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Volume 24, Number 11 — December 2017

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Sean Collier

Sean Collier (photo by David Grace)
Sean Collier (photo by David Grace)

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | November 29, 2017

Sean Collier's love of music began with his first band concert in the fifth grade. Now, he's working toward his bachelor's degree in music and mathematics at Emory & Henry College. His minor is physics.

"I was in band through all of middle and high school, where I played clarinet, oboe and was the drum major for the marching band. I was also an active honor band participant, having played in top bands and chamber ensembles at schools such as Radford University, Virginia Tech and theUniversity of Virginia. These experiences helped to nurture and expand my love of music," he says. Sean is also a singer.

"There is such a plethora of fantastic music for all three (oboe, piano and voice), and each have their special place in my heart. Franz Schubert's art song "Wanderers Nachtlied,' Belá Bartók's piano work"For Children' and Antonio Vivaldi's"Oboe Concerto in D Minor'are some of my favorites, but fordistinct reasons that make itimpossible topick one over the others," he says.

His true love is the intersection of math and music.

"I am most interested in the interconnections music has with math, physics and culture, and how these things relate to our interpretation andunderstanding of a solo, choral work or symphony. In other words,why do we have such an emotionalresponse to music, and what is it in that amalgamation of notes, rhythms and text thatmakes us react in the way that we do?

"One of my favoritethings is the look on people's faces when I say that I'm a math and music double major. The two seem sodisjointed to many, but math andmusic are connected at the most fundamental level. Not only are they related through the physics of sound, but music is defined by patterns, relationships and ratios that can all be idealized through mathematics.

"In particular, my honors thesis is a mathematical evaluation of ArnoldSchoenberg's "Emancipation ofDissonance,' a cultural and historical exploration about why we feel the way we do about the musical objects called dissonances (musical"crunchies'). He leans towards history andcultureas the justification for our response to theseinstances, but Ibelieve it is the physical relationships between the notes that have played a larger role in this evolutionary process ofdissonance," he says.

Sean expresses his love for music by playing in every group he can. He is the drum major for Emory & Henry's marching band, a member of the basketball pep band, oboist in the symphonic band and woodwind quartet, tenor in the concert and chamber choirs, and plays with the Stateline Wind Symphony when possible.

"My approach to music is focused on what I want to communicate when performing. What feeling, image or idea does the music invoke, and how can I communicate that to the audience? Wrapped up within this is the composer's intent, and deciding what that may be and if I should follow it also plays a large role in how Iapproach a particular piece. It's a balancing game of getting across all of the little nuances described by the composer, while also having the freedom to express what I feel and what speaks to me. This idea is not something I had when Istarted to get involved with music, and it is only as I've matured that I've movedbeyond what's solely written on the page.

"Music is the language to express and to interpret,things that words fail to. It is the conduit by which we as human beings are able to come together,regardless of difference, to take part in somethingthat is universal. It's a preciousart form, one that is at the mercy of time, and whose fleeting quality makes it so very special. Music, to me, is home," Sean says.

He plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics with a focus in acoustics or harmonic analysis, its pure math counterpart. "I want to continue to pursue the question of why werespond the way we do as well as learn some cool math along the way. I will definitely continue with music and be involved inwhatever capacities are available to me. Music is something that is with you in all of life, regardless of what path you take," Sean says.

He is a senior at Emory & Henry. He's from Marion, Virginia, and is the son of Robin Bridgeman and Sidney Collier.

Topics: Music