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A heart full of notes

  • Published
  • By Chandra Brown
  • Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs Office
A little girl with a big heart and creative imagination dances and twirls through the living room. With her mouth she hums a tune, running her fingers up and down the plastic pipe connected to her mother's vacuum cleaner as she pretends to play a flute.

Her goal, to become the best flutist she can be, never realizing her dream would become a reality.

Staff Sgt. Sarah Carter's love for music stems back to her childhood.

"I always loved the sound of a flute and music, it was something I was attracted to," said Carter.

Raised in a single parent home in Virginia Beach, Va., her mother could not afford private music lessons or an instrument. In fifth grade, Carter joined the strings program at her elementary school because some of the instruments were provided by the school.

"The only instrument the school could donate was the cello. So I started playing it because I really wanted to get into music and it was free," said Carter.

She played the cello for a year, until she received a flute from a family friend.

"I taught myself how to play by ear, read music, and figured out the fingerings. I was a good cello player, but with the flute, I immediately made a sound. As a music teacher, I know for beginning flute students, it takes multiple lessons to get to that level," said Carter.

Carter played her way through college on a partial scholarship. When she was not studying, she worked to make ends meet.

She graduated with a degree in flute performance, taking over 20 credit hours her final semester and serving her school community as Student Government President, but her mother was still fearful for her future.

"My mother graduated with a French degree and spoke fluently, but she ended up becoming a counselor struggling to take care of our family and she didn't want me to end up like her."

Not really knowing what she was going to do after she completed her undergraduate degree, Carter was presented with a position she couldn't turn down.

"A few years earlier, I had played in an annual competition called the Hampton Roads Flute Fair. That's where the flute professor from the University of Tennessee told me I would be getting my master's degree with her. I didn't believe her because I had no intention of getting a master's degree initially." said Carter.

A few years later, Carter received a call offering her a teaching assistant position at UT. The school paid her tuition and offered a stipend.

"It was crazy, because I was at the point where I would either go back to school, work a temp job, or continue to teach private lessons. It was a God-sent moment for me."

Carter worked hard to complete graduate school, and with graduation around the corner her next step in life seemed unclear.

"On a whim, my teacher decided that I should take an audition at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with a classmate. I hadn't sent in an audition tape, but at the last minute with a recommendation I was invited," Carter said with a smile.

Unprepared and motivated to win, Carter performed the full-day audition and was chosen out of 18 people for a slot. But the slot didn't come as easily as she thought it would. Upon graduation, she was forced to wait two years before entering the Air Force in February 2006 due to a hiring freeze. Carter waited patiently every day for a call. She worked temporary jobs in unsafe locations.

"It was horrible. I worked at a section eight housing complex and this guy came in with a woman and they're talking, he goes outside and comes back in like this [simulates a gun with her hands], and starts shooting," said Carter. "It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and after it was all over, I remember telling myself that I was done with this."

Carter waited for what seemed like forever, but she really wanted to join the Air Force and make her mother proud, to prove that she could make a living doing something she loved.

Seven years later...

"I have been playing the flute for 22 years, seven in the Air Force, and I would have never imagined my life this way."

She has traveled around the world and performed a variety of pieces while in the Air Force, including the first movement of Mike Mower's "Concerto for Flute and Wind Orchestra," in which he rewrote the ending specifically for her. Carter has also written a feature piece called, "I Had a Dream" on DODLive Blog about her experiences in the Air Force.

"I went through a lot and worked hard to get to where I am today," said Carter. I have a really great life, and I try not to take that for granted. I would say for those aspiring to become a musician in the military, remember that the sky's the limit. You have to look at your life through the eyes of the world, and just take that first step."

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