Music helps put mechanical engineering student’s brain ‘in balance’


Near the end of his freshman year in 2011, mechanical engineering student Christopher Marince was feeling the stress of working on a dual major in Vanderbilt University’s Accelerated Graduate Program. Now he’d expected the strain of an academic workload, but there was something else bothering him.

“I felt frustrated only using the analytical side of my brain. I had no real creative release,” he said, explaining that since second grade he had competed and done quite well (including world championship competition) as an Irish step dancer. “That was my creative outlet before Vanderbilt. I guess I had to find another creative outlet here.”

Marince first talked to his family in his hometown of Moon Township, Pa., (his father was in radio; one sister performs as Disney princesses in Orlando; another is an aspiring country singer) who encouraged him to add music back into his life.

Marince at an early DJ gig.

He then went out and bought some equipment and software and transformed himself into a DJ, inspired in part by his father who as a student at Penn State University would fly home to Pittsburgh on weekends to do a radio show. By the time he returned to campus, he’d mastered the software and entertained for friends and family at dances and weddings.

“It started as just a creative release – incorporating the other half of my brain,” he said. “The only way to have true balance in your life is to utilize both sides of your brain. And this is my way of doing that. And you couldn’t be in a better city to explore music like this.”

Ah, yes, Vanderbilt does happen to sit smack dab in the middle of Music City USA, so Marince didn’t hesitate to sign up for piano lessons and adding MUSO 102 – Computer Recording Technology Seminar at Blair to his class schedule which has him graduating in 2014 with undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering.

Marince invested in music production software Pro Tools and began to learn podcasting and music mixes. He earned both money and raves for his DJ work, getting identified by Atlantic Records as a member of its Elite DJ’s club, which gives him access to early releases and exclusive remixes of songs. He released his first self-produced EDM mix in October (hear it here), and added guitar lessons to his calendar without sacrificing a minute of his academic responsibilities, which now includes robotic research and development.

“I want to keep music involved in my life. I don’t aspire to be a music producer or anything, but it’s never something I’m going to regret learning,” he said. In fact, he has found that music helps him academically. “When I’m having difficulty solving a math problem, I play the piano for a while … to clear my thoughts,” he told participants at a recent Board of Visitors meeting.

Marince believes that mechanical engineering and music already may be connected in various ways. During lunch with his sister, a friend she knew through music came by their table to say ‘hello.’ Remembered Chris: “He asked what I was studying at Vanderbilt and when I told him mechanical engineering he said, ‘I did too.’ He was working for Toyota by day and playing in his band at night.

Marince believes there is a creative energy in Nashville that people feed off of and he thinks that Vanderbilt wants to do the same.

“It seems like the School of Engineering is making a push to get more into music technology, based on the recent Board of Visitors meeting we had,” he said. “It seems Vanderbilt is aware of this and wants to promote that kind of lifestyle – combining science and technology with music and creativity, and I think that’s wonderful.”

By Vince Troia