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Gabe Cohn: Music and Identity

Gabe performing at Cabaret.

The room is dark and crowded. Students move closer to each other as they try to get a better view. On stage, a single person freestyles, rhymes effortlessly tumbling, capturing the audience’s attention.

The place? Cabaret, a Georgetown student performance. The person? Gabriel Cohn.

Gabe, from Tampa, Florida, is a Healthcare Management and Policy junior in the NHS. He also works at Uncommon Grounds, takes part in Guild of Bands and Georgetown University Collective of Creative Individuals (GUCCI), and is a member of Morning Woodley, a band he helped create. His skills include various instruments and an ability to rap freely at will.

Music has been part of Gabe’s life for a long time. As a child, his parents wanted him to experience a form of musical enrichment, which is what led him to take up the piano in second grade, the guitar in fifth, and then the bass. Though he took lessons in the former two instruments for some time, Gabe is primarily self-taught.

This lack of true structure in fact prevented Gabe from developing concrete musical skills for some time. A lack of practice linked to his time at military school is primarily to blame for this faltering. But upon his return, he began hanging out with friends who themselves were dedicated to cultivating their musical abilities. When they came over to use his equipment, Gabe became so impressed that tried to participate. He took up the drums, playing poorly initially, but then was taught enough that music became interesting to him again.

Part of this newfound interest can be directly credited to the sense of community group practice fosters. Before, he would just play songs for himself, but, as he explains “the best part of music is playing songs with other people, kind of improving songs with other people, seeing what you can come up with”. This points to the importance of the group as a form of pressure to perform better. “Playing with others is worth five lessons, playing in front of a crowd is worth ten lessons,” Gabe claims.

Since then, Gabe has consistently tried to hone his skills, improve his musical touch in any way that he could. To do so, he plays some form of music everyday. “Probably 40% of the time I walk by Copley I play the piano in Copley Chapel,” he explains. This, however, does not entail a structured regiment at all. Rather, Gabe views music as a stress-reliever, an opportunity for a study break.

Music is not only about rigour, but also socialness. By cultivating his abilities, Gabe has managed to find himself a spot in the Georgetown art scene, performing for others on occasion. Through GUCCI, he found himself playing in townhouses, for 30 to 40 people at a time. Participating in GUCCI and Guild of Bands encouraged Gabe to meet others who liked to perform and needed players to fill spots. “It’s a cool identity to have. It makes me happy knowing that it’s something that I can do. It’s very good for making friends,” Gabe says of his experience.

Cabaret marked Gabe’s biggest show to date, an important milestone for the musician. “I thought it was cool because I had a very unconventional form of learning,” he explains. While most performers are taught formal theory and participate in jazz bands, Gabe took a slightly different route. The opportunity to work with people of a more conventional background allowed him to learn a lot, effectively pushing him to further better himself.

“If you want to get into learning, it’s never too late,” Gabe touts. Some people treat music like literacy, believing it to be harder to learn as an adult. But as one grows older one also becomes more disciplined, and has more organised time to put to it. Music has some complicated structures that frustrate some as children, but make more sense as an adult. For instance, Gabe evokes his own father, who learned to play the bass at 45.

Music, therefore, is not a natural talent, but rather an acquired skill. A skill that should not be neglected, as it provides one with all sorts of opportunities for stress-relief, friendship, and general thrill. “The key is to be proactive. If you want to be involved in the arts community but don’t have an ‘art’, they still want you. It’s just about showing up, really.” For Gabe, music is a cornerstone of his identity. It took time and patience to find himself at his current level, but the experience along the way was well worth it.

PC: Gabe Cohn

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