dallas, TX.

I value not only my church, but also the people in it. Everyone that has ever been a part of St. John knows that they have had an impact on my life. Everyone there has helped raise me and form me into the child of God that I am today.  Mr. and Mrs. McGee, along with their children, taught me in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. They were even my babysitters at one point. Most importantly though, they were my friends. The Stout family taught youth Sunday school and always supported me in all of my endeavors. Mrs. Ulrich, the choir/handbell director and organist, was there for me when I was struggling as a high school freshman with my first Riverwood musical. She found time to sit at the piano and help me with the music. I will always remember her words – “just grab as many notes as you can and keep on going”. Those words have served me well over the past 4 years.  The entire congregation at St. John has guided me and kept me on the straight path. I am forever thankful to have such a good support system and church.

I value my relationship with God. I am quickly finding out through these first four weeks at SMU that making time to fit everything into your busy schedule is extremely difficult. I have been church hoping and skipping over these past few weeks in order to find the right church for me here in Dallas. I want to increase my relationship with God and not let it dwindle away. I have to stop myself in the middle of the day and remind myself why I am at SMU involved in everything. I have to stop and thank the man that gave this all to me.

I value my friends. My best friend Megan is my rock. What would I do without her? She is my best friend, my sister, and my other half. I thought it would be difficult leaving her in Georgia when I moved out to Dallas, but I never realized HOW difficult it would be. But we both value our friendship so much that we would never let something as small as a few states and a time zone change get in the way.

I value my family. Seriously, what would I do with out my parents and brother? My parents raised me and I would be nowhere without them. There is no way I would be at SMU that is for sure. Where would I be without my brother? Probably stranded on the side of a road. Even though Kelly and I fight and bicker, he taught me common sense. He taught me life long lessons that you cannot learn from just anyone.

I value love.

I value my relationships with everyone. I value my kitties and puppies. I value my music and the music I create. I value my talents and skills.  I value my future husband. I value the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons. I value Andrew and Rachel. I value the relationship between my roommate and I. I value swinging in the park on a beautiful afternoon. I value sunsets. I value musical theatre. I value the small things in life. I value love. I value myself.

I have some of the worst work habits: I procrastinate, I don’t focus, and I can’t study. Everything that a college student shouldn’t do, I successfully do. My problem is that I tend to be lazy. Ken Bain wrote in his latest book that it is best to study in different places. I am pretty reclusive and being in my dorm room doesn’t help because my TV is on my desk and my roommate and I always keep our door open. This poses a problem because it is hard to get work done. I need to get out and explore the libraries on SMU’s campus, but they just seem so far away and inconvenient. This is all going to come back to haunt me eventually.

I am one of the best procrastinators in the world, or at least I was. Over the past two weeks however, I have been getting better and not procrastinating as much. I have been completing assignments earlier rather than at the last second and I have even begun to “study” two days before quizzes. I’m not sure how long all of this will last though.

I took my first college quiz last week in Chemistry and I got a 65. Not something I am super proud of but it is something that I can deal with. That quiz taught me some very valuable lessons about my work habits (or lack there of). I had studied a good amount for this quiz by going over the homework problems multiple times and redoing them but that wasn’t enough. I have another quiz Wednesday so hopefully I can figure out a new way to study by then and get a better grade!

I work better under stressful situations. Something about high stress forces me to work and get everything done. Even though it’s probably not the best situation in the world, but it’s what works for me. However, don’t try and come talk to me if I am under a lot of pressure and/or stress because I tend to get frustrated and very annoyed.

Being a music major and a pre-med student doesn’t necessarily help tone down the high stress situations. Multiple people have told me that I picked two of the most time consuming and difficult majors/tracks offered at SMU. I have to find a good balance between schoolwork and practicing piano. It is a lot more difficult than I expected, but I am slowly figuring it out.

As a musician, I have an extra escape when I need to get away from studying or working. I usually give myself 30 minutes to do work or study and then I go and practice one song. I typically follow this routine until all of my work is completed. It allows my mind to go somewhere else for a few minutes so that I’m not working for hours straight. My dorm at SMU makes it more difficult to follow this routine because the piano is further away than at my house. There is an out of tune piano on the first floor of the residence hall, but when I play it, it makes me want to get back to studying because it sounds so awful.

I am still working on figuring out what works best for me so that I can get work done, find time to practice my instrument, find places to study that are outside of my dorm room, and still remain calm, cool, and collected.

People always asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and for the longest time I said: “a teacher!”

Then I started piano lessons…

My first day of lessons, I was a short fourth grader whose feet did not reach the floor when sitting upon the piano bench. My parents told me that if I kept up with piano for at least a year they would buy me a real piano. I practiced on a Casio electronic keyboard — 61 keys that ran on eight “D” batteries.  It was on this Casio keyboard that I began my foray into music.  After about six months, I began to count the days until the year was up and exactly one year and a day from beginning piano lessons, I came home from school to see the beautiful black Kawaii baby grand piano being delivered.

My first piano teacher Joyce Doyal introduced me to classical music and the fundamentals and techniques of piano. Four years into piano lessons I began accompanying. Becoming an accompanist changed my life. I was able to blend two of my biggest passions; playing piano and working with singers. I sang in church and school choirs but I really did not like to sing. Now, helping singers learn music and practicing with them is a completely different story and something I thoroughly have and still enjoy. I played my first piece as an accompanist in seventh grade. By eighth grade I was able to accompany three songs for the choirs. When I found my new love of accompanying, my piano instructor and I began butting heads. I wanted to continue accompanying while she wanted me to stay on the classical route. I continued with piano lessons throughout ninth grade while accompanying the Advanced Women’s choir at my high school. When the drama teacher discovered that I could accompany she enlisted me in the fall play and the spring musical.

My life took a complete 180 spin.

Out with being a teacher and in with musical theatre.  In early December I was handed the full musical score for Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, I knew that I wanted to be involved with music and theater for the rest of my life.

While you would think that my newfound love would cause me to be even more devoted to and passionate about the piano, I up and quit piano lessons within thirty days of receiving the music for my first stage production. I thought I would never go back to formal piano lessons until Deb Ulrich came to the rescue. Mrs. Ulrich is my church’s organist and a high school choir director and music teacher.  She helped me tackle and conquer all 439 pages of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into when two scores were thrown at me, one for rehearsal and one for performances. Mrs. Ulrich is simply amazing.  Her love of music and commitment to helping students taught me how to balance learning the musical as well as keeping up with my classical studies.

Four long months of practicing with the orchestra and singers paid off. Opening night came around and I got chills up and down my spine when the red curtain rose and the overture began.

I will never forget that feeling.

Fortunately, Deb Ulrich’s sage advice, “just grab as many notes as you can and keep on going” stayed with me from the opening notes to the final bows.

Over the past four years I have been able to play for four shows at my high school as well as play for two different local theatre companies. I have had the privilege of playing shows like Rent, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Les Miserables, Anything Goes, and Godspell. My love for musical theatre has grown stronger and deeper over the years.  Besides expanding my piano skills, I have expanded friendships both within and without my high school.

In addition to playing for shows, my accompanying skills have increased. As a freshman in high school I only accompanied one or two songs at each concert. By my senior year I was the main accompanist and accompanied all five choirs and played for all three concerts as well as LGPE (large group performance evaluation).

Through the countless hours of practicing, days spent memorizing music, and stress built up over one song, it has all paid off.  The funny thing about all of this is that while I do not want to be a teacher as my career, I tend to do a lot of “teaching” when working with the musical productions or accompanying choirs. My dream is to play on Broadway and share my love for musical theatre and the piano with everyone else. I guess that kind of is like a teacher.