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How songwriting saved Sara

Hungary-born Belsize Park musician who moved to the UK aged five is studying at prestigious US music college and preparing to release her debut album

10 August, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Camden musician Sara Barta is studying at Boston Berklee College of Music

IT seems Sara Barta has some focus. Having barely turned 20, the Belsize Park musician has overcome bulimia, learned to speak English, taught herself guitar, become a songwriter, won a coveted place at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and is nearly ready to release her debut album.

Sara, who moved to the UK from Hungary with her family aged just five, didn’t know any English when she first started at Christ Church Primary School.

“I remember being so shy and not being able to say a word,” she said.

“Me and my brother were thrown straight into school and we didn’t know what was going on. I met two of my best friends there, they taught me how to speak English. They sat with me every break and lunchtime.”

At around the same time Sara started playing piano and singing, encouraged by her parents who could see that their daughter had some talent. As she got older, Sara began to teach herself to play guitar and write songs.

She said: “I was going through a really rough time at school. I wasn’t really too interested in anything like science or maths and that was hard. I started doing what most girls do: bulimia, self-harm.

“One day I was like, ‘I can’t carry on doing this’. I ended up in hospital.”

Sara learned to cope through her songwriting.

She said: “I remember one day listening to a song by a girl on Facebook that went viral. It was a really sad song, about her dad killing himself or something. I just remember thinking, if she can get through that and write a song about it, why can’t I? This makes me feel good. I thought, what if I wrote a song like this with all my thoughts and feelings? So I did and it made me feel good. It was a song about my bulimia – my first ever song. I don’t think it had a name.”

Sara played it for her parents. She said: “My parents were really pleased. I remember my mum being so happy and asking, ‘can you play it for me?’ I remember her crying. I asked why and she said, ‘that’s the most emotional song, I don’t remember anyone that young singing about something so deeply’.

“They really liked the fact that I was using music rather than drugs or anything else because that was what some of my friends were doing.”

Sara moved schools and things began to settle down. Her parents encouraged her to take part in as many sports as possible to keep her away from others around her who had begun smoking weed. It was clear her strength was in her music – and she gained 99 per cent in her music GCSE. She moved to Tring Park School for the Performing Arts for her A-levels.

“They separated it into academic studies in the morning,” she said. “We had school until 7pm, then the afternoon was vocational training, it was a boarding school – it was a lot of fun. I had the most amazing teachers. Being away from family made me more independent and strict rules and regulations helped me grow.”

Sara began to develop her sound. She said: “I can’t describe my sound because so many people say it’s very different. Right now it’s very pop-country.”

Sara began to consider Berklee when she heard a friend had auditioned for the famous college.

She said: “I started to look, speaking to teachers, asking is this the school for me? It’s hard to get into, I think the percentage acceptance rate is about 15 per cent. I started looking at other schools and ended up getting into pretty much all of them, so I had the choice. But my mum said, ‘you may as well audition for Berklee’. So I went on the last day of auditions, sang an original song, did the interview and came out not knowing how it went.

“I remember getting an email two weeks later but I couldn’t load it because I was on a plane. I couldn’t look at it for four hours.”

Happily, Sara was accepted and, for the past two years, she has decamped to Boston for term time for a gruelling schedule of Fame-like studies.

She said: “It’s a different system to anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve made the most amazing friends and connections there. The teachers are top of the top, it’s hard and time consuming.

“I have to do liberal arts as well as music, philosophy, etc.

“Boston is amazing, though really cold, sometimes minus-25 degrees.”

When Sara returns to Camden for the holidays, she can be found performing in local pubs and her first album should be out by the end of the year.

She said: “It’s very centred around my ex who was my boyfriend at the time – these songs mean everything to me. I feel it hits hard-hitting issues. I think the name of it is going to be Save Me.”

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