For Sarah Scharbrough, the holiday season becomes a juggling act.
“December is by far and away our busiest time of year,” she said. “I have over 25 concerts and events booked. I’m so thankful for the work and it’s also crazy putting the puzzle together of live performing, often being on the road, and prioritizing family commitments. ‘Tis the season.”
Scharbrough, a Noblesville singer and pianist, will appear with Ryan Ahlwardt at 4:30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
“The Dec. 3 (show) is special because it’s the first time we’ve done our big holiday show in an all-ages venue,” Scharbrough said. “In addition to having Ryan Ahlwardt, I’m really bringing all of the youthfulness because my five kids will make their debut performance together and the varsity show choir, the Noblesville Singers, will also be making guest appearances.”
Her husband, Jeff McLaughlin, the Westfield High School music teacher, plays drums/percussion.
“Jeff is such an amazing musician and all-around human and brings so much talent and skill to every group with which he plays,” Scharbrough said. “My brother Stephen Scharbrough is my guitarist — we’ve literally been making music together our whole lives. My sister Suzanne Cogswell sings with us at holiday time every year. And, of course, Bethany Robinson is amazing on bass/vocals.”
Robinson, the Noblesville High School jazz band program director, frequently performs with Scharbrough.
“Collaboration is the name of the game for me,” Scharbrough said. “The only way to keep growing and learning is to constantly get outside of yourself, your ears, your confirmation bias on what’s working — this goes for music and everything else, in my opinion — and remain open to new sounds, vibes, thought patterns. There are a handful of artists that are or have been based here and I regularly collaborate with them. I love, love, love writing and performing with people. It keeps every live performance changing and fresh, too, because the interaction with another artist and another audience keeps changing.”
Scharbrough and Ahlwardt will appear as special guests in vocalist Jon McLaughlin’s holiday show Dec. 8 at the Palladium.
“Jon and I perform a lot together and I’m always impressed with his skill and stage presence,” Scharbrough said of her brother-in-law. “He’s just a delightful artist to work with time and time again. I’m especially eager to work with the other artists on the roster.”
Scharbrough and Ahlwardt will appear together Dec. 15-17 for seven shows at The Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis.
“The Jazz Kitchen is always so unique because of our long history with the venue and it’s such a fun adult night out, swanky vibe, gourmet food,” Scharbrough said. “We’ve made it a tradition to play there yearly and now the audience has made it theirs, too.”
Scharbrough said she sticks with a holiday theme.
“We typically incorporate a few other originals or standards, but we like the nostalgia of the classics,” Scharbrough said. “I have two new Christmas singles I’m releasing this year, so there will definitely be some new holiday tunes in this year’s heavy rotation.”
Ahlwardt, a Fishers resident and former member of Straight No Chaser, was introduced to Scharbrough’s music several years ago.
“It felt like we’d known each other for years the first time we met,” Ahlwardt said. “I love Sarah’s voice, musicianship on the piano and accordion and sense of humor. There’s a fun sibling dynamic to our friendship, which always leads to a lot of laughter anytime we’re onstage together. We absolutely would’ve been friends in high school if we’d gone to the same school.”
A Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, Ahlwardt said this is favorite time of year to perform.
“I love the nostalgia of the holiday season and the opportunity that live music creates to bring people together this time of year,” Ahlwardt said. “I love performing the title song of my holiday album ‘Indiana Christmas,’ which was written by my friend and the founder of Straight No Chaser, Dan Ponce. I also perform a medley of Leonard Cohen’s nonholiday, though spiritual, song ‘Hallelujah’ and my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night.’ It’s a powerful, intimate moment for me and my audiences anytime I get to perform it over the holidays.”