Willamette University

Bo and the Bumblebees

For Sam Brown ’07, life’s turning points can be composed of multiple movements.

Brown took nascent guitar skills onto the stage for the first time when he was in high school, playing in front of a packed house for his school’s talent show. “I played an instrumental song with seven movements about a bumblebee living and dying,” he reflects with a chuckle. “But it changed high school for me.”

Life and Death of the Bumblebee is one of Brown’s earlier compositions. It does, in fact, consist of seven movements, each detailing sonically the various elements in a bumblebee’s life cycle. The movements are all named for a different life stage, and they stand alone musically while still fi tting into the overall piece.

It’s as complicated as it seems.

Bumblebee is a rollercoaster of a guitar solo that transitions from frantic to meandering and back again. But Brown knows it by heart (he rarely writes down compositions, regardless of their intricacy). And the song, along with the unexpected ovation he received from his peers that night at the talent show, altered the course of his life.

With much artistic energy, Brown left his hometown of Red Wing, Minn., to attend Willamette because he knew a little bit about Oregon and thought he’d enjoy the change from his native turf. “It just felt right,” he says, echoing the sentiment of so many students who walk onto campus for the fi rst time. But he admits that he wasn’t convinced right away. “In the back of my mind I still wondered what it would be like to go to a big public university,” he recalls. With his eyes still on the music, Brown envisioned the bustling music scene afforded by a campus with more than a couple thousand students.

Oddly enough, an insurance hiccup gave Brown the chance to experience such a setting fi rst-hand. Scheduled to participate in a Willamette study abroad program in Austria, Brown broke his foot at the wrong time and had to abandon his plans. When all was said and done, he found himself spending one semester closer to home at the big — and musically rich — campus of the University of Minnesota. But he would do more than just heal there: He would grow into his own musical persona.

Brown met new musical peers while on this excursion “abroad.” He began recording his music, performed more, and by the end of the semester had produced his first full album. Iffy audio quality notwithstanding, the album was a crucial accomplishment for Brown. After years of playing from his heart, he had something to hold onto.

He returned to Willamette with newfound drive. With his experience he was able to help shape Willamette’s music scene, which already included Wulapalooza, the university’s annual music and culture festival. He went on to perform at the festival four years in a row and was instrumental in its planning and execution for three of those years. By the time Brown graduated, he had left his mark on the university, just as it left its mark on him.

Today Brown goes by the moniker of Bo.Monro — a combination of personally relevant fragments — and his music resume continues to expand. He recently carved out the beginnings of a career booking gigs, and he looks ahead to a future with plenty of new songs and even more possibilities.

Add that to the list of things you can do with a history major.

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