On a sunny April afternoon, I sat down with Quincy Ponvert ’23 to interview them for Artist of the Week. This article has been a long time coming — Quincy is a pillar of the campus art scene, but they are notoriously hard to schedule with because they have so many activities. Between rehearsals for orchestral conducting, taiko, tango, and improv comedy, Quincy barely has time to convince me to swipe them into the Dining Center. When they’re not rehearsing, Quincy is busy studying as an Honors music major and an Honors education minor with a course minor in Latin American Studies. It may be hard to imagine, but Quincy wasn’t always so music-focused.
“When I got to Swarthmore, I was planning on studying astrophysics,” Quincy confessed to me while digging into a yogurt parfait from the Science Center. “So in a sense, all of the artistic things that I do now stem from the last five years — I took a year off in the middle. Even my identity as a person who plays music as a major part of my selfhood is a Swarthmore development. I got here and I started taking theory classes basically because of a conversation that I had with Andrew Hauze at an academics fair. Then I got more and more into it and became aware that this is something that I love to do. So it has been here that I’ve transitioned into this new mode of being where I think of myself as a musician and as someone who makes music.”
Quincy started conducting the spring of their first year in Hauze’s Conducting and Orchestration class.
“It was very hard and very stressful to stand in front of musicians and wave my hands around and try to communicate information,” Quincy explained, waving their hands. “But it has been one of the most exciting corners of my intellectual development recently. From studying conducting, I’ve learned the incredibly unique and widely applicable skills of music pedagogy, but in a very specific context. The fact that when you start conducting, you try to learn how to suggest aspects of musicality to people using gestures is crazy!”
In their sophomore year, Quincy started playing bandoneon — an instrument similar to the accordion. When I’ve heard Quincy play, the notes sound whimsical, their tune stretching out along with the bellows.
“I was trying to decide how I would spend [sophomore summer] and I thought okay, I’m pretty sure I want to learn a new instrument. And I also want to travel and practice my Spanish. And I was meanwhile listening to a lot of Ástor Piazolla, who’s maybe the most internationally renowned composer and bandoneonist in tango history, and his music was deeply inspiring to me. Then I made a plan to go to Argentina that summer that fell through because of COVID. So instead, I rented one [a bandoneon] here and took some Zoom classes.”
Fortunately, Quincy was able to spend the summer of 2022 in Buenos Aires with Swarthmore funding and now plays in the college’s tango sextet. Their commitment despite situational difficulties is reflective of their intense motivation to immerse themselves in their work once they find something they’re interested in. Another such recent interest has been studying taiko, a form of Japanese drumming, in the Swarthmore Taiko Ensemble. While the sounds of the bandoneon and of taiko are quite different, both can be full-body experiences.
“Definitely one thing that draws me to taiko above other forms of music making is that it is deeply physical and at times very physically intense. That is a really important aspect for me. I like to feel fluid and strong in my body,” they explained.
With these different manifestations of Quincy’s musical experiences, it’s difficult for them to choose one singular identifying interest.
“The confusing part is that, unlike a lot of my contemporaries here at Swat, I don’t really know what the thing is that I do. If I had to pick one, I wouldn’t know what to pick, because I have a few different areas of interest that are all relatively new. If the three things I do are I play tango music, I play taiko music, and I study orchestral conducting, all three of those have started since I got to Swarthmore. So I don’t really have the ‘since I was five’ experience of studying an instrument over a lifetime.”
Amidst all these options, Quincy isn’t sure yet what they want to do in their career.
“This is the big question,” Quincy admitted. “Depending on the day, I can picture trying to be an orchestral conductor, or trying to be playing taiko full time, or trying to be a tango musician full time. I think that probably what will happen is not any of those or some combination of the above. I’m really attracted to the idea of teaching. So what I think might be likely is that I would become a music teacher. Or, a musician first and an educator also. I’m interested, broadly speaking, in music education, as in myself as a music educator, and also in educational practice as an educational theory, as they have effects on musical spaces.”
Although three different musical passions might seem like more than enough, any understanding of Quincy as an artist would be incomplete without a discussion of theater.
