Moving on: Sarah Hall leaves Salisbury after three decades of involvement in the arts

Sarah Hall talks with a Post reporter before she left for Waynesville.
Sarah Hall talks with a Post reporter before she left for Waynesville.

Sarah Hall doesn’t stay in one place too long.

Since moving to Salisbury about three decades ago she’s had more than a dozen jobs.


“Sarah has an active and restless intellect,” said Katie Scarvey, who worked with Sarah in the lifestyles department of the Post for five years. “She told me once about how when she as a child she became acutely aware of time passing, in an almost debilitating way. I think that awareness has stayed with her and propelled her.

“Sarah is someone who needs to be doing, making, teaching, learning, composing.”

Despite job hopping, Sarah never left Salisbury. That is, until this summer.

It happened on a whim. Sarah emailed the music department at Western Carolina University to see if they had any openings.

The response was quick and unexpected. They needed an adjunct music theory professor. She decided that day to take the job in Cullowhee and sent a quick text to her husband, Greg, with a heads up.

His response was a single word, “Cool.”

Greg decided to retire from Corriher-Lipe Middle School. Unlike Sarah, he had spent 31 years there without even the thought of moving.

The couple’s life had come full circle.

They had planned to start their family near Boone, where they had met as students at Appalachian State University.

“I got a fellowship to Michigan State University to do doctoral work, but when I found out I was pregnant the thought of moving that far away from my family and not knowing a single person didn’t feel right,” Sarah said.

Greg had applied for a job in Rowan County after wrapping up his master’s degree, but after three interviews didn’t land it.

“Greg found a job at a wine store, which is funny because he doesn’t drink,” Sarah said.

The pair found an apartment in Blowing Rock and had started to settle in when Greg received a call from the school system. The band director at Corriher-Lipe had fallen ill and wouldn’t be returning to work.

Greg traveled to Salisbury for another interview. This time, he got the job.

“I got kind of mad at Greg because he came down to interview for the job and then he came back and said ‘Well, I took the job,’” Sarah said. “I thought he should’ve talked to me about it.

“So, I wasn’t real thrilled about moving to Salisbury because I liked our little place in Blowing Rock and I was excited about living in the mountains.”

Sarah’s anger eventually subsided; she knew Greg’s heart was in the right place.

“We needed health insurance, that’s why he didn’t even ask me about the job,” she said. “Our life would have been totally different had I not gotten pregnant.”

The best of what’s around

Sarah embraced Salisbury, making the best of her time here.

“She’s taught everyone from college students to elementary students. She’s written operas. She’s led choirs, both children and adult,” Scarvey said. “She was the driving force behind the Salisbury Music School, later taken over by Marc Hoffman, who was her partner. She started Looking Glass Artist Collective.”

One of Sarah’s first jobs in the area was teaching music history and theory at Pfieffier University.

“While I was there, I took some education classes and ended up getting my certification,” she said. “That’s how later I ended up going into lateral entry at an elementary school.”

Sarah never had any intention of being a teacher.

“I didn’t think I liked children, but when I had my own I thought ‘Oh, they’re not so bad after all,’” she said. “After I started getting into it, I enjoyed it and found out I really had a knack for it.

“I just had a change of heart and a change of mind set.”

Sarah ended up being runner up for Teacher of the Year at both Hurley Elementary and Southeast Middle School.

“I really liked working with the younger children because you’re like Mary Poppins,” she said. “You come flying in once a week and they say ‘Oh, it’s the music teacher.’ They make you feel special.”

Sarah ended up leaving Southeast, where she was the first chorus teacher, in May 2004 to start the Salisbury School of Music with Hoffman.

“My father had Alzheimer’s, so I moved my parents down here,” she said. “When you’re teaching in a school you can’t just leave if somebody calls to say your father’s trying to hurt somebody, so it was really stressful and hard to teach.

“I decided in order to better take care of him I needed a job where I could make my own hours.”

She ended up turning the music school over to Hoffman completely when she landed a job at the Post working with Scarvey, who was lifestyle editor at the time.

“It wasn’t long before she had recruited me to be part of an arts retreat she had planned for her church, John Calvin Presbyterian, which was funded with a grant she had obtained. She urged me to teach a session on family stories, and I agreed,” Scarvey said. “It was a wonderful experience for me.”

Later, Scarvey said, Sarah saw singing talent in her daughter, Quinn, and invited her to sing at John Calvin.

“(It) was a beautiful and emotional experience for us,” she said. “When I got to know Sarah I realized that she is always paying attention to people, to their passions and talents, and she actively seeks ways to bring those passions and talents to the world,” Scarvey said.

New beginnings

Sarah decided to drop down to a part-time position at the Post when she was tapped to be the executive director of the Center for Faith & the Arts.

Mark Ritchie, a member of the center’s board of directors, said he consulted Sarah when the center decided to hire a paid part-time executive director.

“I had no idea Sarah herself would be that person when I first brought it up,” he said. “As the conversation went on, I ended up asking if she’d be interested.”

She worked for the nonprofit for 18 months.

“Her need to get full-time employment drove her away,” Ritchie said. “We were sorry to see her leave, she made a great contribution to getting the Center for Faith & the Arts back and running because in our transition from a full-time volunteer executive director to moving to paid staff positions, I think we lost some momentum.”

