July 6th was a glum, overcast Friday afternoon–the kind where people would usually retreat inside their air-conditioned homes. Some loyal music-lovers, however, emerged from their shelters and went out on the town to General Zapata’s on East 4th Street to listen to some beautiful, acoustic covers of their favorite hits and to feast on $5 tacos. From noon to two, the hidden gem’s customers were blessed with the relaxed sounds of Kara Hartzell’s happy, shining voice and guitar skills.
Kara Hartzell, a Mt. Bethel native who just recently moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, is an independent bassist, singer, songwriter– and her own personal manager.
“I like having the ability to pick and choose my performance venues,” Hartzell says. “I’d like to think of it as a hobby, although I do perform anywhere from 5-15 times a month between my solo act, as well as with a variety of professional organizations on the string bass, including the Allentown Band, America’s Oldest Civilian Concert Band, Lehigh University ensembles, Christ Lutheran 12th Night Orchestra, and more.”
A trained musician, Hartzell can play up to 2-3 hours without even breaking a sweat. Considering her experience recording professionally at Hybrid Studios in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and performing as a bassist for such bands as A Golden Era and Alexy Mery & the Townsmen, I don’t doubt her.
Despite having so many experiences as a professional, the musical memory that most strikes a chord with Hartzell is when she was in high school. Back when she was a budding, young bassist, Hartzell played annually for Mansfield University’s music camps. There, she had the pleasure of working with Dr. Michael Galloway, a jazz professor who inspired her to arrange and compose.
“I am a lifelong learner, and he fostered that drive for my own education,” Hartzell said. This is a drive that she passes on to her niece, Merryn, who tries to play along with Hartzell on the piano while sitting on her lap when she comes to visit. “She’s two, but I’m starting her musical interests young!”
Passion Meets Reality
Although she has found a lot of happiness in sharing music to her wide audience, Hartzell still finds scheduling to be a big difficulty as a performer.
“It’s incredibly time-consuming to book gigs, let alone compile a schedule that is conducive to working around my career and personal schedule,” she explains.
And who can blame her? Not only does Hartzell perform solo now, but she also teaches middle school instrumental music in Newton, New Jersey on weekdays.
“One of the greatest skills I have learned through my development as a performer is when to say ‘no.’ You have to learn how to find a balance between establishing yourself as a musician and accepting gigs that support your end goal, whatever that may be.”
When talking about what makes a good session, like most recently at General Zapata’s, Hartzell explains that if she has the ability to perform and play music, then that is a gift in and of itself.
“If I reach one person and put a smile on their face during my performance, I have fulfilled my purpose”, she said. “But, as far as my purpose is concerned, I am already a star every day when I pass on the gift of music to my students. And as far as fortune is concerned, my fortune is found in the joy I share with my friends, the love I share with my family, and the great adventure of life I have before me!” In other words, don’t expect Hartzell to be searching for traditional fame anytime soon.
A Little Advice
When asked if she had any advice for anyone pursuing music– whether it be in front of customers at a Mexican restaurant or for a full arena– Hartzell said to just go for it!
“I’d tell any person who wants to explore the art of expression through music to find a means that interests them. Take lessons! Join a group class! Learn from a friend! Collaborate! If something doesn’t work out right away, try again. There is something out there for everyone. You just have to find your niche!”
Make sure to give her latest EP, When I’m Home, a listen below.
*Feature image courtesy of Hartzell’s website.*