Alumni achieves greatness through her work

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5:02:51 PM 4/23/16 Sarah Ponder Brock Portraits. Hair and Makeup by Nora Hess © Todd Rosenberg Photography

Ponder lives out her dream of singing, performing in Chicago

Abbie Rohr

Antelope staff


Sarah Ponder says she is one of the lucky ones. Ponder “feels so lucky” to be a professional singer and to have music in her life. “There isn’t anything else I would rather do.”

Ponder, a 2003 UNK graduate in vocal performance from Columbus, and a self-employed classical singer lives out her dreams of performance in Chicago with organizations such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Grant Park Music Festival. She is also an instructor of voice at Loyola University in Chicago.

“She is living the dream of every singer who aspires to a career as a professional performing artist. She is an established successful musician in Chicago, making her living as a singer and voice teacher,” said Anne Foradori, professor of voice at UNK’s music department.

“There are so many moments that shine so bright in my mind,” Ponder said. One special moment, in particular, she said, “as a soloist, singing for 13,000 people in Millennium Park, one of my favorite venues.”  She said that feeling of being so committed to the music and then sharing it with the audience is an example of feeling the connection artists treasure.

Chicago Classical Review praised Ponder, saying she is a “first-class soloist.”

In Chicago, Ponder has also worked as an ensemble singer, “Working with some of the world’s best singers and conductors, just this past year I shared the stage with Susan Graham, an idol of mine growing up,” she said. “I got to witness a person perform at the highest levels human beings can achieve.”

Ponder is also an educator at Loyola University. She said she loves all the little moments she spends in the studio with students.  Among her favorite moments are when breakthroughs happen and she is able to share her students’ pride and feeling of achievement. “As a mentor, I love seeing how music and unlocking the power to express oneself can convey a sense of power and self-worth,” Ponder said.

Her lifestyle isn’t all fun and games though. “I do feel lucky for this to be my life, but it is really hard,” she said. As a musician, she feels a “constant uncertainty about stability, salary, schedule and health care.”

“There is immense competition, it is a feast or famine lifestyle and it can take its toll on relationship and sense of self. But, if I’m honest, there isn’t anything else I would rather do,” Ponder continued.

Ponder graduated summa cum laude from UNK in vocal performance and she was awarded the Gary Thomas Distinguished Music Alumna. After her time at UNK, she moved on to Northwestern University, a university with an acceptance rating of just 10 percent. She earned her masters in music and certificate in vocal performance, and again earning the honor of summa cum laude.

Ponder gives credit to her UNK education. “I had a solid musical foundation going into graduate school. It really helped that UNK gave me the opportunity to be a more rounded individual. I studied liberal arts vs. conservatory, and I had both sung and played horn in different types of ensembles — all of these experiences helped influence me technically and musically,” she said.

After beginning her UNK career as an education major, Ponder quickly changed to vocal performance. “I realized that I was more interested in the thrill of the small discoveries and achievements found in my own practice and performance,” she said. 

She still has a passion for teaching though, “I love teaching one-on-one for the same reasons, and I still prefer it to working with groups,” she said.

One of the most important values that UNK’s music department taught her was “the biggest changes come from the work you do little by little every day, not in the random herculean efforts at that last minute. Real progress and mastery of anything in life takes consistency and time.”

“Sarah recently said that she ‘enjoys the challenges of her work because no two days are ever alike.’ We are proud of Sarah and pleased that she chose UNK to pursue her undergraduate music studies.” Foradori said.