Potter Clark grew up in a musical family, surrounded by the bluegrass played by his dad and uncle and inspired by classical and rap music as he learned to play the violin and mandolin. But he came to AU convinced he was going to study political science — not music.
He certainly didn’t expect to compose and record an album in his senior year.
Potter Clark (CAS '22)
He thought of music as personal, and though he played violin in the AU Symphony Orchestra, one of the music ensembles in the Department of Performing Arts open by audition to all AU students, he didn’t initially want it to be his major. “I was scared of losing something I love, a passion, to academia,” says Clark (CAS ‘22).
But the pull of music was too strong. After a conversation with Nancy Snider, Director of the AU Music Program at the time, “My mindset changed to ‘my work can be something that I love,’” Clark recalls. So he switched his major to Music.
The Music Program gives students like Clark room to find their passions and carve their own paths as artists and scholars. “There are no real walls in our program,” says Daniel Abraham, chair of the Department of Performing Arts.
There are many intersections between the programs, which include Arts Management, Audio Technology, Dance, Music, and Theater. “Our students are always eager to explore and find ways to have art forms interact naturally and look for ways they can further the discipline by pushing some of the boundaries,” Abraham says.
Department of Performing Arts performing faculty Ann Kang (left) and Seán Heely (right) with Zachary Mills (CAS '21) (right).
There is also an annual opportunity for students to design and propose their own summer projects, taking arts learning beyond the classroom. The Koster Foundation Summer Study Grant provides grants from the Marinus and Minna B. Koster Foundation to help AU students pursue their musical ambitions and expand their artistic horizons. Previous grant winners have conducted ethnographic research, taken lessons with internationally known composers and performers, and attended vocal and instrumental camps in Europe.
Last December, the department encouraged Clark to apply. He was already four years into composing a modern classical album that explored different moments and feelings in his life. He had written a musical story from the soul; something inspiring yet soothing, complex yet easy to enjoy.
Clark won the Koster grant, which allowed him to bring the project to life. “I understood that with this grant — more money than I could have asked for — I could finalize my project and could go into actually managing, producing, and perfecting the album.” On October 13, he released the final product: an album called “If a Tree Falls and No One is Around.”
Eight artists perform on the 13 tracks, including Department of Performing Arts faculty Matthew Van Hoose (piano), Seán Heely (violin/fiddle), and Ann Kang (piano), as well as music students at AU and other institutions. Clark did not perform any of the pieces he wrote, but chose to find artists with widespread experiences, musical training and backgrounds to interpret his story.
“I wanted them to connect and bring their expressions to each song,” he says. “With each piece, I sent the performer a letter about the reason I wrote it and where it personally came from, and then it was up to them to play the song.”
Through projects like Clark’s, the music department is opening doors to significant experiential opportunities early in the process of the students’ careers that help each student to develop their individual skills and vision.. “One of the important values and pillars of the department is opportunity,” says Abraham. “Every single student has different needs and desired opportunities. Our multidisciplinary department collaborates constantly across and between fields, students and faculty.”
Clark was mentored throughout the process, and also found opportunities for other students to participate. “Nancy [Snider] understood my passion and pointed me to the right resources. Dan [Abraham] and Fernando [Benadon] guided me in the Kreeger studio. My friend Zachary Mills (CAS ‘21) engineered and mixed the tracks,” he says.
Zachary Mills (CAS '21) (left and right) audio mixing and Aliza (CAS '24) playing piano (right).
Through it all, he learned about more than music. He also learned the importance of being part of a community dedicated to bringing out the best in each student. “All those who have supported me have helped me grow as a musician,” says Clark. As an AU student, it’s his senior year. But as a musician, his career has just begun.