Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Cape Cod Symphony Youth Orchestra, Massachusetts All-State Orchestra, Southeast Senior Music Festival, Croatia — these ostinatos punctuate the music career of Sarah Ortlip-Sommers.
Oh, and don’t forget the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school, because Sarah is a high schooler.
Sarah, who was also the editor of the school newspaper junior and senior year and took more AP classes in a year than most take in four, was a concertmaster for the Cape Cod Symphony Youth Orchestra for three years. She calls her violin an extension of herself and credits her parents Michele Ortlip and Josh Summers for her achievements.
“My mom used to take me off-Island every week to play with the orchestra,” said the composed, soft-spoken 18 year old. “I don’t know where I would be without her.”
She finishes sentences with small side smiles, which she does often when talking about her most recent achievement: being named valedictorian of the class of 2014.
On a recent sparkling early June day, she sat in the hazy sunshine on a park bench in Edgartown. Her fingernails were painted mint green. “I never really have time to paint my nails,” confessed the senior, who is bound for Stanford University in the fall. Lately she had been splitting her time preparing for graduation, where she’ll deliver a speech, and prepping herself to move out west and attend college. “I’m so excited to go dorm shopping,” she said.
Multitasking is something Sarah’s been doing since she was six years old. “That’s when I first started playing the violin,” she said. But her journey to concertmaster and playing first violin didn’t come naturally.
“I had a lot of trouble holding the bow,” she recalled. Wrist movement, balance, pronation, arm movement fluidity, it’s all a lot for a six-year-old. “So I had to practice a lot.”
She first picked up a violin while at the West Tisbury School, where she had the option of choosing an instrument for the orchestra. “When I went to pass in the form, my mom asked if I was sure it was the violin I wanted to sign up and play. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to play the cello?’ my mom asked.”
She was sure. “My life would have been so different, because my life revolves so much around a violin. I loved it and I still love it,” she said. She began with the Suzuki method, training her ears to listen to the music before reading it. “I played a lot of Twinkle Little Star,” she smiled.
“It wasn’t hard to get her to practice,” recalled her mother this week. “She didn’t want to stop. If there was a difficult moment in a song or a bump in the road, she would work it until she would get over it. It was very sweet, she really enjoyed it. She also liked getting to the next song.” The Ortlip-Sommers family moved to the Vineyard from New Jersey when Sarah was three years old, before her little sister Isabelle, now 13, was born. “When we moved here and we found out there was a strings program, we were thrilled,” Michele Ortlip said.
Sarah’s always been a singer, too, her mother said. “I remember hearing this sweet little soprano voice all the time. She was always singing, this curly-haired blond girl twirling around. And I’ve always thought she was a good writer, too . . . And then she got involved in the [high school] newspaper and realized she really liked journalism.” This winter Sarah was a student intern for the Gazette.
She said writing was an interest that was slower to develop.
“Oh, I hated writing in middle school,” she said. “In eighth grade I had to write a poem every night and I remember it took me hours.”
She still doesn’t care for poetry, but the routine practice instilled in her a desire to continue striving for a goal she wanted to reach. “I love journalism and I love writing short stories,” she said. “I like leading people and editing and writing. I never thought of myself as a writer. But some people on the paper start as freshmen and by the end of the year they don’t need my help anymore and it’s really rewarding.”
She experiences this in the orchestra too. “I’ve been concertmaster and you have to lead the entire orchestra musically and have to make a decision with bowings and fingerings,” she said.
She is not the boastful type and rarely speaks about her accomplishments.
In her application to Stanford, she had to write an essay telling her future roommate something about herself.
“Avocados and coffee,” she said, holding her hands together over her heart. “I love avocados. I am obsessed with them.” Avocados with eggs, on toast, as guacamole and on their own — any way she can eat them, she will. “That’s probably why I got into Stanford,” she joked. “Because I wrote about avocados and they love avocados there.”
But her mother knows the real reason she got into her first choice school early decision, and said it had nothing to do with avocados. “She really knows how to move forward and stay focused and never seems to let things bog her down. She has patience and dedication. And I’m really so proud of her. I couldn’t be happier for what is ahead for her, and I think she’s well prepared for the great unknown that’s coming for her future. I wish she was closer, but she’ll always be able to come back here,” said Michele Ortlip. “This will always be my home,” Sarah said of Martha’s Vineyard. “Oh, that sounds so clichÃ©, but it’s true.”