Ritchie said Sarah manages to work in a quiet way.

“Sarah is no flamboyant nor would I describe her as charismatic, but highly capable,” he said. “She is full of ideas, highly creative and very capable of taking the ideas and making them into a workable plan.

“I think she’s multi-talented and has demonstrated that by the way she’s led other organizations from choirs to art-centered things like the Looking Glass Artists Collective.”

Sarah founded the Looking Glass Artists Collective, now known as the Looking Glass Artists Center, in March 2008 before going to the Center for Faith & the Arts.

“I started that place because I had been interviewing all these people for my job at the Post and I kept hearing people over and over again say that they wished they could be an artist, but they didn’t have a studio or they didn’t have time or they didn’t have money,” she said. “I kept thinking what if I could get all these people together.”

Sarah finally took the plunge after reading economist Hans Abbing’s book “Why are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts.”

“Basically, what he was saying is that artists are poor because they don’t act like business people,” she said. “They don’t go out there and earn their money and act like they have a right to earn money; they wait for people to give them grants or gifts.

“I set up Looking Glass for all those people who said they didn’t have a place, time or money and, partly, to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the arts.”

Sarah said her vision for the collective was to have a space for art, music and theater that was “very collaborative and thematic.”

“Sarah is a visionary and an advocate for the arts – all artistic endeavors,” said Cindy Morgan, an art teacher at West Rowan High School. “She was constantly working behind the scenes and thinking about how to solidify the arts community.

“Many projects were incubated right in her own living room … Lee Street grew out of her vision for the Looking Glass Artists Collective.”

Scarvey said she doesn’t think Lee Street Theatre would exist in the vibrant way that it does today had it not been for Sarah’s effort with Looking Glass, which played host to the group in its infancy.

“My big overall dream for the place was never really realized, but good things came out of it because now we’re getting a whole new theater in Salisbury and there are still some wonderful shows at Looking Glass.”

Musically inclined

Sarah’s longest running job was working part-time as John Calvin Presbyterian Church’s director of music from 1986 to 2008. She continued attending church there until her move.

Longtime church member Peggy Wilson said Sarah is an “amazingly talented person” who will be truly missed

“She was our music person or about anything,” she said. “She directed the choir, played the piano, directed the children’s choir, headed up Bible school, headed up our Wednesday night live program, started a small art gallery.

“She honestly did everything but preach and I feel sure she would have handled that if needed.”

Sarah’s musical involvement fills her resume. She’s been the education director for the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra, the interim music director for the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society and the music director for the Amadeus Youth Choir.

Her passion for music began at an early age when she started taking piano lessons.

“My parents weren’t musicians, but they loved music,” Sarah said. “My mother would give me a choice of doing choirs or practicing piano, which was a brilliant way to get me to play.”

Sarah’s older brother played tuba and her younger sister played trombone. In high school, she taught herself French horn.

“We would all be in a different part of the house practicing at the same time,” she said. “That would make some parents crazy, but my mother just loved it.

“She thought it was so wonderful when we were all practicing our instruments.”

Sarah said her parents were very supportive when she decided to major in music at Appalachian.

“They never said don’t major in music, that’s not something that you’ll be able to get a job in,” she said.

She started dabbling in composing while she was in high school.

“My band director would use me as his in house arranger,” Sarah said. “People seemed to think it was very special and I would get a lot of attention because of it.”

But Sarah said it’s her husband who is the real musician.

“I’m a utilitarian piano player, I’m really not good at any instrument,” she said. “Greg is an excellent trumpet player, he’s like a virtuoso.”

Greg had been the principal trumpet player for the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra for years before the couple decided to move. He’s also played every Christmas Eve at St. John’s Lutheran for 30 years.

“I think he’s going to be missed more than me because the stuff that I’ve been doing I’m kind of through with, I’ve already handed it all over to other people so it’s not like I’m leaving a hole anywhere,” she said. “(Greg’s) leaving a big trumpet hole.”

What’s next

Sarah and Greg spent the summer transitioning from Salisbury to Waynesville.

“Waynesville is halfway between Asheville and Cullowhee,” she said. “It’s got a really thriving arts community with a great theater company and all kinds of art galleries.

“My entrepreneurial spirit is already churning, I’m thinking about starting another music studio just to teach piano lessons.”

Sarah has started teaching at Western and she’s now the booking agent for the indie-folk band Paleface, which is based out of Concord, but travels across the country.

“This will be a new experience for me. I have done booking on the venue side, but not from the musician’s side,” she said.

Right now, Greg is savoring retirement by fly fishing, playing tennis and growing his chess game. He’s planning to teach part-time at Western next semester.

Although Sarah doesn’t feel her presence in Salisbury will be missed, others disagree.

“I do believe that Salisbury’s losing someone who’s made great contributions, but at the same time I understand the reasons behind her move and wish her well,” Ritchie said. “I think she’ll be a blessing to the Waynesville community.”

Scarvey said she’s often wondered “a la ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’” what Salisbury would be like if Sarah hadn’t lived here.

“While I don’t think it would be a Potterville, without Sarah Hall it would definitely be a paler and less interesting version of the town we live in now,” she said. “She’s a creator, a connector, a facilitator. She sets good things in motion. She is a kind and generous person and also a force to be reckoned with. I will miss her.”

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