A drummer and former percussion instructor, Sarah Hagan joined the artist relations department at Avedis Zildjian Company in 2004, and she has worked her way up to the position of Director of Artist Relations, Worldwide for Zildjian and Vic Firth. During this time, Hagan has personally selected cymbals for top drumming luminaries and has been instrumental in building Zildjian’s roster of artists representing a wide range of musical styles. In addition, as a member of Zildjian’s Sound Team, Sarah works closely with the R&D and marketing departments on the successful development and launch of products. Sarah has been recently appointed First Vice President, Treasurer of the PAS Executive Committee.
Rhythm!Scene: How did you get started in music?
Sarah Hagan: I started with snare drum lessons when I was 10 years old through a school lessons program. I had been asking to play drums for a few years, and my parents wanted me to start with the snare and learn to read music first. I took snare lessons for three years before moving on to drumset lessons, and it was a really great start!
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
SH: Cymbals! I know I am biased on this one, but there are so many sounds, “colors,” and options with cymbals. They can really make a piece of music what it is. Getting to understand the nuances in cymbal sounds over the past decade and a half, I have so much appreciation for how cymbals fit into a musical situation depending on what is needed from them. I absolutely love working with, picking out, listening to, and designing cymbals!
R!S: Who was your percussion idol growing up?
SH: I had two: Sheila E. and Dennis Chambers. I still remember the first time I saw each of them on television. Dennis was on a VHS recording of a Zildjian event, and seeing him play changed my life. I knew right then that I wanted to be a drummer and that I would do anything it took to play that instrument. Sheila E. was on MTV, and she was out front, standing up, singing, playing fantastically, looking gorgeous, and smiling, and I was in awe of her from that moment on.
R!S: What was one of your most memorable performances as a student percussionist?
SH: When I was about 14, I would sit behind the drummer in our award-winning high school jazz band and watch his every move. The band was killer and he was an excellent drummer. I had recently started playing drumset and was struggling with getting “off the page”—from so many years of snare lessons—in order to really feel and play jazz music, and I knew that I needed to study and listen, and the best way to do that was to be present during these rehearsals and performances. One day, the drummer for the band got sick, and the band director said, “Okay, Sarah, you’re up!” The only song I remember clearly was “God Bless the Child,” and it was my first time playing brushes. I will never forget the rest of the band turning around after that song and smiling at me and giving me nods of approval, and getting the big thumbs up from the band director. For the rest of the school year, that was my song and they called me up to sit in on it. The next year, the jazz band drummer graduated from high school and that seat was mine for the next four years. Some of my very best memories!
R!S: Who were key or memorable teachers in your musical education?
SH: My first drum teacher, Jeff Dodge, was key to my start in drumming. He was incredibly patient and encouraging. And then the father/son combination of my band director Tom Oliviere and his son Tod, who is now at Berklee College. Tom passed along his love and passion for jazz music to me; Tod was my first drumset teacher and percussion ensemble instructor, and he completely expanded my thinking on improvisation, sticking, dynamics, etc.
R!S: What sort of music activities are part of your job?
SH: I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that allows me to be playing music, discussing music, or listening to music for the majority of the day. From testing and playing cymbals, to researching new music and players, to putting together and attending video and photo shoots, every day is filled with music!
R!S: What was your introduction to PAS?
SH: I was introduced to PAS as soon as I started as an intern at Zildjian in 2002. The company was highly involved with PAS, and I was always a part of supporting Days of Percussion and preparations for PASIC, but the first convention that I actually attended was in 2007. It quickly became my favorite convention of the year because of the combination of manufacturers exhibiting and world-class performances and clinics.
R!S: What is one thing you wish all student percussionists knew about PAS?
SH: I wish all of them knew that PAS is more than PASIC. The great thing is that this message has started reaching more student percussionists over the last few years. I want them to know about all of the programs and opportunities that PAS offers.
R!S: What’s the first section you read in a new issue of Percussive Notes or Rhythm! Scene?
SH: The first section I read is usually the feature or cover story. They are always interesting and informative!
R!S: What is your most prized percussion-related souvenir?
SH: The cymbal that Armand Zildjian signed for me the first time I met him back when I was in high school. He took the time to talk to me about music and drumming and what I preferred in a cymbal, and then he gave me this beautiful gift. It is framed in my office, and I look at it every day and am reminded about the Zildjian legacy that we carry on and are a part of.
R!S: If you aren’t playing, teaching percussion, working, or volunteering for PAS, what are you doing?
SH: Spending time with my family, traveling, and having adventures!
R!S: What music or station is playing when you turn on your car?
SH: I use the “scan” button on the radio every day, and stop on anything that catches my ear, so I get a bit of everything and keep up with new music that way. I always stop on Led Zeppelin though; that is a rule!
R!S: What’s the first app you open on your phone or first program you start on your computer each morning?
SH: The first app I open on my phone each morning is Instagram. It is the best way to keep up with what is happening in the world of drumset artists. On my computer it is definitely Outlook. Emails come in overnight from Europe and Asia, so I have a full inbox each morning.
R!S: If you could tell your 18-year-old self one piece of musical advice, what would it be?
SH: Relax! The best music comes from a creative mind, and the mind can’t be as creative when it is over-thinking.