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Marietta College student Sarah McNeer sits in a blue chair holding a booked titled Piano Classics

Sarah McNeer’s final class with Marietta College Piano Instructor Karen Picard Young didn’t look like a typical piano lesson. Sitting outside Gilman Hall during an unseasonably warm April morning, the two talked about Sarah’s next big adventure: moving to Cleveland to begin a Ph.D. program in Biomedical Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

“Karen was actually one of the first people I told after I made a decision about which graduate school I would attend, and she was — and is — so excited for me and my future,” McNeer says.

Many know McNeer as an exceptional Biochemistry major and researcher — having earned Phi Beta Kappa and the Laura Scott Etter Prize for research — but she is also known in the Music Department as a hardworking and talented pianist. Having studied piano from third through the 10th grade, McNeer wanted to revive her interest in music as she took on the challenges of being in a difficult major. After the first semester of her freshman year, Marshall Kimball — now-retired Director of Bands — put her in contact with Young.

“Karen turned out to be exactly what I was missing,” McNeer says. “It was a perfect balance of pushing me to be better while also acknowledging that I had other responsibilities with my class work. I was able to enjoy playing again without feeling the pressure to prioritize piano over my coursework or ongoing research project, which often required an extra 10 to 15 hours a week in the lab. Karen was not only accepting, but extremely supportive of my career goals in my field.”

As with all Music 150 students, McNeer was provided 14 weekly private lessons with any instructor on whatever instrument she chose. Those weekly lessons gave McNeer the opportunity to practice difficult pieces and allowed Young to learn more about her student’s work as a science major, “which, for Sarah, meant hearing about what she was growing in petri dishes, and seeing her mind-boggling poster boards as she would prepare for presentations. With the pandemic, I loved hearing her thoughts on the vaccinations and virus.”

“To give an example of how she always went above and beyond,” Young says, “she performed Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 in the April 2nd Department Applied Recital this semester — this is a five-page difficult piece with polyrhythms (playing eighth notes in the left hand while your right hand plays triplets — this was a new skill for her, and she mastered it well) that she memorized and learned well enough to confidently perform for the department. … Sarah’s goal for this semester was to perform in one of these recitals and I’m proud that she not only achieved that, but she pulled it off with such grace! I’m telling you, she’s amazing.”

As McNeer enters the next phase of her education and her move to another city, she knows her Marietta College experience has prepared her well, “and I’m taking my piano to Cleveland!”

- Gi Smith