CATLab Blog Sustaining Innovation by Staying Connected to Emotion

Members of our CATLab team have a wide range of passions outside of their work with technology. In keeping with Westmont’s liberal arts tradition, CATLab prioritizes encouraging students to be well-rounded and providing space for reflection and art. Read on to hear from a CATLab student and staff member about how making music affects their lives.

Micah Howard

I start playing some calm and slow chords in the upper register of the piano. Slowly I progress outwards using that initial idea, playing more and more energetic and lively chords until I find something I love. I develop that idea, perhaps taking it to the minor key, perhaps modulating to another key altogether. By the end of that development, I try to distill that idea to its essence: what's emotionally resonated with me. It ends with the purest and simplest form of that idea that I could find; I've let that emotion out through music. That's what a typical break at CATLab has looked like for me this summer.

Music has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started playing the violin when I was six, and ever since I've been playing in orchestras. Since I came to Westmont, I've taken up singing and have been privileged to be part of the Choir and Chamber Singers. Additionally, I've had the opportunity to play in the Jazz Ensemble, sing in a barbershop quartet in front of hundreds, and record a single for the Phoenix Magazine in a professional recording studio.

Music serves to ground me and focus my emotion. The mere tactical sensation of playing an instrument and getting my hands to exactly what you want them to has always been a wonderful game to me, taking me away from the larger worries of life into a flow state where my only worry is whether or not I'm playing in time. Oftentimes during the busier and more stressful parts of the semester, I'll find myself in a practice room in the music building, letting all that emotion and anxious energy pass through me into the ivory keys. Unlike most other mediums, music is a communal artform, inviting all those nearby to partake in a shared experience. I try to use this communality when I play piano at CATLab to bring calmness, focus, and liveliness into the workspace.

The ultimate goal of a liberal arts education is to develop well-rounded adults, and I can see a bit of Westmont's success in each of my coworkers. Ultimately, everyone at CATLab has more to them than what you see, and it's a good thing that's the case. A narrow focus on a single vein of work can lead to burnout, and fails to develop the rest of the mind, whereas studying the liberal arts, as we all do, brings more holistic fulfillment and gives us the perspective to find creative solutions to the problems we encounter. That's why we all have our individual hobbies and talents outside of the work we do that allow us to thrive in the work that we do. That's why engaging in art and music allows me to work at CATLab in a lively, sustainable, and productive manner.

Neil DiMaggio

Music offers a beautiful moment, a reason, or (if needed) permission to slow down the work of the day. It helps us tap into our feelings and memories, and calls us out of the “react!” mindset that our devices demand. For me, the act of practicing and performing is participation in both the created and the act of creating. Its evanescence is part of the beauty, for it demands that all who participate pay attention, else the moment is lost to time. At the same time, a moment spent savoring beauty can be remembered, shining for a lifetime.

Music points us to God. There is music in the natural world, music in movement and sounds all around us. When we can tune in, we may just hear God’s voice saying, “This is good”. For some literary interpretations, read the “Creation accounts” in the Silmarillion or The Magician’s Nephew which depict the power of music in the natural world.

Many days, a well-chosen song can carry me over the rough patches. The promise of sitting uninterrupted at my piano to work out mundane things like fingerings, chord progressions, voicing or phrasing sustains me through long days.

I think most people have an appreciation for music, and the way it can shift one’s mood, even outlook on a situation. To me, this is what it means to be sustained – to be given the power to continue to make the right choice in this moment. Music attunes us to those moments, and the holy footsteps of Wenceslas somehow appear in the fresh snow before us. When I think of the times I have been truly moved, most of them were in response to music. Being emotionally moved is participating in our humanness, and this too, sustains us.

It is my joy to share some of the techniques and passion of making music with the Westmont community. As one of our staff pianists, I love walking alongside students on their musical journeys at Westmont. Hearing College Choir members speak commendations to each other at the end of a big performance such as our recent one at Tokyo College of Music, I marvel at the way music enables sustaining community and unforgettable personal experiences.