We had the good fortune of connecting with Sawyer Harrington-Verb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sawyer, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
Board games. Board games are my biggest hobby beyond music, and there’s a few specific reasons for it. One, they’re beautiful. I love being able to support designers and artists I truly love and being able to fill my apartment with unique art. Two, I love puzzles and systems. I love things that can scratch those intellectual itches.
The biggest reason board games make me happy is without a doubt the ability to sit around a table with people I love and do an activity that we can all share. Everyone has to put away the outside world and create a shared space when a board game is in front of you.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I began as a composer in the concert space. It’s what I studied in undergrad, and my appreciation for the world of music was filtered through that lens. The thing that draws a lot of people to concert composing is the sense of freedom. Composers are able to express their stories in a completely unencumbered way on the concert stage, and that freedom is what intimidated me about concert music. Audiences come to classical concerts to hear new and inventive music, but when there’s nothing but a performer and piece of sheet music between my internal artistic process and an audience, what is new and inventive has to be me. It has to be the things I say and feel. There’s definitely a pressure to say something that audiences hopefully want to hear, and there’s always a bit of imposter syndrome telling you that what you have to say will bore audiences. There’s always the fear that I am not good enough to deserve a place on the stage.
The thing I did love about composing for the concert stage was the collaboration with performers, seeing what they’re able to do with their instruments or voices and creating something that neither of you could do on your own. My favorite pieces I wrote while studying concert music were pieces where I allowed the performers to improvise or have a hand in the composing of the work itself.
I still loved concert music and wanted to pursue it, I also held a deep appreciation for film music. I listened to it a lot. I researched it. I really liked it. However, it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue until I wrote my first score for a play. It was in no way a solitary act. The number of people involved jumped immensely just by changing the medium. I needed to find the musicians to record like I normally would have to, but we also had recording engineers, a mixer, a producer, a stage manager, and of course the director with whom I had to collaborate on an artistic vision. It was the most collaborative experience I had up to that point.
Film and video game composition requires no ego whereas concert composing is, in the best way possible, mostly ego. With concert composing, you have to dig down deep to see what you have to say and come up with a vision. With media composing, you are one piece of creating an overall vision. You have to collaborate with every director, producer, coordinator, and musician to create a work that you all think audiences will enjoy and be able to connect with. In a way, the fear of not knowing what you want to say is lessened when you have collaborators with whom you can create something. I’ve loved working with student animators and directors during my time in undergrad and grad school. Knowing that I have a missing piece to a work they’ve been creating gives me both a sense of confidence, but also allows me to feel creatively fulfilled knowing that the work I create with them is stronger than the work either of us can create on our own.
I’ve recently been very lucky to be able to work in a space I’ve truly fallen in love with which is children’s interactive music. I’ve been able to contribute to a company called Hellosaurus by writing and editing underscore for many of their recent interactive video projects. I’ve been able to work on projects featuring The Wiggles, Laurie Berkner, and most recently Kellie Gerardi with an animated adaptation of her book Luna Muna! I’ve also been working with a company based out of Seattle called Novel Effect. They create “soundscapes” for children’s books, so while you read out loud, their app will listen to you and play corresponding sound effects and music. These projects are really exciting for me. I’ve been able to work with properties with a lot of name recognition or been able to use cutting edge technology to create something truly unique. When working on these projects I can feel that excitement not just in myself but in the teams of producers and composers I work with. The thing that really floors me everytime, however, is not the project. It’s when I think about the fact that there are children and families engaging with this content and listening to this music. All I can hope is that they’re enjoying it!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am so lucky to be on the upper east side! It’s one of the most wonderful areas in New York City with incredible restaurants and easy access to all of the best museums and theaters. The museum of natural history and the MET are close by. We frequent the zoos and ballparks. However, I personally think the most fun spaces in any city are dog parks and board game stores, and the city has some of the best! My partner and I have a little Boston Terrier named Reuben, and we take him to the dog park almost everyday. You meet some of the most like minded people at the park along with the weirdest people. Yet what binds everyone there is that they like dogs and like to see them play with each other. In the same way as the people, the dogs are able to meet the most like minded dogs as well as the weirdest dogs they’ve ever met. Carl Schurz Dog Run, and Bull Moose Dog Run are the best ones we’ve gone to in NYC.
We love all the board game cafes and stores in the area. The one we’re closest to is called Hex & Co. and it has one the most welcoming atmospheres of anywhere I’ve been. As someone who wants to play a board game at any and every moment, It’s quite wonderful being in a place where everyone around you wants to play a game. These are the places we feel the strongest sense of community here in this humongous city. They may not be as flashy or exciting, but if you want to meet people and feel like a part of something, there’s nothing like bonding over a puppy and a board game!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There’s a lot of people off the bat I have to thank. My parents supported me on every route. They supported me when I wanted to be a fireman, a zoologist, an actor, an ethnomusicologist, a concert composer, and finally a media composer. I also need to thank my new community of friends and teachers I found here in New York City. They showed me what it means to be a generous and humble person, but also how much better a career can be when you share it with friends.
The person I want to shout out most of all is my partner, Leah Lane. There’s nothing like knowing you’re a better person with someone by your side. My partner, Leah, is my favorite human. I love everything about her, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. But on top of that, she has also been a champion for my career. While I pursued a career in media composition, she pursued a career in television. We’re both very lucky to be working in such similar fields, and I can thank her for getting me into children’s entertainment. She works as a creative coordinator on the show Octonauts, and watching her go on this professional journey has taught me more about media than all my years of school. We’ve launched projects together, encouraged each other to create our own personal projects, or just simply been an ear to listen to our dumb dreams. She has gotten me more jobs in the short time I’ve been pursuing media composition than I will most likely get myself in a lifetime. She is relentlessly kind and passionate, and I will treasure her every day.
Leah Lane, Issy Lang