If you’re a middle school or high school student wondering whether a career in music might be a good fit, we have great news for you!  For the next few weeks, our Musician Intern Team will be interviewing individuals with different careers involving music, from commercial film scorers to scientific researchers. Articles about these interviews will be posted on our website each week to help you explore different careers and pathways in music. 

This week, Musician Intern and TYP flutist Abby Li interviewed Emily Morton, a fourth-year student double majoring in conservation biology and music performance.

Emily Morton is currently a fourth-year student double majoring in conservation biology and music performance with a minor in zoology at Colorado State University. Throughout her years in college, she has been able to integrate her passion for science and music into her everyday studies. On the music side, Emily is the flute section leader at her school’s marching band, and she has continued to play despite major changes due to the pandemic: “We have shortened rehearsals meaning you have to do a lot more work outside of class so that you’re going into class prepared to hear how your part fits in with everyone else’s.” She explains that overall, being a music major has allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of the music she plays by “learning more about the theory and history behind the pieces.”  

Not only has Emily been actively involved in the music world, but she has also been a part of a major science research project at CSU that aims to find ways to reduce Covid-19 exposure for those in the performing arts. To accomplish this, she has helped collect data that will be used to determine how far airborne particles and droplets travel. Emily explains that these experiments are conducted in a “SET chamber” which is a controlled environment that prevents outside air particles from entering the experimental space. Various people are then brought in to play in these chambers: “We have them play scales and excerpts into a cone-shaped machine, and, as they are playing, the machine sucks in the emitted particles and counts them. It also does a size distribution to determine how many particles there are of a certain size…these particle sizes are then compared to the size of the Covid-19 particles [to determine trends in particle transmissions].” These efforts have been paying off; researchers are in the first stages of making a manuscript from the data that has been collected so far. Although significant progress has already been made, experiments are still being conducted. Emily notes that they are now “starting to test the efficacy of masks to see how well they actually block particles.” 

Being part of this unique research project allows Emily not only to step out of her comfort zone, but it has also taught her skills to become a better musician. Unlike other projects she has done in her conservation biology major that revolve around analyzing data based on wildlife, this CSU research project is a mechanical engineering lab that is on the opposite side of the science spectrum. Additionally, she has learned that “instruments emit a lot more particles than you think. It has forced me to think more about how the physics of instruments work…[For example] brass instruments have high emissions…because it takes lots of air to go through all the tubing, so it would make sense for them to be producing more particles.” Emily concludes, “Science has given me the tools to analyze music from a different angle which has helped me grow as a musician.” Ultimately, she emphasizes that although she went into college thinking that science and music were two isolated subjects, they actually share commonalities that can be integrated together. 

For students who are interested in pursuing both the science and the arts, Emily recommends getting exposure to different things and taking every opportunity that comes your way. She elaborates, “From the music side, participating in honor bands and auditions helped prepare me for college auditions…From the science side, I recommend exploring different science courses…ask questions and research what you find interesting. A lot of times your teachers can help point you in the right direction…While you might not know what you want to do for the rest of your life, exploring can help guide you in the right direction!”

More information regarding the CSU research project can be found here: https://source.colostate.edu/enter-cautiously-csu-study-looks-at-how-the-performing-arts-can-return-in-a-healthy-manner-during-covid-19-pandemic/