Name: Andrew Unger
Hometown: Ewing, NJ
Major: B.A. in Music
Organization Involvement: TCNJ Wind Ensemble, TCNJ Orchestra, Tutoring Center, TCNJ Brass Quintet, TCNJ Woodwind Quintet, TCNJ Chorale, School of the Arts & Communication Student Blogger
How did you first become interested in music and music performance?
I started playing horn in 4th grade – it’s a bit of an unusual instrument for a young kid to pick up. I suppose I was an unusual kid. I was so excited to play, and I still feel that way today. But thinking back to when I first entered high school, I may not have been able to imagine myself studying music in college; that was really a decision I made later than most do. Throughout high school, I had the opportunity to work with some great musicians, and I had incredible teachers who helped establish my interest in music. My high school band director, Mr. Olsen, fostered my love for music and is still very supportive of me to this day.
What kinds of music influence or inspire you?
Growing up, I heard a diverse range of music that my parents would play around the house: everything from the Blind Boys of Alabama to Benjamin Britten. I distinctly remember waiting until I was home alone in high school so I could blast symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Brahms. For me, there is nothing more exciting to me than the sound of an orchestra! I listen to all kinds of music today… I’m always trying new things.
Who has been your greatest influence or supporter throughout your journey at TCNJ?
First, Dr. Heisler has been a great advocate for me during my studies at TCNJ. I was initially a Music Education major, but have since changed and will receive my BA in Music this May. The entire Music faculty is very supportive, and Dr. Heisler especially stands out for me. I can’t imagine where I would be if he didn’t help me make the smooth transition into the BA major, and he supported me every step of the way. Through my independent study with Dr. Heisler, I was able to build research and analytic skills that helped keep me afloat during my senior year. Musicology is like enhanced music history—it considers the effects of music from societal, historical, and cultural perspectives. Essentially, it isn’t writing music but rather writing about music.
I also worked with Professor Kathryn Mehrtens, Adjunct Instructor of Music (Horn), during the summer before my freshman year at TCNJ. Actually, I had studied under her before I even enrolled, and she was a major influence in my decision to attend TCNJ. Studying under Ms. Mehrtens has been a dream come true; I’ve grown so much thanks to her. I’m not ready to leave! Both Dr. Heisler and Ms. Mehrtens have helped me in ways that are unfathomable, and I hope to one day be able to help and support another student in the same way.
Congratulations on your conference paper that has recently been accepted to two juried regional conferences! What has this experience been like for you and what can you tell us about the process?
Thank you. It’s been quite a ride so far. At the suggestion of Dr. Heisler, I submitted my senior capstone paper entitled “Recollection, Inner Feelings, and Actuality: Exploring Text and Music in A Child of Our Time” to several universities and two regional conferences. The paper discusses composer Michael Tippett’s oratorio that explores the themes of Kristallnacht. Tippett combines his music with African-American spirituals and historical texts, such as World War I poetry, to present a story in a way that we can all understand and relate to without having to experience the situation ourselves. My paper discusses how he achieved this in A Child of Our Time. For months, I was almost unanimously disregarded – I felt in over my head. Eventually, to my absolute surprise, my paper was accepted into the AMS [American Musicological Society] Mid-Atlantic Spring 2014 Meeting and the AMSGNY [American Musicological Society Greater New York] Spring 2014 Meeting. Tomorrow, I will be at Temple University for the Mid-Atlantic conference, where I will present my paper to an audience of professors and graduate students.
What have your experiences been like performing in both TCNJ and community ensembles?
The nice thing about TCNJ, as far as performance, is that there is an open atmosphere that allows for students to be able to explore and perform many different kinds of music styles. I myself have been lucky enough to play in opera pits, orchestras, chamber groups, bands, choirs and so much more. While I wouldn’t call myself a natural singer, revisiting the choral ensembles this semester has been a fun challenge. This semester alone, I’ve been a part of performances in Boston and NYC. I don’t know if I would have such varied opportunities at any other college!
What has been your favorite event or performance hosted by the School of the Arts and Communication? Why?
Before I enrolled in TCNJ, I attended the Master Class hosted by the Department of Music and led by Barry Tuckwell, a super-famous professional horn player from Australia. Ms. Mehrtens not only encouraged me to attend the class, but also got funding for me to do it. Because of her hard work, I was able to play alongside other horn players who came in from as far as Canada. This event really solidified in my mind how I would continue to progress at TCNJ as a musician.
What memory at TCNJ has been most important to you?
I’ve had way too many exciting experiences in the Music Department over the past few years – I couldn’t possibly rank them in importance. I’ve loved performing chamber music because it forces you to work as a team, artistically speaking, with only a few other musicians. It’s like American Gladiators, but with less skin showing. Otherwise, one memory that really stands out to me was the TCNJ Wind Ensemble’s performance, Shadows, in the Spring of 2013. In most performances, a few individuals or soloists will tend to stand out, but during Shadows, I felt that we were all collectively in our element. It was an exciting atmosphere and certainly a memorable performance!
What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I will be starting a MM in Music History in the fall. I’ve not yet chosen a university, but I know that is the area I will be studying. After that, I hope to continue on into a doctoral program to earn a PhD in Musicology. My future plans are to make a career out of researching, studying, and writing about music. To be a professor of music history or musicology would be a dream come true.
What advice do you have for other students majoring in Music?
I’ve learned that a career in music doesn’t start when you graduate… it begins the minute you walk into your first class or rehearsal. Remember that your classmates are your future colleagues! Always say “yes” to any opportunity that arises so you can try new things and gain new interests through different experiences. If you find yourself discouraged or frustrated with yourself, remember that a performance or grade that isn’t up to other people’s standards should never be connected to your own self-worth. Find your voice, be courageous, and, above all, love yourself.
What is your favorite TV show? Movie?
I’m not much of a TV guy, but I got really into Breaking Bad! My favorite movie is The Empire Strikes Back.
What’s the last book you read?
Right now, I’m in the middle of I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Before that it was the Memoirs of Hector Berlioz.
If we opened your refrigerator right now, what would we see?
Probably what any typical college student has in their fridge! Drinks, lots of dairy, and definitely way too much Ramen!
Who do people say your celebrity look-alike is?
This is really embarrassing… but I’ve heard people say that I look like Tobey Maguire.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Who wouldn’t want to fly! I think I might also like to have the ability to teleport out of situations in which I feel scared or anxious.