Music, math, and more! BPC alum siblings reflect on their educational journeys

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While at Wat Mongkolratanaram’s Sunday brunch in Berkeley, our Director of Communications and Events, Lesley Jones, ran into Theo and Lena Haber – siblings who both attended Black Pine Circle. With Lena (‘16, studying sociology and statistics at Columbia University) preparing to jet off for a semester abroad in Berlin and Theo (a USC post grad studying music composition at McGill University) traveling back to Montreal, the Habers were generous enough to set aside time to talk about their memories of BPC, exciting updates, and what their current university experience is all about.

Lesley Jones: Let’s start with Theo – we know that music is the main focus of both your college experience and creative life – can you tell us what you’re working on right now? What instruments are you playing?

Theo: Right now, I’m working on pieces for a summer festival and on a few albums with friends. Definitely have a wide range of instruments I’m playing: violin – played at BPC too, of course! – guitar, bass, banjo, other guitars, a waterphone, and I’m singing. I’m focused on guitar because I use that regularly, but my current favorite is the waterphone because I recently got it and it sounds cool! I’ve found it helpful to have multiple creative outlets. Funnily enough, I had a realization recently that it’s hard to do a lot of things super well – either you can do a little with a lot of things or you can be a master of one particular thing. Most people studying in a conservatory become a master of one instrument, which is a lifelong journey.

LJ: How was your interest in music fostered at BPC?

Theo in Lower School

Theo: I mean, BPC was what started me on violin! And I vividly remember music classes with Madeline King and Cheryl Sumsion in elementary school. In particular, I was inspired by Ms. King – she had us use a shaker instrument that was made of goat hooves that she gifted me and Lena and that really stuck with me. I recently remembered a time in Ms. Sumsion’s class where we were singing songs and my voice was in a weird place. I kept wanting her to change the key because my voice didn’t work which – in hindsight – was a ridiculous ask. Reflecting on that, I don’t think I know anyone else who was asking for a key change to make the song work for them, hah!

LJ: What are you most proud of in your musical accomplishments, or what have you enjoyed the most?

Theo: I’ve enjoyed being able to “empower” different genres of music. Periodically, I’ll reconnect with a type of music that I enjoyed when I was younger and then I’ll try to incorporate that into my practice, which is really fun and rewarding. In certain circles of contemporary music, that type of intertextuality might be discouraged because it’s not centered around a traditional type of composing. But, if you grow up in Berkeley, you are primed to be a little more loosey-goosey with your creativity – BPC encourages creativity. I remember when I got to high school, I asked when art class was because I expected similar creative outlets that I had had at BPC.

Watch Theo’s composition piece from last year’s summer residency in New Hampshire

Lena: Theo also got accepted into a summer music festival!

LJ: Wow congrats! Tell us more about the music festival. Where is it and what will you be doing?

Theo: Thanks! I was accepted into the Aspen Music Festival this summer. I’ll be writing three pieces of music: one for orchestra, one 10-15 min piece, and a short series of songs for piano/voice/etc.

LJ: Thanks for sharing, Theo. That all sounds very exciting and we can’t wait to hear how it goes. Shifting over to Lena, we know you are preparing for a semester abroad at Free University in Berlin, which is a big jump from BPC. What aspects of your time in elementary and middle school here have informed your educational journey?

Lena during Halloween

Lena: A big thing I always joke about with my parents is that middle school at BPC taught me to be a better student than all four years of high school! At BPC, I got introduced to academic and rigorous coursework. Mr. G and Ms. Chun did a good job of expecting a lot and challenging us, but also supporting us through our learning. Right now, I’m studying sociology and minoring in stats – I wouldn’t know that math was something I was interested in, and continued with today, if it wasn’t for Mr. G’s class. Ms. Chun’s class is where I got excited about learning, she taught me that I could read the “classics” and that was special to me. When we go visit family in North Carolina I just sit there and read all day! BPC made me a confident learner from a really young age. The texts and materials we were exposed to were beyond what’s normal for middle schoolers; we read Julius Caesar in 5th grade, The Merchant of Venice in 8th. Literary elements were made accessible through current events/blog posts/albums/movies and I feel really comfortable interacting with media in an academic way because of BPC.

LJ: I’m so surprised by your vivid memories and this level of detail from middle school! Your experience here must have been impactful. Now that you’re in college, are you thinking about careers? What are your goals and interests?

Lena in Upper School

Lena: I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do right after I graduate, but I do know that I want to go to law school. I’d like to do some traveling – maybe the Peace Corps; my mom was in the Peace Corps. I find that most of the jobs I’ve had in my young adult life – I’ve worked at a cupcake shop, been a camp counselor, a bartender, held internships – have been really satisfying. It makes me excited about growing up, and my career, because I know I will be able to find satisfaction in whatever I do. I’m excited to take time off from consistent structured learning! For a more academic answer, I’m interested in how data interacts with public policy. Sociology is extremely powerful but it’s limiting because it’s made to be accessible to only college students – the research being done is important and data visualization is a way to make it more accessible for everyone. I enjoy intersecting data, statistical methods, and sociology.

Thank you to Lena and Theo for taking time out of their very busy schedules to speak with us about the past, present, and future!

Lena & Theo