Student Artist Spotlight: Katie Rice ’21 discusses music involvement and conducting experience at the college


Katie Rice ’21 is pursuing a dual degree in music and mechanical engineering. (Photo courtesy of Katie Rice ’21)

By Shiloh Harrill

When it comes to the arts at Lafayette, Katie Rice ’21 has nearly done it all.

In the moments when she is not conducting or playing the saxophone in the pep and concert bands, singing in the concert and chamber choirs or pit directing for the Marquis Players, Rice may be found among the Arts Society, on the Music Appreciation Floor (better known as MAFIA) or with her band, the Womansplainers, for which she is the lead singer.

And alongside her degree in music, Rice is also pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I started musical theater in fourth grade…and I just never stopped,” she said. “Once I got into that, it became really important to me. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to do engineering, but I wanted [musical theater] to be a part of my life because it’s just huge.”

Though she still sings here at Lafayette, her musical focus has shifted more towards conducting, which she has gotten to pursue in a unique program in the music department that gives students live conducting experience in front of other performers.

“The thing about conducting that I think is the most interesting is that it’s a totally different way of experiencing music…you’re helping people feel it,” Rice said.

Rice began conducting lessons under Professor Kirk O’Riordan, who leads the concert band, and Professor Jennifer Kelly, who leads the choir, during her time at the college.

“[Conducting] pushes me to be very vulnerable because music is a very moving thing…I always like to be the person who is helping, and I often find myself in leadership roles,” Rice said. “With conducting, you need to have musical skills and be able to communicate…I love helping my friends do what they do.”

“Reacting to the music live is a very vulnerable thing… allowing myself to feel the music is a big deal,” she added.

As an artist with a foot in many organizations, Rice’s senior year has certainly not looked the same as she likely expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Concert band has rehearsed in person with specialized masks adapted for playing instruments, and concert choir meets regularly but members hum in small groups rather than sing.

“We’re all feeling it. This semester, things are very different, but some of us are getting back into it—even being able to have that little taste is great,” Rice said. “We’re a little nervous—we take every possible safety precaution. Everyone in the ensemble relies on each other…we’re a little on edge, because with the arts here at Lafayette, everyone is a family.”

Rice added that the ensemble “vibe” is still tangible, even given the virtual setting. 

Along with her capstone in Mechanical Engineering, Rice is also pursuing a thesis in her Music major; specifically, she is studying Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and comparing the ways in which different conductors direct the piece with orchestras, bands and choirs.

During a pandemic, it can be difficult to keep the arts alive, but this project keeps them tangible, she said. After college, she plans to pursue an industry job but is determined to have music in her life in some capacity.

“I know it can be done…musicians are everywhere, you just have to find them,” Rice said. 

“I’m really grateful for my professors and friends—the people that make arts at Lafayette fun are the people involved in them,” she added. “I work with so many cool people and I’m really grateful for that. I love doing the arts here because of the people who do arts here.”