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MSLCE Student Wants to Fuse Music and Design

By Jacob Nelson

Some overachievers will double major in college. Maris O’Tierney decided to triple major.

The new MSLCE student studied vocal performance with a focus in opera as well as political science, and art history (with an architectural history concentration) while she was an undergrad at Northwestern.

The fact that these majors are so unrelated speaks to O’Tierney’s eclectic interests.

“I’ve always been very interdisciplinary, and that kind of opened my options to a lot of different things,” she said.

Her interdisciplinary attitude is reflected in her professional career: she’s worked as a curatorial fellow at the Block Museum in Evanston, as a research assistant for an International Relations professor at Northwestern, and, perhaps most importantly, as a musician and composer. She’s already released a couple of albums and has performed in both Chicago as well as her native Alaska.

Even in her pursuits that are less music-oriented, O’Tierney has a way of bringing her penchant for performance to her work. For example, as the Polar Lab Coordinator at the Anchorage Museum, O’Tierney activated museum spaces in new ways by bringing dance, music, and theatre into dialogue with current exhibitions.

“I’m really interested in collaborating with people across fields,” O’Tierney said.

She’s excited about MSLCE because she thinks it will be a great opportunity to find other creative minds interested in working across disciplines.

“I just thought Northwestern is a really strong school to begin with, and I’m interested in meeting other like-minded artistic entrepreneurs,” she said. “I’m always going to be a musician and composer — I want to be an artist — but I’m interested in working across industries.”

O’Tierney is especially interested in pairing performers with more tech-savvy creatives to make music and design more collaborative across the digital divide. This sort of teamwork will help engage with audiences, which O’Tierney sees as a key ingredient to artistic success.

“Engagement with audiences, that’s how you get the message connected with people,” she said.

Performing, however, has been and will continue to be O’Tierney’s favorite part of her artistic endeavors. And in that regard she’s already found notable success. She was selected in May as a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist grant recipient so that she could continue working on an album recorded in Ireland and Alaska. The album explores her Irish heritage as well as her classical background.

“The album is an exploration of how do we build those genres,” O’Tierney said.