The University of Iowa

Spotlight: ISBA senior connects music, environment

May 12th, 2011

By Samantha Gentry, The Daily Iowan

Samantha Sidwell wants to push musical boundaries. The University of Iowa senior wants to mix alternative and classical music by mixing her cello with a loop pedal — a device that would allow her to create layers of melody and texture into her live performances.

But that’s only one of the ideas she wants to explore after she graduates. Majoring in music performance and international studies, Sidwell plans to use her education to connect music and environmental injustices in Chile.

“The emotionally heightening potential of music as a mutually understood social instrument has the power to encourage a stronger understanding between two groups,” the 22-year-old said.

Her interest in the topic began last spring, when she studied abroad in Chile for five months. With her cello in hand, Sidwell wanted to focus on learning the history of the country and incorporate music into it as much as she could. While living in Viña del Mar, a town near Santiago, she was a member of a Chilean orchestra.

“It is different there, because you have to find music in other ways and put yourself out there if you want to become a successful musician,” Sidwell said.

The Iowa City native participated in three main areas of music while in Chile — in school, with her Chilean brother, and at a music festival.

The small-scale event was a celebration for the Mapuche, a group of indigenous people of south-central Chile, in which a communal sharing of music brought together Chilean cultures.

“It was fascinating to me because it seemed to provide non-Mapuche urban kids with the means to share an experience with Mapuche in the rural areas,” Sidwell said. “In this sense music acted as a social connector, which is exactly what I want to pursue in music.”

Sidwell began playing the cello 13 years ago. She was introduced to the instrument in her elementary-school orchestra and continued to play throughout her career at City High.

“In high school, I would have never thought that my dream would be to become a professional musician,” Sidwell said. “But the music program in Iowa City has always been really good, so that is what led me to choose it as a major.”

Carey Bostian, one of the musician’s cello instructors in high school, is proud that Sidwell was able to have such a wonderful chamber-music experience as an undergraduate at the UI after training with him for so many years.

“I recently saw a picture of [Sidwell] on Facebook playing the electric cello in a band,” Bostian said. “It was a 22-year trip down memory lane for me and so great to see her use her skills at the cello to express herself musically in a variety of contexts.”

Like Bostian, UI Associate Professor of cello Anthony Arnone praised Sidwell’s talent. Knowing Sidwell for the past 10 years, Arnone feels as though he has watched her become a wonderful musician and person.

“It has been a pleasure watching her grow and discover her voice in music,” Arnone said. “She has a wonderful attitude toward learning and exploration, and her latest music has been a joy to hear.”