Between his diehard devotion to the Wesleyan Spirits and his Neuroscience and Behavior and music double major, it’s a wonder Brian Lee ’13 gets a chance to breathe. He’s just finished working on a thesis recital and plans to book 25 music gigs before the end of the school year, but Lee claims this is his least busy semester to date.
Ever humble, Lee wrote in our pre-interview email correspondence, “I’m not sure how I was chosen…isn’t this sort of thing for large campus personalities?” He greeted me warmly nonetheless when I caught up with him at Star and Crescent, and he proved to be more than deserving of his WesCeleb status. Over frittatas (his smothered in hot sauce, which he absolutely adores), we discussed the intricacies of musical notation, his work with the Red Cross, and the perks of being a hermit.
The Argus: What do you think makes you a WesCeleb?
Brian Lee: I’m a neuro[science] and music double major with pre-med. In just the Neuro Department, I have to take classes in chem, physics, and bio, so I’ve met lots of people in many departments during my time here. Right now, I’m a senior interviewer in the Office of Admissions, and I sing in two a cappella groups: the Wesleyan Spirits and the Mixolydians. I used to be on Second Stage, which is the theater production group. I used to be on the Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitators group. I lived in Music House. I also lived in 200 Church during my freshman year. I’ve done lots of shows and things on campus, so those might be reasons why people have noticed me enough to ask me to do this.
A: Can you talk about your thesis?
BL: My thesis has two parts. There’s a recital and a written portion. Thankfully, the written portion only has to be 25 pages long, which is ridiculously shorter than what most theses have to be. I’m writing about how the way of viewing music changed from the medieval era to the Renaissance era. The recital, which [was] on Tuesday, is about sadness. It’s very depressing. The title is “Loss and Longing.” I’m trying to tell some sort of story in a 40-minute performance of music from all different countries and time periods. I’m trying to get a message across about the experience of losing someone very precious to you and coming to terms with loss. My first idea was doing lots of different cultures’ funeral music, but I decided that was way too grim.
A: What made you want to explore the theme of loss?
BL: The most beautiful music that I’ve ever sung has been really, really sad music. I’ve taken a lot of singing classes here and during [one of them], we sang Mozart’s Requiem, which is a huge funeral piece. We sang lots of different pieces in Latin that people don’t understand the words to about sadness and losing someone. They stuck with me so much that I decided I want to do something along those lines for my thesis recital.
A: Have you always been interested in music and singing, or did you only pursue it once you came here?
BL: I only started singing in high school, and I know lots of really talented people on campus who started when they were really young, which is awesome. But I never had exposure to singing until my freshman year of high school. Before that, of course, I played the piano and the flute, but music had never been something I wanted to pursue, and now it is. It’s on the top of the list, maybe.
A: What made you want to pursue music academically as opposed to just as a side thing?
BL: I began performing a lot once I started singing in high school and after I came to Wesleyan. I was singing in choirs and things like that, but I felt handicapped. There were people around me who were doing everything I was doing but also had background knowledge in music theory. They knew how to make music more musically than I did, and I thought it would be a good idea to get some of that knowledge so I could more effectively make music.
A: If I’m not mistaken, you directed the music for two musicals last year. How did you get interested in that?
BL: At the end of my sophomore year, I was approached by Dylan Zwickel [’14], who is on Second Stage and [is] a phenomenal theater director. She asked me if I would be willing to direct the music and conduct for a musical that was going up the next year. I directed the music for this show, and it turned out really well, I think. It turned out well enough that I wanted to try it again in the spring with a more ambitious project. So last year, I directed the music for “Urinetown,” which is a huge musical with a cast of 14 or 15 people. That’s a lot of work and a lot of people to wrangle for rehearsals. “Urinetown” also turned out pretty well, I think, considering the amount of time and the limitations we had. We’re all students here, so we couldn’t dedicate 24/7 to doing musicals.
I’m not doing anything this year in terms of theater. But because I was able to conduct those two shows, I’m now thinking of maybe pursuing a career in conducting. I have a couple of contacts in the musical sphere, including faculty members like my thesis advisor. Maybe one day, if the opportunities open up correctly, it could be a possibility. Conducting is a very weird profession, because you have to enter it knowing people.
A: You’re also a member of Alpha Delta Phi. What made you want to join?
BL: ADP takes up a bulk of my time. The rest of my time is taken up by the Wesleyan Spirits, the a cappella group I’m in. I joined ADP in the spring of my freshman year. When rush season came, I told myself, “Well, rush isn’t really a responsibility. It’s just going to events and testing out the place.” So I went, and I liked it. After rushing, I was invited to pledge, and I told myself, “Well, pledging isn’t really a responsibility. You’re not actually a member. You’re just promising to start going to the society’s house more and making friends there.” After pledging, I was invited to initiate, and I was like, “Wait a minute. Now, this is a responsibility.” I wasn’t sure I had the time or energy to do it.
