Student Artist Spotlight: Anna Zittle ‘22 on the integration of music and math

Anna Zittle ‘22 is the vocal director for the upcoming Marquis Players production of ‘The Wedding Singer.’ (Photo courtesy of Anna Zittle)

When Music Professor Kirk O’Riordan asked Anna Zittle ‘22 to compose a piece for concert band last year, he probably wouldn’t have guessed it would involve an exponential function.

But Zittle is a woman of many talents. A music and mathematics double major, she has spent her time at the college refining her skill in these two often-intersecting realms.

In terms of music, Zittle is an ensemble assistant for the percussion ensemble, a percussionist for concert band, a violinist in the orchestra, the vocal director of Marquis Players, the President of Alpha Psi Omega national theatre honor society and an arts houser. She has also composed music for both concert band and college theater.

As Zittle said, she loves being involved. 

And on the mathematical side, Zittle has a concentration in statistics and said she enjoys the challenge it provides. 

She also loves learning music theory, which she explained combines both interests well.

“A lot of people have this idea that music and math are kind of disconnected, but they’re so similar, it’s insane,” Zittle said. “There’s so much of music that is built on logical, almost mathematical formulas, but the creative part is that you have this formula that you can break and meld into new things.”

And it goes both ways—learning about compositional processes in music has helped Zittle think more creatively in math classes, like when she is developing proofs, she said.

While her love for math was not fully realized until halfway through her first year of college, Zittle said music has been a big part of her life since she was little. She began playing piano and violin at a young age before joining several ensembles in high school. One group she joined was a service club called the “Ukuladies,” where she and her classmates would play ukuleles at retirement homes.

That experience, she said, was when the idea solidified in her head that whatever she would do in life, music would always be a part of it.

And college has been no exception to that, even in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when musicians were unable to practice together. That was when Zittle began composing her concert band piece, which would be individually recorded by students across the globe and edited together.

“Every time I would turn the TV on, I’d just get bombarded by news that’s constantly negative, it seemed like nothing was going right. I wanted to write a response to how I felt about the news, so…I spent time going through news clips, globally…and finding different clips that spoke to me, either [through] what they were saying, or rhythmically,” Zittle explained. “I turned some of those clips into musical patterns that ended up being the base for the piece.”

The Renaissance-inspired piece, entitled “To Life in Blurred Days,” ends in a way that suggests there is hope for a brighter future, according to Zittle.

And in order to time the entrances of the news clips in the song the way she wanted, she graphed the progression of the piece and used an exponential function, which she admitted was “kind of neat.”

Zittle also composed music for a college theater production in the fall of 2019, “Twisted Tales of Poe.” The production was made to sound like a radio show, so Zittle and three other students served as foley artists, creating sound effects in real time. Zittle and Ian Miller ‘20 composed entrance and exit music as well as jingles and advertisement music for the advertisements included in the show. 

“To write music that had a purpose in a show was so cool,” Zittle said.

This year, Zittle is an ensemble assistant for percussion ensemble, meaning she works closely with Music Professor Larry Stockton to make sure members get the information they need.

The group differs from the other ensembles she is a part of on campus because of the lack of prerequisite experience required, she said, but that does not take away from the seriousness of it.

“The beauty [of percussion ensemble] is the freedom to make mistakes so that we can get better,” Zittle added.

At the moment, Zittle is preparing the Marquis Players for next week’s filming of “The Wedding Singer.” As vocal director, she is responsible for rewriting harmonies to fit the vocal range of the ensemble and teaching the music to the performers. 

“It’s so rewarding to teach a song and then…hear the harmonies that you just taught, it’s amazing,” Zittle said.

Ultimately, whether she is writing, performing or teaching music, Zittle is participating in what she referred to as a “universal language”

“At the end of the day, you can touch someone who doesn’t speak the same verbal language as you with music…music is meant to connect us across barriers that may seem too tall to get over, so I think that’s what’s made it such a part of me,” she said.

After graduation next year, Zittle is considering graduate school for mathematics, specifically in a topic such as biostatistics or statistical processes. This degree could take her anywhere, including back to the music industry, she said.

No matter what comes next, though, Zittle is adamant that music will remain a part of her life. She summed it up accordingly: “Being able to combine my interests is vital to who I am as a person.”

And the music scene on College Hill may be better for it.

About Katie Frost

Katie Frost '22 is the arts and culture editor of The Lafayette. She studies English and history.

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