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Sisters have shined in music spotlight

By : Eric Coker

Music will again play a role in the lives of Elizabeth and Sarah Sterling as they make the transition to college graduates.

The sisters will sing the alma mater Saturday morning at the Harpur College recognition ceremony.

Music also eased the sisters’ transition to college four years ago, they say.

“It was a built-in comfort zone,” Elizabeth said.

“It’s a scary situation going from high school to college,” Sarah said. “It helped to have something familiar to latch on to.”

The sisters, both 21 and from Saratoga Springs, did more than latch on to music at Binghamton: They became mainstays in the Music Department. Sarah plays viola, Elizabeth plays violin, and both sing. Their awards include the Stevenson Barrett Award for outstanding work in voice.

Elizabeth and Sarah are two parts of identical triplets: sister Vanessa attends Ithaca College. The Sterlings have always been musical, whether it was participating at an early age in a production of Pinocchio or taking piano lessons in third grade or picking up string instruments in fifth grade. During high school, Sarah took part in the Empire State Youth Orchestra and the Luzerne Music Center music program.

The sisters did not plan to attend the same university, they said.

“It turned out that this was the best place for both of us as far as having the strong sciences and arts and being a good price,” Elizabeth said.

The help of Music Department faculty members was a key factor in their successes, they say.

“There’s a high degree of loyalty with the faculty,” Sarah said. “You know they’ll be there for concerts and to support you. I feel like I’ve grown so much just by working with people who help you see your potential.”

“These are people who have overseen the progression from being scared as freshmen to now,” Elizabeth said. “After spending years with the same professors, you form a bond. It’s nice that somebody cares about how you are doing.”

Mary Burgess, associate professor of music and voice teacher to the sisters, said it has been a joy to watch Elizabeth and Sarah grow, as they have a “wonderful background in practicing.”

“Their years of studying violin and viola have given them a valuable tool in coping with challenges: they know how to practice and are used to doing it,” Burgess said.

“Practicing is an art and skill in itself, requiring discipline and habit, tolerance of frustration, hope and faith and perseverance; in this, the sisters are way ahead of most of their peers.  … Practicing is how you get better, and without it, you just don’t. Without it, talent is wasted.”

The sisters presented their honor’s recitals last month. Elizabeth’s recital was a rare feat: a violin and voice presentation of Debussy’s works. As an encore, she helped to conduct the Harpur Chorale earlier this month.

Outside of music, the sisters are (naturally) double majors. Sarah’s second major is psychobiology; Elizabeth’s is anthropology. Sarah has taken animal-behavior labs with professors Anne Clark and Ralph Miller.

“I can see the things I’ve learned in music translate to my other classes, especially with presentations and interacting with other people,” said Sarah, who also was a member of the crew team from 2005-2007.

Sarah is considering going to graduate school for animal behavior, while Elizabeth looks to continue with music education. They also will be in the family spotlight this weekend before heading out on their own: Vanessa will graduate from Ithaca next year, the sisters said.

“I’ve gotten to know myself so much since freshman year,” Elizabeth said. “Everything I’ve done here has been worthwhile.”

“I think it will be easier now than it was at the beginning of undergrad,” Sarah said. “We both have a clear path in mind. We’ve had great experiences and now we can move on.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08