Ian Brody '12
Cello professor Hekun Wu was one of Brody's mentors during his time at Willamette.
Brody plays cello in a music and dance improvisation group started by music professor Mike Nord.
While studying for a semester in South Africa, Brody learned to play the mbira.
Willamette shows student musician new paths to explore
Ian Brody ’12 centers his life around a simple motto: “Why not?”
It’s what inspired him to pick up a cello as a sixth-grader, when he discovered that his school had an orchestra and his uncle owned a spare cello.
And it’s a motto he has followed avidly for the past four years at Willamette University, where he has played cello in multiple ensembles, found a passion for anthropology, earned a scholarship to conduct research, joined a music and dance improvisation group, studied for a semester in South Africa, learned to play an African musical instrument, and worked as a barista at the campus coffee shop.
“I’m doing things now that I would never have dreamed I’d be doing when I left for college,” Brody says. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to find various niches at Willamette because it’s so small and community-oriented.”
Developing a new passion
As a music performance major, Brody devotes many hours to playing and enhancing his skill with the cello. But even though he knew he wanted to study music when he was picking a college, his “try anything” attitude led him to a liberal arts university rather than a music conservatory.
“I definitely made the right choice going to a liberal arts college because I’ve learned a lot about being an intellectual, a student and a performer at the same time,” he says. “I get to combine all of my different interests in a new way.”
As a freshman, he took an ethnomusicology course — the study of the cultural aspects of music — from anthropology professor Pam Moro. “It opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about music,” he says, and led him to pursue numerous anthropology classes.
He also found a mentor in Moro, which paid off when he was a junior and she recommended he apply for Willamette’s Presidential Scholarship. The award provides a semester’s tuition and $2,500 to conduct an independent research project. Brody used his grant to examine ways that nationalist identities are created in classical music — and how a composer’s intentions can be transformed into something different as others assign meaning to their work.
“Every step of the way in his research, Ian has drawn upon his experiences as a practicing musician and as a scholar of both musicology and anthropology,” Moro says. “By pursuing both disciplines at Willamette, his skills as a writer, researcher and critical thinker have been enhanced.”
His new passion also led him to spend a semester at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where he studied ethnomusicology, played cello in the college orchestra and learned to play the mbira, a thumb piano with metal keys.
Support from professors
Moro wasn’t the only Willamette professor to help Brody discover new ways to apply his adventurous spirit.
Music professor Mike Nord asked Brody to join his improvisation ensemble — the group comprises musicians and dancers who collaborate and improvise together to create a visual and aural experience.
And Brody’s cello professor, Hekun Wu, pushed him to move beyond focusing only on technique and to consider ways his performances can work toward a larger artistic ideal.
“Ian is always serious about what he does and has great enthusiasm for it,” Wu says. “Playing cello is not only his passion, but also a way to display his intellect, his patience and his compassion with other aspects of life.”
Brody knows anthropology and music will continue to define his path after he leaves Willamette — but with his “why not?” motto, he might also add something new to the mix.
“Willamette has opened up my horizons and helped me to examine different aspects of what I can do,” he says. “I have the tools to go out and explore whatever direction I desire.”