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Songwriter keeps many balls in the air

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In that she's actually making a living as a songwriter and performer in Nashville, Sara Beck has beaten the odds. In her latest pursuits, however, one might think she's pressing her luck.

Beck, the first-time mother of a not-quite-2-year-old daughter, is working toward master's and doctoral degrees in developmental psychology at Vanderbilt University. And although she has curtailed her performing schedule a bit, she still plays gigs and is also composing and recording music for a children's television show now in development.

People, including your humble correspondent, have questioned her sanity.

"In some ways it's a crazy thing," allows Beck, who appears at the One World Coffeehouse in Owen Brown on Saturday, Aug. 16, with fellow Howard County native and Nashville transplant Risa Binder. But all the pies in which Beck has her fingers these days share common fruits.

Her graduate studies, for which a former undergrad professor of Beck's enlisted her, involve research into how music relates to cognition in children. "Kids learn from making music, including sharing behavior," says Beck. "At the same time, I have a little person at home who is doing this same kind of learning."

Meanwhile, Beck has been writing songs for "Moozie the Cow," a robotic bovine built by former customer relations consultant Ted Dreier in his garage in 1998. He's since built more Moozies and conducts programs for kids focused on instilling kindness to self and others.

Dreier is now looking to bring Moozie to local television in Nashville, and Beck is directing the show's music, recording child singers and composing the songs.

"It's almost like jingle writing," she observes. "It's all hooks and concepts."

Beck knows her way around a hook, having carved out a niche for herself in Music City. But while she still works religiously at her own stuff, she's lately been rediscovering — and teaching herself to play — more of the work of her favorite songwriters, including Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson and Patty Griffin.

The endeavor serves as yet another component in Beck's education.

"I've been in songwriting school this summer," she says.

The songwriter says her Columbia set will include more covers than One World Coffeehouse audiences are accustomed to hearing from her. She's lost count of how many times she's played the venue, which is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, where her parents are active members.

Risa Binder has never played the Columbia coffeehouse, but she's had gigs at Wine in Woods. While the Howard High grad was still living here, she performed at several shows at Toby's Dinner Theatre, including "Annie Get Your Gun," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "It's a Wonderful Life," in which she played the young Mary Hatch.

Binder credits much of what she's learned about performing to her work with the theater's founder, Toby Orenstein.

"Toby is one of the best teachers I've ever had."

At Toby's, Binder also worked alongside Sara Beck's sister Heather, a frequent cast member. But even though both grew up in Howard County, Binder and Sara Beck did not know each other until each of them had relocated to Nashville, Binder by way of New York.

Binder did know Beck's work, though, and recorded Beck's "Burning Down the Dark."

"I can't stop singing it," Binder says.

After the two artists did become acquainted, Beck recruited Binder to open at her return One World engagement. "I can't wait. Sara's told me how great the audience is there," Binder says. "The arts are so incredibly supported in Howard County."

Binder's getting support nationally, too. SiriusXM satellite radio recently picked up her single, "Gotta Have You," for its The Highway channel.

"It's such an honor to share the air with my country heroes," Binder says. "The first time I heard myself on the radio, I had to pull over."

Sara Beck appears with Risa Binder at the One World Coffeehouse Saturday, Aug. 16. The concert, presented by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, takes place at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia, and begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets at the door cost $15 for adults, $7 for those 12 and younger. Tickets ordered in advance at http://www.uucolumbia.net/concerts cost $12 for adults and $6 for youth.

A portion of the proceeds benefit people in need through the UUCC Minister's Discretionary Fund. For information, call 410-381-0097 or go to uucolumbia.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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