Speaking with Gene Witkowski ‘21, it’s clear that he possesses a deep passion for music. He speaks eloquently about a wide range of musical topics with a fluency that reveals their deep connection to the art form. Gene comes from a musical family - both of their parents play guitar, their mother sang in choirs, while their father roadied with rock bands. “It is a trait that I have inherited, but also one that I have nurtured on my own,” Gene says on their musical pedigree. “It’s definitely been there forever, for as long as I can remember.”
Gene started writing music at the age of 6, and they mostly write in the genres of pop and alternative. When they came to Swarthmore, Gene started singing with OffBeat and the Swarthmore College Chorus. In their sophomore year, Gene began finding venues to perform their original songs for audiences in coffee house spaces. For Gene, music is therapy. “Music was really the only way that I learned how to negotiate my feelings, to feel through them… It’s helped me through a lot of difficult things and given me space to feel things and talk about things that I otherwise might not get the chance to feel.”
Gene is a Music major and he has enjoyed every interaction he’s had with professors in the music department. However, Gene does have some qualms with the way Swarthmore’s musical curriculum is structured. “I think that there are definitely some lackings in terms of course material, the kinds of things that are covered, the kinds of lenses that the material that we’re talking about are covered through… particularly when it comes to Black music, the way that the canon has been structured inevitably gives a disproportionate amount of voice to white men.” Gene has chosen to write his senior project on racism in music theory, exploring the ways music theory has canonized almost exclusively white men, and how to bring POC theorists into the fore.
As a Math Education major, Gene sees the connections between music, math, and education. “I think music is inherently mathematical, and math is inherently musical,” Gene says. Incorporating music into pedagogy is something that excites Gene because of the ways music is an empathetic and creative endeavor. “I definitely see myself, when I go into teaching, if I ever have the opportunity to incorporate something musical into a lesson plan, I would love to.” Gene plans on taking a year off after Swarthmore to apply to graduate schools for math education, while also doing some service work. You can find some of their original songs on YouTube in an NPPR Tiny Desk video.
Favorite music course at Swarthmore: Pop Music & Masculinities (honorable mention to Atonal Theory)
Favorite musical experience at Swarthmore: Either getting to perform with Spencer Tate at the IC Awards Banquet in 2018 or generally getting to make music with OffBeat.
Best performance(s) you ever saw: Renee Elise Goldsberry's set when she came to campus and literally any of the dance concerts, especially taiko, come to mind. But more generally speaking, seeing "The Great Comet of 1812" on Broadway is probably my favorite performance experience ever.
Favorite musicians: Beyoncé, Troye Sivan, NAO, Frank Ocean, and Rina Sawayama.