For Literature concentrator and composer Oliver D. Strand ’11, academics and the arts do not merely overlap—they inform each other in unique and surprising ways. “Composers and poets use a lot of the same terminology but come at it from different angles,” Strand, a joint student at Harvard College and New England Conservatory, says. “We both have to think about rhythm and line and meters, a voice.” One of his composition teachers, Manuel Sosa, instilled in him the value of an interdisciplinary education. While citing musical influences such as composers Morton Feldman and John Cage, as well as musical genres like Motown and blues, Strand also claims that the two classes most influential to his composing were not in music but in poetry and sculpture.
An able pianist and violinist, Strand has chosen to have others perform his compositions at concerts because he finds it informative. “It’s a much different experience when you’re hearing it in the audience. When you’re writing, you’re also performing it at the same time, whether in your imagination or with an instrument.” Strand assesses the response to his pieces in a methodical manner that he learned from one of his prior teachers. “If the audience claps immediately when it’s over, it means the piece ended 10 seconds ago and they’ve just been waiting. But if it ends and there is a 30-second pause, it means they don’t know what’s going on. Somewhere between there, there is a moment for the audience to sit and consider what happened,” he says.
Despite having his compositions performed at the prestigious Juilliard School’s Morse Hall and the Salle Cortot at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, when asked about his concert experiences, Strand chooses to cite a compliment he received two winters ago. This compliment was not from a famous composer or musician but from a mother of one of his friends, who told him that the silences in his work seemed just as important as the sounds. “That was exactly what I was hoping someone might say to me one day. It was really surprising and wonderful to hear,” Strand says.
Strand, a recipient of a David Rockefeller International Experience Grant, has chosen what some might consider an unexpected plan: to travel to Japan and be an apprentice in woodworking. His reasoning illustrates his willingness to stray from the familiar. “Music and poetry are both art forms that exist very much in your head, and they’re very easy to change. But that isn’t true when working with wood. The material requirements force you to make your plans and revise your plans and then stop and take stock of what’s happening, revise your plans again, and there’s this constant dialogue between what the material is and what you want to cause it to do that is exciting and surprising, and feels like a wonderful experiment every time, ” says Strand.
Despite the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Strand is undeterred. Although he had to find a new organization with which to work, Strand will go as planned. After he returns from Japan, he hopes to finish his Master’s in composition at New England Conservatory. “My hope,” Strand says, “is that I’ll continue writing poetry and music. Those are the two things I want to do the most. It’s unclear to me how to not starve to death, but hopefully I will find a way to make that happen.”