Born and raised in Brainard, NY – a small hamlet near the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts – Sarah Kohrs is a talented musician and prolific songwriter. Her thoughtful compositions have a pop flare and bring to mind the work of Joni Mitchell or Stephen Sondheim.
Sarah began singing at the age of four and studying classical piano at seven. Scholarships led her to the Eastman School of Music, where she encountered jazz players who happily introduced her to styles of music she'd never studied. She fell in love with the new styles and soon found herself a regular at Java’s coffeehouse, the local hotspot for improvisational jazz.
After graduating from Eastman, Sarah earned a law degree at Georgetown University Law Center. She moved to Boston where she spent her days working as an attorney and her nights writing and recording pop songs.
In 2010, while traveling through Greece, Sarah was infected by a parasite. The parasitic infection was so debilitating that Sarah had to leave her job in Boston and return to her hometown of Brainard. As she recovered, she began working part time at a small law firm in Great Barrington, MA and slowly returned to performing music. One night while playing at an open-mic session, Sarah met Mark Tuomenoksa, a local musician, arranger and composer who was so impressed by her songs that he believed them to be lesser-known covers of some famous artist, saying, \"They're too good to have been written by someone from around here.\"
The two soon became friends and collaborators, writing, recording and performing together. Since then, Sarah’s catalogue of original songs has grown into the hundreds. Her style has blossomed into something reminiscent of Joni, but with a jazz edge and the country flare of her roots in rural New York. Sarah has performed locally as well as in New York; Asheville, NC; Baton Rouge, LA; and New Orleans.
Mark Tuomenoksa is one of those rare individuals who is neurologically ambidextrous, equally comfortable with both left-brained (analytical) and right-brained (experiential) thinking. Schooled at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music, Mark is an accomplished musician who also happens to have spent seventeen years at Bell Laboratories where he was a Principal Investigator in the research division and a protégé of Nobel Laureate, Arno Penzias.
As a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist, Mark has developed software and algorithms for implantable devices and adapted smart watches to detect seizures. As a musician (who plays saxophone, flute, keyboards, bass and guitar), he has composed jingles and award-winning film soundtracks, produced albums, and performed everywhere from Boston to New York to Las Vegas.
Mark considers his accomplishments to be primarily the result of good fortune or providence, rather than skill or effort. Growing up in Wheaton, Illinois with Asperger's Syndrome and a host of other developmental challenges, Mark struggled in school both socially and academically. He'd generally misinterpret instructions from teachers and was gifted at saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the worst time (a gift he claims still to possess).
Things began to change for him at the age of ten when he entered the fifth grade and was recruited into the school band program. Although his mother wanted him to play trumpet, Mark had watched a movie on television in which Marilyn Monroe states her weakness for saxophone players, "especially tenor saxophone players." Rather than coming home from school with a trumpet, Mark lugged in a tenor sax, yanked it out of the case, put it together as he'd been instructed, and began trying to get a sound out of it. It wasn't long before Mark was sounding out songs he'd heard on the radio. By the time sixth grade rolled around, he walked daily to the junior high for rehearsals with the eighth grade band before heading to his elementary school.
Mark found that playing the saxophone gave him a sense of confidence and control he'd never experienced. While explanations of math, language or science were ambiguous, music had a clear semantic that always made sense. By the time he was fifteen Mark was writing scores for the high school jazz band and choral arrangements for the choir. Academically, he did terribly, spending much time in remedial classes, and it seemed unlikely that he would make it through high school. However, teachers who saw his struggles created classes in which Mark was one of few or the only student - classes like big band arranging, film scoring, composition, and theory. Mark's performance in the manufactured classes balanced his poor grades in his other classes, enabling him to graduate from high school.
Three years later Mark was married with a child on the way. When his first daughter was born, he had no health care, so, after paying cash at the hospital, Mark decided it was time to find a day gig with health insurance. A family friend helped him secure a clerical job at Bell Laboratories. Anxious to do well, Mark stayed after work every day to teach himself how use the computer. After mastering the basics, Mark began exploring programming, which felt remarkably like writing musical scores. Within six months Mark was moved from the mailroom to an engineering team. He earned a computer science degree at night school and later a masters of science degree.
Since getting a break at Bell Labs, Mark has pursued professional work in technology and in music. While working at Bell Labs, he regularly performed with local bands at venues including Asbury Park's Stone Pony and New Brunswick's Melody Bar. He developed new communications systems during the day. At night, he wrote jingles for local radio and television advertisements as well as soundtracks for documentary films.
Years later, Mark left Bell Labs to start his own Internet security company. He raised more than 53 million dollars in venture capital and, in 2003, his product was named Network Magazine’s Product-of-the-Year. (See article on Salon.com.) Over the past ten years Mark has split his time among pro bono work for organizations in human-development and autism-treatment, developing new and interesting technology projects, and playing and writing music.
Mark lives in the Berkshires of Western, Massachusetts with his wife Iris and their dog Bebop, though if you ask him, he'll describe it as living in heaven with an angel (and her dog). He feels wonderfully lucky to have been given the opportunities life has afforded him, but in particular, lucky to have found a musical collaborator and friend like Sarah Kohrs.