Musician-athletes are few and far between. The dedication, practice time and focus demanded of musician-athletes is incredibly high both in the practice room and on the field. While music and sports are seemingly separate activities, there is overlap in mental preparation and self-discipline.
Whitman student musician-athletes senior Katri Gilbert and sophomore Cheney Doane balance the two activities with grace and insight. Gilbert is a violinist, sings in Chorale and runs varsity cross country. Doane is a pianist, sings in the campus a cappella group Schwa and plays basketball, varsity golf and club volleyball.
The Start of Something New
Early on in their lives, both Gilbert and Doane were self-motivated musicians. Even in a family that was not particularly musical, Gilbert took the initiative to pursue the violin.
“I was five years old when I started. I begged my mom for violin lessons, so she just went and got me a teacher and rented me a violin and I instantly loved it. It was so much fun,” said Gilbert.
Doane’s piano playing days began in a similar manner with more parental support than pressure.
“I started taking piano lessons when I was seven. It wasn’t like my parents saying, ‘Go play the piano.’ I saw someone playing the piano and from that point thought that was something I [wanted] to do so I started taking lessons,” said Doane.
This self-drive is also apparent in Gilbert and Doane’s childhoods as they simultaneously pursued athletics.
“I have home videos of me lying around on a basketball before I could even walk,” said Doane. “So I really started playing basketball when I was like two on the mini tiny little hoops, and that was the first organized sport I played in kindergarten. Golf I picked up when I was 10, and volleyball during high school.”
Sports have also always been an integral component of Gilbert’s life. While basketball was the main sport she played growing up, she played soccer to stay in shape between seasons. Junior year of high school, she decided to go out for the cross country team instead of soccer.
“I tried something new—[cross country]—and [that] was the best decision I’d ever made,” said Gilbert. “We had a great coach, a great team, and it was so much fun. Turned out my times were fast enough that I was able to look at running as a college athlete. That was something I’d always wanted to do, growing up playing basketball. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was going to be cross country because that was what I was good at.”
The Mental Approach
Since they started athletics and music early on, Gilbert and Doane have noticed some similarities and differences when preparing for either a big competition or a recital.
“There are definitely techniques, especially between golf and piano, that I have seen an overlap in terms of preparation, such as switching mindsets,” said Doane. “In piano, it’s switching mindsets from composer to composer and piece to piece. In golf, you have to change from ‘I hit a bad shot’ to a positive mindset. Also, with missing notes or missing a shot in basketball, the emotional responses to your performance are very parallel.”
Gilbert has always separated music and sports and approaches them differently. She sees music as an individual experience with the purpose of sharing a story, and cross country as a team effort with a collective goal.
“When you’re doing a recital it’s a routine that you’ve practiced over and over again. It’s just a matter of doing it the best you can at that time,” said Gilbert. “But with cross country, the course is always changing. It’s not just running up Mill Creek. You go out and there’s the variables of the day, who else is running a fast race, and you don’t know what it’s going to be like until the race actually happens.”
While Gilbert finds distinctions between violin and cross country, the lessons she has learned from one activity have helped her succeed in the other.
“Cross country taught me that I tried something new at 16 years old when most people are already pretty experienced and that was okay. I took that experience and auditioned for Chorale this year, which I probably would not have done if I hadn’t had that positive cross country experience,” said Gilbert.
The Social Side
For both Gilbert and Doane, involvement in athletics and music has allowed for many opportunities to create great camaraderie with people who have a variety of interests and strengths.
“My two groups [of musician and athlete friends] are definitely super contrasting,” said Doane. “I don’t know a ton of athletes who play classical piano and vice versa, but I’m kind of a goofy person all over the place. You see that in both aspects. When I’m playing sports I’m goofy with sports stuff, and I can make jokes about professional athletes whereas in music I can make composer jokes. The vernacular, humor and interests are obviously different between the two groups, but I’m able to happily relate to both.”
Friend groups are one aspect of being a musician-athlete that Gilbert does not find she places into separate boxes. Instead, she is able to be herself no matter whom she is around.
“Each group has a different dynamic, and I have a different role in each group—friend, teammate and so on. At Whitman, people are accepting of your strengths and weaknesses, so I don’t have to change my personality when I go running from cross country practice over to the practice rooms,” said Gilbert.
Looking Towards the Future
With the pursuit of both music and athletics at a high level, Gilbert and Doane have much that they hope to achieve. For Gilbert, it is all about staying balanced and well-rounded. As a math-physics combined major doubled with music performance, Gilbert hopes to make electrical engineering her career, but continue playing violin in local symphonies.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy for trying to do so many things, but it’s all just about time management. If I didn’t do a sport I’d be out running anyways because it allows me to get out my energy. Music is my creative side, and it helps keep me from being one-dimensional,” said Gilbert.
Doane plays sports because he enjoys being active, spending time with friends, and teamwork. As a music performance major with pre-medical coursework, he hopes to continue sharing his passion with other people whether he becomes a music therapist or pediatrician.
“I hope all the hours I spend in the practice room practicing pay off when I play for other people,” said Doane. “I want them to feel what I feel when I play music because so many things can be said through music that can’t be said through words, and you really feel it on a fundamental level. I want people to experience that.”
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