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Randolph’s got talent: Nashville star Sara Beck balances love of teaching with passion for performing

Psychology professor Sara Beck performs in The Show at Randolph

Psychology professor Sara Beck performs in The Show at Randolph

When she agreed to perform in Randolph’s popular once-every-four-years tradition, The Show, psychology professor Sara Beck didn’t know exactly what she was getting into. During her first year teaching, she had heard stories about the comedy skits, the dancing tea cups, and other unique “talents” that her colleagues would perform. But when it came time to choose her own act, she decided to share her true talents with the Randolph community: her voice and guitar skills.

Beck brought down the house when she performed the closing song, “This is Me,” from the movie, The Greatest Showman.

“I love that song. I love what it says, so it was a joy to have a reason to learn it and play something that I knew students would know and enjoy,” Beck said.

Performing in front of large crowds is nothing new for Beck, who, in addition to her new role at Randolph, has enjoyed an illustrious career in the music industry. Before moving to Lynchburg last year, she lived in Nashville for 21 years and recorded five albums, wrote songs for major label artists, and toured throughout the United States and Europe. She even struck up a friendship with legendary artist Stevie Wonder and performed as his special guest at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

Prior to joining the faculty at Randolph, Beck performed in a world tour with famed actor Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West

Prior to joining the faculty at Randolph, Beck performed in a world tour with famed actor Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West (photo credit: Mark Gillard)

Another highlight was Beck’s world tour with famed actor Kevin Costner and his band Modern West. Her husband, Park Chisolm, is a member of the group as well.

“It was amazing,” Beck said. “I was touring internationally, opening shows in beautiful theatres, and playing my songs for people who were there to discover new music. I am so grateful for that time, and it was especially amazing getting to do all of that with my husband and a band that feels like family.”

After the world tour, Beck teamed up with Costner and Modern West again to record vocals for the theme song, “I Know These Hills,” for the History Channel’s Emmy Award-winning television mini-series, Hatfields and McCoys.

“It turned out to be a really special song,” Beck said. “It was written from the unspoken perspective of the women in the story in a way that was really powerful. It was really a privilege to perform that song and to see where it went in the world.”

Despite her success as a musician and artist, Beck always had broad interests. One day, after nearly 10 years of touring and recording music, her life shifted during a conversation with John Rieser, her undergraduate advisor from Vanderbilt University. She was interested in his research on singing and how perception and action come to act as a coordinated system, and she wanted to contribute. That started a ball rolling that led to Beck working with Rieser and eventually earning her Ph.D.

Psychology professor Sara Beck lectures during one of her classes at Randolph

Psychology professor Sara Beck lectures during one of her classes at Randolph

“I immediately loved being in that kind of intellectual environment and working with him, and it made me realize that this was the kind of thing I had been missing,” Beck said. “I also liked working with college students because I think it’s such an amazingly rich time, and I love getting that interaction and energy from them, which is why I liked the idea of being a teacher.”

Now at Randolph, Beck has found a place where she can combine all of her passions. She released a new album this summer and still performs at venues across the country. She also continues to study music and how it intersects with children’s social behavior. This summer, she worked with Alexander Conway ’20 on a research project focused on children’s social engagement in a group musical setting.

“Randolph is such a unique, beautiful community, and it was exactly what I was looking for,” Beck said. “The students are inquisitive, and it’s a space where I can grow as a teacher and as a scholar and live a rich, abundant life of my own. I was really drawn to this place, and I’ve ended up liking it even more than I thought I would.”



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