Sarah Langford knew at 3 years old, when she first saw a violin onstage, that she wanted to play that instrument.
A few years later, she began lessons, eventually playing with a traveling group from the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute.
While in high school in Michigan, she began to notice that the violin sounded different, particularly in the upper registers. After coming to the University of Kentucky on a full academic scholarship, Langford decided to have her hearing checked.
The diagnosis was devastating to someone who depends on hearing for her art: progressive genetic hearing loss. Langford, an adopted only child, didn’t know she was at risk and had no illnesses or infections that would have predicted such a hearing loss.
“It seemed like it was pretty quick, but things have actually slowed down a bit,” Langford explained.
Still, Langford quit violin for three years because she was discouraged by her hearing loss. But she picked it up again after being inspired by a video of “my idol, Hilary Hahn,” she said. Hahn is an American violinist who made her major orchestra debut at 12 and began recording at 16. She has won three Grammy Awards.
Hearing aids help Langford, but even in a recent telephone interview she was sitting inside a car and projecting the call through the auto’s sound system.
Langford, 22, got her degree in health science from UK and now works in a university lab. It allows her to pay tuition to take her music courses, and in the fall she’ll begin a four-year pharmacy program.
The best part of her week, Langford said, is playing with the UK Symphony. This is her third semester playing with the group.
“It’s pretty easy for me to hear percussion when the brass is really loud, obviously,” Langford said. “I always try to look up at the conductor, make sure I’m on the same page as everyone else.”
“I enjoy it a different way than everybody else,” Langford said of her relationship with music. “I think I do it just as much for me as for everybody else. It’s important for me to adapt.”
“Anyone can play music,” Langford said. “Anyone can enjoy music. It’s important for it to be a part of anyone’s life.”
Dan Mason, who has worked with Langford for about a year, said that, “in terms of producing a natural singing sound on the violin, she is among the most gifted.”
A professor of violin at UK and concertmaster of the Lexington Philharmonic, Mason said that Langord “identifies first and foremost as a musician. ... It’s very admirable what she has accomplished, what she does accomplish. Her commitment to the music and to the instrument is that of a role model.
“Whatever she has to do at this point to compensate she does very, very well.”