Any conversation with Quincy reveals their playful theatricality. They gesticulate, they joke, they josh. While theater was a bigger part of their high school experience, they’ve still had some noteworthy performances at Swarthmore.
“I did do a collaboration with Rachel Lapides [’23],” Quincy began, strangely referring to me in third person, “within 48 hours writing an entirely original musical about a couple of people who are on a New York subway at the end of the world. It was a big hit. It was actually quite validating in terms of my ability to write music quickly.”
But Quincy’s crowning theatrical achievement is a much longer-form piece, a movie musical that has become renowned at Swarthmore College: “Space Pirates.”
“We were both incredibly proud of it,” Quincy smiled, referring to their partnership with longtime collaborator Caden Floyds-Boyd. “It was at the time certainly the craziest thing I’ve ever worked on — because it’s an hour and 45 minutes of basically nonstop music. It was the origin of a lot of feelings of musical flexibility that I now enjoy. I think before “Space Pirates,” I was like, oh, am I even any good at coming up with any ideas? But after that, I was like, yeah, I came up with all these ideas. Now, I just need to figure out how to come up with better ideas. I got a lot better at fooling around on a piano and talking to actors and talking them through singing songs, so I feel very good about it. Then we showed the movie on campus when we got back in Fall 2021.”
Quincy can even be found performing without a script as a senior member of Vertigo-go, Swarthmore’s improvisational comedy troupe.
“I did some improv comedy in high school and it was not very fun,” Quincy said, to my surprise. It is difficult to imagine Quincy not enjoying improv comedy. “But then I saw a Vertigo-go show when I was a freshman and I was deeply inspired by it. It’s a part of my weekly schedule that I don’t think about that much when I’m not there. But I feel great afterwards. It’s a really incredible way to hang out with friends and to generate ideas and to see, okay, what’s all this like stuff that’s hanging around in the muck of my subconscious, because it all just comes out. I think that it has made me a better conversationalist and a better thinker to have to perform acting extemporaneously, regularly in my time as a college student.”
Regular rehearsals like these help Quincy keep a routine with their art and explore all that subconscious muck.
“I think everyone wishes that they could be more consistent with their output. I get obsessed with things irregularly. And so when something’s going well, it means that I can’t stop thinking about it. I do find that sometimes I just feel utterly uninspired. Then I just have to sit down and figure some stuff out and then get inspired. I would never describe myself as having a good musical work ethic, as it were, but I do think that I am deeply afraid of being mediocre. So that causes me to work incredibly hard.”
Among their friends, Quincy is a welcome companion to have while watching a play, seeing a film, or going to a museum. They are known for having a keen sense of what makes art good, bad, or mediocre — and for articulating that opinion.
“As I grow up, I’ve become more and more angry about bad art. I hate bad art. I think it’s so sickening.” Here, Quincy laughs. They are being somewhat facetious.
“I do deeply believe that art is an important thing. Maybe the important thing. Maybe the most important part for me is the people that I’m playing with and the community that’s here at Swarthmore. It is one of my concerns post-college that I’m really interested in continuing to play taiko, but I’m worried about losing the people here that I played with.”
Notably, Quincy’s three musical passions all revolve around community. Conducting is by its nature an art based on collaboration. They play bandoneon in Swarthmore’s tango sextet, Sexteto Strapatta, and taiko in the Swarthmore Taiko Ensemble. In both of these settings, not only are they constantly in communion with the other musicians on stage, but also they frequently interact with the audience, shouting exclamations and inviting us into their musical world.
“I think that we’re all looking for a thing to do that is good, that makes us feel closer to other people and that makes other people feel inspired and have thoughts that they’ve never had before. For me, this is the way to do that. The types of art that I gravitate towards are the kinds that make me feel like I’m actively deepening my relationships with other people. I get really inspired in the taiko or the tango context when I’m working with other people and we’re working together to make something really good. As cliché as it sounds, I do think that it’s been a medium for me for feeling close to other people and building trust and building community.”
Quincy will be performing their senior recital April 23rd at 3 p.m. in Bond Hall. They will be playing taiko, tango, and original compositions.