Skip to main content

Find Your Center: Sounds of Spring

Student Center fellows showcase community through music

Wander through the Student Center at Harvard Griffin GSAS in the evening at this time of year and you’ll likely hear voices raised in song, piano notes fluttering up and down, and the steady, insistent beat of percussion. These are the sounds of Harvard Griffin GSAS students composing, rehearsing, and preparing for their end-of-term concerts—including this month’s Sounds of Spring musical showcase that brought together the Student Center’s choir, jazz, and world music collective ensembles. Along with the orchestra, these groups are each managed by one of the Center’s four music fellows who work together and individually to connect students through the music they love. 

Raising Her Voice

As a new student at Harvard Griffin GSAS, Eboni Monae Arnold attended the Student Center Open House Party event at the start of the academic year where she and her friends impressed during the karaoke sing-along. “It really inspired others to sing too, and I loved seeing the smiles on the other students' faces,” she says. A PhD candidate in biological and biomedical sciences who spends most of her time at Harvard’s Longwood Campus, Arnold wanted to learn more about Cambridge and graduate student events, so she decided to become a fellow. 

This year, Arnold revived the once-dormant Student Center Choir holding rehearsals and also organizing events like the recent Lunch and Learn with Jan Iyer, PhD ’20, who studies the science of hearing and its connection to music. “I’m thrilled to help create spaces where students can come together,” she says, “especially the Sounds of Spring event.”

Swing Along

Arnold’s showcase collaborator, Student Center Jazz Fellow Rachel Savage, grew up in Dakar and Senegal and then lived in Oregon and on the East Coast. A PhD candidate in cellular and molecular biology, Savage is a pianist who brings her passion for music, composing, and performing to the jazz ensemble’s jam sessions, rehearsals, and performances. "I got into jazz when I found an old Billie Holiday record, and since then have never stopped listening and playing,” she says. "If I could make a Faustian bargain to play like any pianist, I'd choose my hero, Hampton Hawes."

Savage invites Harvard Griffin GSAS students to take a break from academic work and join the relaxed, fun, and collaborative rehearsals. With several different ensembles, the jazz group offers musicians of all levels the opportunity to play and improvise. 

The Student Center Jazz/World Music Collective Winter 2023 Concert
The Student Center Jazz Band and World Music Collective came together for a recent concert at Lehman Hall.
Courtesy of the Student Center at Harvard Griffin GSAS

A World of Music

Like Eboni Monae Arnold, World Music Collective Fellow Ethan Cowan resurrected a group that had fallen off during the pandemic years. “The World Music Collective brings together students interested in exploring music beyond the Euro-American tradition through rearranging, composing, and performing music that draws on various national, regional, and local music cultures,” he says. “Students are invited to bring songs, sounds, and instruments they love to the group, often teaching them to fellow students.” 

The World Music Collective learns 8-10 songs each term and has performed pieces from countries such as Italy, Russia, Pakistan, India, Burkina Faso, Puerto Rico, China, and Ireland. A master’s student at Harvard Divinity School, Cowan himself plays and teaches several different instruments and says his favorite experience as a fellow so far was teaching another student to play the accordion. 

Diversifying the Classics

Preparing for its upcoming spring concert on May 5, the Student Center Orchestra will soon fill Harvard’s Paine Hall with the sounds of an ambitious music program. Comprised of a mix of students from Harvard Griffin GSAS, the wider University, and the Cambridge community, the orchestra holds tryouts, rehearses weekly, and holds two concerts a year. The group also performs at the annual Winter Ball hosted by the Student Center social fellows. 

Conducted and stewarded by Leo Sarbanes, a PhD candidate in music, the group plays engaging and accessible works from underheard artists like the African American composer William Grant Still. “It was a pleasure to host a William Grant Still Listening Party during Black History Month and introduce students to this underappreciated genius,” Sarbanes says. “It was a chance to create a welcoming space where students could explore unfamiliar music in an intellectually curious environment.”

Whether you’re looking to compose, perform, or simply listen, the Student Center music fellows invite you to answer your musical calling. Join them to swing, soothe your soul, and, above all, Find Your Center. 

Don’t miss the Spring Swing dance on May 4 and the Student Center Orchestra's spring concert on May 5. Have an event you want to see? A project you want to help bring to life on campus? Contact the Student Center and let them know! 

Harvard Griffin GSAS Newsletter and Podcast

Get the Latest Updates

Subscribe to Colloquy Podcast

Conversations with scholars and thinkers from Harvard's PhD community
Apple Podcasts Spotify
Simplecast Stitcher

Connect with us