Sarah’s Story: On the Imperative of Music Education for Our Society

Phil Mariage

When history loses urgency, people tend to live at the expense of the future, despite their better judgment.  — Neil Howe and William Strauss, ‘Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.’

The daughter of parents who saw no need for her to achieve anything more than a husband, Sarah, a native Arkansan, had spirit. Her father did enjoy the music of his time and gave her his E flat clarinet to use in the school band programs. Over the course of her grade and high school education, she excelled academically and made the All State Band all four years of High school, where she sat first chair in the last three years. She earned five academic awards and enrolled at Henderson State University with only twenty-one dollars a week support from her parents.

She nearly starved, but her participation in the University band program was her life line. She again excelled in her academic studies, but became seriously ill near the end of her first year. She lost her academic scholarships (through an error by a professor) and would have had to quit college had it not been for the band director, Mr. Wendell Evanson, who had also known of her skills from her High School Band Camp years where he was the conductor. He insisted that she remain in school, awarding her a music scholarship. She continued to play in the band through those years, but also successfully received her B.A. in psychology.

At 32, inspired by the Todd Rundgren song “Can’t Stop Running” and the lyrics

Time marches on
And I awaken to the world
And I’m still running to something
Running to something far away
Unseen by the others in the herd
I’m only running to something
Running to something
Into the arms of my dream

she was propelled to fulfill her life long ambition to be a physician – a dream her parents never supported in any way. The flicker became a flame through the lyrics of that song. She enrolled in grad school taking the necessary science courses that would be required in medical school. She earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry, then enrolled in medical school. Again she excelled academically and graduated with honors becoming a primary care physician. She came back to Mountain View, Arkansas serving in private practice, indigent care, and E.R. care.

sarah for leading
Dr. Sarah Lynn Sullivan, M.D. and Ph.D.

She has been a Rundgren fan all of her life and attributes her achievements to the strong musical education she received while in school. Music is her passion along with a very powerful devotion to our military veterans’ medical needs. While her father may not have supported her in school or as a woman, he did instill in her a love of music, despite his severe psychological issues stemming from his service in World War II. While in graduate school, Sarah became an AIDS advocate. During the Hurricane Katrina crisis she took leave from her practice and volunteered as a physician in the Mississippi relief efforts.

She is now the Medical Director and Primary Care Physician at one of the VA clinics where she is driven to serve veterans. This is one person who has fulfilled her dreams because of those music educators who saw her potential. Her name is Dr. Sarah Lynn Sullivan, M.D. and Ph.D.

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Phil Mariage is Producer and Host of Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, a weekly generational discussion program on KUAR, the NPR affiliate in Little Rock.

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