I first spotted Sarah Lynch, a sophomore music education major at the University of St. Thomas, lugging a guitar case across a parking lot on south campus. The 2015-16 academic year was coming to a close, and she soon would be heading home to Williston, North Dakota. Five months would pass before we met again in person.
In my memory she is cloaked entirely in black – black T-shirt barely visible beneath a nearly zipped-up black sweatshirt, black jeans, black shoes, black hair cropped short in the back and long, fringey bangs half covering dark eyes. Her black guitar case is nearly as big as she, and – as reality often gets warped as it passes through the filter of remembrance – it reappears in my mind as an inverted silhouette cut-out of herself that she grips gingerly as if it weighs just a few ounces. Memory is a strange thing.
When we finally meet, my memory of Lynch seems a little less strange. Her outfit is a mirror image of what I pictured, except for the sweatshirt, which is slung over the back of her chair because we are indoors, and around her neck are a pair of Beats by Dre headphones and two small keys hanging from a dog tag ball chain. Splashed across her T-shirt is My Chemical Romance.
We spend most of the time talking about her true love: music, whether it’s her hell-bent devotion to band camp, her inches-thick binder of original music or her sizable “emergency concert ticket fund.” By the end of our conversation, it makes perfect sense why my mind’s eye remembered her guitar case as an extension of herself.
Is your love for music lifelong?
Yes. My dad especially played a huge role in getting me into music. He has a huge CD and record collection. We had music in our car all the time. My mom’s not as musically inclined as my dad, but she likes all the kinds of stuff he likes – Creedence Clearwater Revival, Beatles … he wouldn’t have married her if she didn’t love music!
When did you start playing instruments?
Since I was really little. We have this old, out-of-tune piano at home and I would pick out songs I knew from TV on the piano by ear. Then I saw one of my older cousins play guitar and I thought that was really cool, so I started playing when I was 8. In fifth grade I picked up the clarinet and have been playing ever since. I’ve also never stopped singing in the car to my dad’s music!
What do you listen to? (besides My Chemical Romance!)
They’re definitely a big inspiration. There’s so many. I like Fall Out Boy, Ani DiFranco, Fleetwood Mac. I just got into Led Zeppelin a few years ago, too. And I love Amanda Palmer. She’s a huge inspiration to me. I guess I just listen to a lot of rock music. That’s my thing, but I’ll listen to a bit of everything, except I’m not a big fan of country.
What’s the last song you listened to?
Well, let’s pull up my iPod here. I keep it on shuffle. Looks like 30 Seconds to Mars.
What else is on it?
Let’s see … Johnny Cash, Panic! at the Disco, Beatles, Beastie Boys, Patty Smyth, David Bowie, The Who, Dave Matthews Band … . This iPod was a graduation gift from my dad. It’s an iPod classic, which he found on Amazon because they stopped making it in 2012. It’s got the most memory of any iPod in iPod history, which I need because I have somewhere between 3,000 or 4,000 songs on mine, and that’s just part of what I own.
Growing up in Williston, were you able to get your live music fix?
I would sometimes fly or drive to the Cities with my dad to see concerts. I think my first really big show was to see Bruce Springsteen with him and my uncle when I was 15. It was so amazing. We entered this raffle where we could win a spot in this pit in front of center stage but we didn’t win. Instead we were right behind this barrier behind the pit. The security guards moved the barriers during the show so Bruce could get to this catwalk. He shook my hand as he walked by. When he stood up on the barrier in front of us, he saw me with my phone and pointed directly at me so I could take a picture. Where’s my phone? I know I must have pictures of it still on here. [She finds it and proudly shows it to me.] My dad and I were crying because we were so excited.
Now that you live on campus here in St. Paul, you must go to a lot more shows.
Oh yeah. I actually have an emergency concert ticket fund of a couple thousand dollars! I’ve saved it up over the last two years. Over the summer, I’ll replenish it.
I go home to work in the summer at Signs by Dan. It’s a family business that my grandpa started and now one of my aunts owns.
Have you ever performed live?
I’ve done open mic nights back home. I’d play at the talent night at this international music camp I went to every summer when I was in high school. My last night of my last year I made the entire audience cry, which was pretty cool! I write a lot of music, and this particular song I wrote in the midst of depression after a messy breakup and after a friend of mine had a messy breakup, too. It was about me trying to comfort her while also figuring myself out in this apparently heartbreaking song. So many people in the audience related to it. It was amazing to talk to people afterward.
Any plans to perform again?
Yes. I want to do a combination of sharing my experience of helping people not feel so alone while also, eventually, inspiring students, like in high school bands, to do the same thing. I want them to get out there and perform and connect and be confident, and do that through music – I started out as a music business major, but after taking a microeconomics class, I realized that business might involve a lot of math, and that’s just not for me, so I switched over to music education and I’m loving it. It’s where I belong. As far as performing, for now, I just practice all the time. I like to sit outside my dorm and jam by myself. If someone wants to listen, they can. Playing my guitar outside when the weather is nice is my favorite thing to do.
A few random questions for you: What’s your favorite sound?
There’s a lot of them because I’m a pretty auditory person. I love the sound of creaky wood floors because the house I grew up in (and my parents still live in) is really old and has beautiful woodwork. My dad redid it when we moved in the ’80s. But it has the worst creaky wood floors. I figured out how to walk around them and not make noise so I don’t wake up my parents in the middle of the night.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself, the first thing to come to your mind.
I’m the fifth person from my family to come here. My dad, my uncle, two of my cousins and I were born and raised in Williston and we all found our way to St. Thomas at some point or another. Because my dad had a bunch of older siblings who went to college, he didn’t want my grandparents to have to pay a ton of money for his tuition, so he went wherever he could get the biggest scholarship, which was St. Thomas. And now I’m here, and I happened to get a huge scholarship, too!
Last question: What do the keys around your neck unlock?
The circular one is for my bass and the other one is for my Alvarez guitar. They’re both at home now. I don’t have enough room in my dorm to hold all of my guitars!