Already a music tutor, pianist, musical director and member of a jazz quartet, Ballymena born Sarah Loughridge has gone one step further and written her own musical production. We went to find out more about the musical and its hugely talented composer
Sarah Loughridge doesn't believe that the thought of being a musician ever crossed her mind when she was a child. "I was one of those children who, from week to week, kept on changing their minds about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I went through phases, imagining myself as a vet, architect, teacher and so on. Never a musician."
Yet looking back, it seemed virtually inevitable that she would find herself at the keys. The piano keys, that is. We are, after all, talking to a young woman who has been playing piano, singing and performing since age five, and is currently working towards her Licentiate Diploma. More than that, she comes from a musical family; her father is a singer and her sisters are both accomplished pianists in addition to being a music teacher and a music therapist.
Her love and knowledge of different musical genres grew into what it is today through a rich and varied involvement with the choirs, orchestra, jazz bands and various music groups at her school. "My teachers often commented that if a subject wasn’t music related, it was of complete inconvenience to me!", laughs Loughridge.
"I owe a lot to Heather Montgomery", she says. "Throughout my seven years at Dalriada, she helped and encouraged me with all my musical endeavours, whether inside or outside of school. It was also her who put me and three other pupils together to form the Riada Dixie Jazz Quartet, and we performed every weekend in hotels and restaurants across the country. It was at this point, at the age of seventeen, that I felt that I could and should become a professional musician."
Everything escalated from there. Not long afterwards, in 2008, Loughridge moved to Derry-Londonderry to study music, and soon found herself filling in as accompanist and repetiteur for the university choir, accompanying many different singers over the next three years.
"One singer, Sophie Shiels, got me in touch with Derry-born actor, director, producer and all-round decent bloke Kieran Griffiths. Towards the end of my final year at Magee, he called me to ask if I'd like to be the musical director for a show I’d never heard of, with actors I'd never heard of – apparently, Peter Corry's a big deal? – and work with a director I'd never heard of. Naturally, I said yes!"
And so began a four-month period of hard work, many laughs and, on a personal level for Loughridge, a massive learning curve, all from performing the Northern Irish Premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s "The Last Five Years" in Derry’s Playhouse Theatre in September 2011. (Click here for our review.)
"I'd been involved in plenty of shows both on stage and off", Loughridge says, "but had never MD'd before, so to be able to pull off a show like that and get the reviews we did was a big achievement. However, like any industry, unless you're at the top of your game you can't just rely on one job to get you by. And in my case, I couldn't rely on performing alone. So I branched out into other areas like teaching, composing and more recently, piano tuning! Performing still plays a large part in my life though: I've just finished a two-year residency in the Everglades Hotel, and play drums and whistle in a ceilidh band made up of myself, my two sisters and my brother-in-law."
To Loughridge, musical theatre has been a passion of hers since she was involved in a school production of Les Miserables at fourteen. But back then, did she "dream a dream" of composing her own musical? Not quite yet.
"I always enjoyed composing, but it wasn't until after I graduated in 2011 that I started taking it more seriously. Since then, I have composed and arranged music for full orchestras, string quartets, jazz bands and choral groups."
It did take a little longer for the penny to drop with regards to composing her own musical, though. "I didn't have lot of work lined up towards the end of 2012, but was itching to do another show. So, liking a challenge, I decided to come up with my own, and I came across the story of Faust while researching different story lines. I was instantly intrigued by the character."
According to the author, Faust is the story of one man's struggle to achieve complete omniscience and how his actions affect the lives of those around him. While studying, Faust is confronted by the Devil who makes a pact with him with a range of consequences but ultimately all leading to Faust's demise. Because of Faust's selfish actions, we see the main female character Margaret imprisoned for drowning her baby, and Richard, Faust's closest friend and confidante, accused of several mysterious and brutal murders in the Whitechapel district of London.
"I've set Faust in 1880s London, which lends itself very easily to the same musical genres as the likes of Les Miserables, Phantom Of The Opera and Jekyll & Hyde... potential auditionees, take note, as that's exactly the type of audition song I'm looking for!" says Loughridge, smiling. "But back to the composition itself. And when it came to that, I knew exactly what I wanted, the aforementioned genres with some modern twists. Frank Wildhorn, who composed Jekyll & Hyde, was definitely a big influence but there's a lot of my own stamp in there too."
Loughridge adds that if anyone is expecting a comedy out of Faust, they'll be bitterly disappointed... but "assures" us that there will be comic relief in an otherwise "dark and tragic" tale. She is hoping that the show will have an impact on the audience, whether it is through the music, the love story between Faust and Margaret, or the fact that they may be "still trying to get their heads around the different consequences of the pact between Faust and the Devil days after!"
If Faust comes off, it will undoubtedly be a highlight of this gifted young lady's musical journey, to go with performing with tribute bands Flash Harry and Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac in the Odyssey to a crowd of 10,000 people.
She clearly thrives on the unexpected: "I think that some of my most enjoyable, satisfying moments are those where I've been taken completely out of my comfort zone and have performed in the most random of places, be it a ceilidh on a tiny island off the Mull of Kintyre, or a weekend of live classical music to a packed Bennigans! These are the kind of gigs that really test your nerve, and I believe that they have made me an even better performer."
And, judging by the creation of Faust, a better all round musician too.
Auditions for Faust are scheduled to take place this June in the Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena. For more information on Faust, check out the official website or find Faust - The Musical on Facebook. Also check out the Facebook page for Sarah Loughridge's production company, Final Bow Productions.