Saturday, March 14, 2009

Alumni Remembrances: Joe Kennedy '81

This new segment brings to you alumni experiences! Read the memories and musings about Princeton from those people who've lived in your dorm room, eaten in your dining hall, and run the same path to that 9 a.m. class before you.

For this very first week, we're featuring a memory by Joe Kennedy '81, CEO and President of Pandora Media, Inc. -- below the cut!

"Someone is a fifth low", the music professor said. Mark, who just happened to be one of the lead singers in the Nassoons, subtly but clearly angled his head toward me. Busted. Pure and simple. For all of my love of music and despite the fact that I could write counterpoint as well as anyone (at least to my imperfect ears), taking the first level music theory course exposed the fact that I just can't sing. Terrible tone and no range. I felt like the mortified people in those Southwest Airlines ads: "Want to get away?"

It had all started off so well. As an entering freshman, Woolworth seemed like a dream come true, from what seemed like an entire basement full of pianos waiting to be played to a great track of courses that would finally let me add some good music theory training on top of my years of playing the piano.

Ok, so it was a bit of a surprise that music theory at Princeton meant writing what seemed like Gregorian chants. I was kind of hoping for something that might help me figure out how all those Springsteen songs worked....but, I surmised, I guess this is how to get started.

So I signed up and frequently would head over to the basement of Woolworth to grab a piano practice room, work through the assignments that were teaching me how to write counterpoint harmony lines and then I'd just play for fun. These were the early years of what has turned into my lifelong quest to master the piano solo version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue".

And then the singing in class started....

Maybe it was ultimately a good thing. Although my counterpoint was decent, I don't think Bach was at much risk of being unseated....and, besides, things seemed to be going pretty well with my EE and Computer Science studies....and, as best as I could tell, no one has ever been forced to sing over at the E-Quad.

Footnote: to this day, my favorite musical experience on campus is listening to the Nassoons.

Joe Kennedy '81
CEO, Pandora