On Sept. 26, the department of music in the School of Performing Arts and the Tilles Center hosted a convocation with award-winning singer, songwriter and composer Duncan Sheik. Nearly 100 students who attended the event learned about Sheik’s career path, heard him perform with some of their peers, and asked questions.
Born on Nov. 18, 1969, Sheik always loved music. His grandmother, who attended Juilliard, began teaching him how to play piano when he was only six. Even though he loved music, Sheik ended up attending Brown University for semiotics, the study of meaning-making, sign processes and meaningful communication.
However, his love of music never left and he moved to Los Angeles post-graduation to pursue his passion for music.
In 1996, Sheik released his first album, “Duncan Sheik.” One song from this album, “Barely Breathing,” became an instant hit, remaining on the Billboard Hot 100 for 55 consecutive weeks, and earning Sheik a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Since then, Sheik has released seven other albums, none of which have achieved as much notoriety.
Sheik is also a talented composer. His best-known work is the Broadway musical, “Spring Awakening.” Based on the play “The Awakening of Spring” by Frank Wedekind, “Spring Awakening” follows the story of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany as they discover their sexualities, and “coming of age.” Sheik wrote the music, while Steven Sater wrote the lyrics and screenplay. “Spring Awakening” won eight Tony Awards, including Best Orchestration and Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
At the convocation, Sheik performed a number from “Spring Awakening,” titled, “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind,” as well as an original song, “Half a Room.” For both numbers, Sheik was accompanied by the Post String Ensemble, conducted by music professor Maureen Haynes.
“It [performing with Sheik] was a very honoring experience. He was a very relaxed and cool guy who was extremely excited to work with us,” said Brandon Allen, a freshman who plays the violin in the string ensemble. “He got to tell us his background and how he got to where he is now so it was very inspiring. It gives me more hope that if I continued doing what I love with perseverance, it will definitely be possible to live out my dreams.”
Katie Hicks, a freshman musical theatre student, also attended the event. “I wanted to attend the event because I really adore ‘Spring Awakening’ and have an interest in learning to compose music,” she said. “I learned that eclecticism is not a bad thing when it comes to music. Having a mixture of genres makes you unique, and that’s okay. It’s like the quote ‘jack of all trades, master of none, but better than a master of one.’”
Sheik expressed his love for speaking with students after the event. “I feel slightly self-conscious doing
it, but it is really fun to have these conversations and hear the questions that college students have about their process and where they’re at, whether they’re an actor or a singer or a musician or a producer, it’s just really great to have that back and forth with students. I just find it incredibly enjoyable,” he said.
Sheik’s biggest piece of advice to the students in the room was, “It’s really important for you to find the music or the thing that is truly exciting to you, personally, and that you own it in a very original, independent way because that’s what going to set you apart from everyone else and make people excited about who you are as an artist.”