Funny story: the night of initiation (it starts at 10 p.m.), up until 10:05, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Kim [Ladd ’13] told me to put on my nice clothes and then think about what I wanted to do. So I got into my suit and I was like, “Do I go next door, or do I go to Fountain?” That was my dilemma. I really liked ADP and everyone I met there. I thought that maybe if I was a member, I could become the type of really cool person that I had met at the house. I decided to walk over at around 10:07. I was late, but everything was fine and I became a member. The rest is history. I never held a position in ADP until this year. I like to think of myself as mostly a behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t know if people would agree with that.
A: What position do you have this year?
BL: I’m what is called a chaplain. There are two of them, so I work in tandem with another chaplain, who actually lives in the house. I don’t [live at ADP]. I live in a senior house. As a chaplain, I am responsible for feeding the members. During meetings within the society, my fellow chaplain and I supply things to consume during breaks. During pledging and initiation ceremonies, we organize meals and purchase all of the groceries for the big feasts that happen. As a chaplain, I’m also a member of the emotional team. It’s our responsibility to know the emotional state of every single member of the society at any given point. If things are going great, we register that, and if things are going not so great, it’s our responsibility to see what we can do to help someone who might be going through a more difficult time. It’s a hefty responsibility, but I’m a senior and I’m not doing much except for my thesis, so it works out well.
A: Are you generally less busy than you have been?
BL: Oh, yeah. In both semesters of my sophomore and junior years, I took about eight classes. This semester, I’m taking three, so that’s awesome. I’m a lot less busy in terms of academics, but in terms of ADP and the Spirits, a lot more of my time is taken up.
A: You did some work with the Red Cross. How was that?
BL: I worked at the Red Cross headquarters in New York for a summer. There was this one day where there were, like, five fires that happened in Queens. They were five-alarm fires, so they were mad intense. I was one of the very few interns there who had taken emergency response classes within the Red Cross class system. So I was suddenly thrust into running shelters that day. It was an experience. It taught me how to deal with emergency situations and how to think on my feet.
I got a chance to use those skills at Wesleyan during Snowpocalypse. A lot of people came to ADP because the power was out and there was no hot water. Things were terrible. But ADP’s stoves were working because they’re gas stoves and not electric. So we were able to cook, which was really great. We were able to have a sort of emergency shelter filled with hot food and board games and s’mores in the fireplace. It was great. It was a long time, but it was a lot of fun.
A: What’s it like being a senior interviewer?
BL: I started interviewing during the summer between my junior and senior years. I was here all summer. It was awesome. You’d be surprised by how much fun the campus is with so few people. We [senior interviewers] had to force ourselves to have fun with each other and go on adventures. That was probably the happiest I’ve been in the last thousand years. I also met really incredible pre-frosh during the interviews. Some of the people who come to interview, you would not believe are human beings that are 17 or 18 years old.
I’ve met really inspiring people while interviewing, people who I think would make huge differences at Wesleyan. A lot of people, especially us old’uns, complain that every year, high school kids get dumber and more annoying. But I’m really heartened by the future generations. Senior interviewing takes up a lot of my time and my thought space, so even when I’m not in the admissions office, I’m thinking about who’s coming in next once my class graduates. I’m pretty excited for next year. There are going to be a lot of cool people coming in.
A: What are your plans for next year?
BL: Oh, gosh. There’s nothing set in stone. I would really like to work in the admissions office. I think every couple of years or so, the admissions office accepts a recently graduated Wesleyan alumnus as an admissions dean here, so I’d really like to do that. Right now, I’m not planning on going to medical school, and I don’t know exactly what my plans are in terms of pursuing music after I graduate. So I would really like to direct my energies toward education and working in an admissions office of an institution of higher education. I think it’s a really good way of learning how the school system works.
If not, I’d like to work in the Goodspeed Opera House. It’s a nearby playhouse that’s really historic and well known. I have a couple friends there right now, and maybe I’ll apply for a job there. That might actually be a good foot in the door for a possible career in conducting. If all my plans fail, I want to travel. I wanted to study abroad while I was here, but I didn’t get the chance to. So it would be really cool if I could go somewhere far away, preferably with very few people. If you think about it, since we were born, we’ve always been surrounded by so many people. And sure, while we’re at college, we’re away from our parents, but we’re still around a crap-ton of our peers. Never really do we get the chance to be alone and quiet. It might be nice to be a hermit for, like, five years.