The Mixtape Series: Shelby Wong

By Danielle Jones

Introducing the Mixtape Series where current students in the Strings and Keyboard departments share what they’re listening to, highlighting how boundaries in music are being blurred everywhere.

Two musicians play the piano and yellow together inside a concert hall.
Strings department faculty member Seth Parker Woods performs with the USC Thornton Chamber Virtuosi. (Photo by Ben Gibbs)

Music connects people. By sharing it, you can learn and understand others in ways words alone cannot convey.

The series was initiated by Strings department faculty member Seth Parker Woods who asked students to create Spotify playlists that best express their unique personalities.

“I saw an opportunity to showcase our students,” Woods said. “It’s enlightening what music someone chooses to share. I’ve found that there are these unspoken stigmas around classical musicians, that they’re only listening to classical music. Often, when people find out I’m a cellist when I’m traveling, they’ll ask about my favorite cellist. My favorite work for the instrument. I often tell them, ‘Well, what about all the R&B? What about all the rock? What about all the ambient stuff I listen to?’”

By sharing music, Woods hopes the project will begin a discourse between students about their interests outside of their academic and professional activities. “Maybe there are songs on there they know, or songs that they don’t know, and a mixtape allows friends or their peers to get to know them even better as well,” Woods said. “It’s like a love letter to themselves, but also the public at large.”

Highlighting the range of music that a musician listens to on any given day is a way of breaking down those walls.

“It offers a better glimpse into who I am, and the same can be said for the students,” Woods said. “A mixtape is one small way of offering listeners a glimpse of who they are, what they’re interested in, and what is currently resonating with them.”

“It’s a way of offering them, like, what’s my vibe,” he said.

A doctoral student in Piano Performance shares her mixtape.

Shelby Wong (BM ’20, MM ’22), a current doctoral student in Keyboard Studies, believes music can represent a person in important ways. Having the opportunity to use a platform and share music with the Thornton community and beyond was of interest to her. One inspiration for her playlist was her new lifestyle as a commuter student.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road, which means that I’ve been listening to a lot of music, and I was thinking about what songs I listened to at different times of day and what mindset I was in. I compiled and ordered my playlist in a way that I imagined being on the road spanning daytime, going through golden hour, and then watching as night sets in.”

Wong said that most of the songs in the playlist are songs she’s listened to for some time that are meaningful to her in various aspects. Each song carries memories within it, blending past experiences with current ones.

“Song meanings, they change over time depending on when you’ve heard them, what situations you’ve heard them in and how you yourself as a person are changing as you go through life,” she said. “But each song carries core memories with it. So, it’s just a wash of emotion or past experiences blending with current ones.”

Overall, this project allowed her to reflect on her personal growth and examine her perspective on music sharing. She describes it as a growth opportunity that challenged her to be vulnerable.

“There’s that quote that music is the window to somebody’s soul, and I do think that’s true in this playlist,” Wong said. “It seems kind of vulnerable, like you’re sharing the most innermost parts of yourself. I do feel like it was really meaningful to reflect on my current self, and see if I know myself the way that I thought that I did. It feels like a growth opportunity to do this.”

In Her Own Words

Wong discusses a few of her selections.

There’s a quote that says something about music being a window into the soul. This playlist —nostalgic, carefree, and dreamy — is a representation of aspects of myself that are harder to put into words sometimes. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share this part of myself with the Thornton community.

Fun fact about my playlist: I’ve seen five of these artists live in Los Angeles over the past three years!

“The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA – I first discovered ABBA’s music through Mamma Mia, the musical (Fun fact: My cousin performed in this production on London’s West End!). Although I used to be extremely hesitant to share my music taste with others, ABBA was the one group I could always disclose without reservation. I actually visited the official ABBA museum located in Stockholm, Sweden a few years ago.

“Anchor” by Novo Amor – Traveling and adventuring are my favorite pastimes. There were a few years where I did a good deal of road tripping, and this song is a nostalgic representation of open space, empty roads and the hour right after sunset.

Starry Night” by MAMAMOO – I only recently got into K-Pop, a venture I never anticipated as I always thought I wouldn’t appreciate music if I couldn’t understand the lyrics. The power of music as a universal connector strikes here in my appreciation of the emotions this song evokes, regardless of language.

See You Again (feat. Kali Uchis)” by Tyler, The Creator & Kali Uchis – Music is one of the strongest inducers of nostalgia, which I found especially true with this song. I went to a music festival in Switzerland this past summer where I first encountered this song, and every time I listen to it now I’m brought back to one of the best two weeks of my life filled with friends, music-making and irreplaceable memories. Amazingly, this song is now #1 on my most played songs of all time, which is an insane statistic considering I started my Spotify account in 2014.

TAGS: Keyboard Studies, Strings,

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