As you move through the abandoned mineshaft in desperate search of an exit, there’s a sense of ever-present danger as you leap from rocky ledges to balance precariously on pieces of wood that act as tiny islands on the lake of molten lava beneath you. The soundtrack, with its marimba trilling up and down punctuated with synths and drums, no doubt mimics your own heartbeat as you try to escape from the Magmatic Mines.
Sarah Henneberger ’24 started composing music for video games at the age of 16. Her friend was designing some scenery for a popular game, Flood Escape, and asked if she wanted to write music for it just for fun. Henneberger’s dad, John ’88, was in a band when she was younger and had installed a recording studio in their basement. She started tinkering with digital software to create layers of sound with different instruments and discovered she loved the creative process.
She started small, hired by friends and people she knew to score scenes in video games. She developed a portfolio under her “blastii” screen name, and two years later she was asked to score an entire game on the Roblox platform that also hosts Flood Escape. And in a full-ecircle moment, the creator of the original Flood Escape game, who had heard her music, asked her to score an entire level for Flood Escape 2—the lava-filled mineshaft. At just 18 years old, Henneberger created an LLC to officially launch her videogame music-making business.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to make a video game,” Henneberger says. “I love the creative freedom.”
BC’s digital media arts major was a perfect fit for Henneberger, who felt it was a good umbrella for creative subjects including photography, physical art and website design. Through a class with Practitioner in Residence Ron Alabanza, Henneberger worked on a semester-long project in which each group had to design a website.
For her music minor, Henneberger has taken composition lessons with Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Ryan Keebaugh ’02. Beyond writing music, Keebaugh has also demonstrated how to push through doubting one’s own creative ability. Both Alabanza and Keebaugh have been instrumental as mentors for Henneberger at Bridgewater.
“Bridgewater is such a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the people are all positive and happy,” Henneberger says. “The professors are amazing, and I’ve been connected to so many cool opportunities here.”
Henneberger not only writes music but performs as well. At BC, she is a member of the Concert Choir and Chorale, and she performs in the Oratorio Choir alongside her grandmother, Judy Nolen Henneberger ’64.
The 60-voice Oratorio Choir is a decades-long tradition comprised of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. This fall, the choir performed The Lost Birds, by Christopher Tin, a sweeping and elegiac musical memorial to bird species driven to extinction by human activity. Henneberger performed a solo during the show.
“In the realm of creativity, there are individuals who possess a unique ability to seamlessly blend diverse artistic principles, and Sarah stands as a shining example of this extraordinary fusion,” Keebaugh says. “As a performer, she has a presence that commands attention, leaving audiences spellbound with each performance. As a soloist, her performances are marked by an intimate connection with the music, transposing listeners to ethereal realms. And as a composer/collaborator, Sarah has crafted music that lingers in the heart, mind and soul after the last chord has faded.”
Through her digital songwriting, Henneberger says she now hears music differently, whether studying songs for her work or listening for fun. She gravitates toward heavy electronic music—the opposite of what she likes to write. Her favorite scenes to score are calming, almost-magical settings, and she relies on natural-sounding instruments such as bells, strings and piano. To date, she has written music for 20 to 30 video games.
Over the summer, Henneberger teamed up with two others, a programmer in Canada and a back-end builder in Georgia, to make a video game of their own from start to finish, including concept, design and marketing. They started in late May and celebrated a July 9 release date of the game, 10 Seconds, in which players complete a variety of mini games that are all 10 seconds long. Henneberger hopes to pursue a career in video game design while continuing to make music.
– Jessica Luck