A one-man band

Beyond majors: Develop your integrated thinking

Hometown: Wyndham, Maine
Major: Electrical Engineering
Minor: Music

Mixing his interests in electrical engineering and music, trombonist Stephen Hoeprich has found the perfect academic arrangement. One of his favorite places on campus is the Phasor Lab, the laboratory for Electrical Engineering and Music Research, a hotspot of opportunity for performers to learn about their musical instruments. Stephen recently composed a piece for a trombone quintet – then performed all five parts. When not expressing himself through music, he is also active in his Minerva House, is a member of ROTC and can build a telegraph “in about an hour.”

Why did you choose an electrical engineering major?

I’m that engineering cliché: I like to take things apart and find out how they work. Electrical engineering is so interesting because it’s all about electricity, circuits, power, communication devices and sound processing. I took a class on the science behind radios, TV and wireless in which I built a telegraph. Now, if someone turns on a radio, I can explain how it works. That’s cool. Electrical engineering is also extremely applicable to music, my other passion.

How does it apply to music?

I took a class called Digital Signal Processing, which is all about processing digital signals or raw sound. Electrical engineering techniques allow us to filter out background noise, add or remove echoes and reverb, and tweak a recording until it sounds perfect, as though it were performed in a concert hall.

Why do you love music?

I get this feeling when I compose and play that I don’t get from anything else. My favorite genre is classical, mostly orchestral or piano. I’m drawn to the structure of it. I especially like Anton Bruckner, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven.

How did you compose a piece for a trombone quintet and perform all the parts?

The Phasor Lab! This interdisciplinary lab is fully soundproof, with a piano, recording equipment and sound processors. I took a music theory class in which we had to write and perform a composition for our final project. Since mine is a quintet, I recorded four of the five parts in the lab, blended them and then played them back while I performed the fifth part. It’s a little-known fact that Union has such world-class music facilities – not only the Phasor Lab, but also Memorial Chapel, one of the top 10 acoustically perfect spaces in the world.

A final concert instead of a final exam?

Music theory sounds like a cool class. Professor Hilary Tann is in charge of music theory classes, and she has a unique take. Music theory is generally about defining what you’re not allowed to do, but Professor Tann says, ‘I’m here to unlock your creativity.’ So we learned the rules – for example, Bach’s four-part harmony – but she made it clear that rules should not stifle self-expression. Rather, they should be used as a guide to ensure that unorthodox chords don’t become just a jumble of notes. Essentially, I learned how to make interesting music that still makes sense.

Why did you choose Union?

I looked at more specific engineering colleges, but most lost their appeal after I realized they were engineering only. I wanted something broader that allowed me to focus on engineering but also explore different subjects and environments.

Convergence: Jakub Kaczmarzyk,
neuroscience and music

Click play (above) or view on VIMEO