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To the Beat: Featuring senior percussionist and math major Sophia Zorek


Charlene Pan/Thresher

By Sunny Liu     3/5/19 10:16pm

The percussion practice room at Shepherd is where Sophia Zorek can be found, tapping out a notes on the marimba, its tones resonating from the wooden bars in soft, precise patterns. For Zorek, her love of percussion began in middle school.

“Once I started percussion, I was like, ‘This is it,’” Zorek, a Jones College senior, said. “It’s very active — that’s what I love about it. There’s something very mathematical about percussion too. It’s very precise.”

Before attending Rice, Zorek was set on pursuing two bachelor’s degrees — one in mathematics and one in music. Now, almost four years later, Zorek is two months from graduating with those very degrees.     

“I love music — it’s my passion and I cannot imagine myself doing anything else,” Zorek said. “And I like math. I think it develops [my] thinking in a certain way and can also be applied to music. It kind of makes [me] a little more employable just in case I need to get a side job while auditioning for orchestras.”

According to Zorek, she was initially drawn to the Shepherd School of Music because she wanted to take classes under Associate Professor of Percussion Matthew Strauss, who she names as one of her inspirations.

Zorek said she spent most of her childhood surrounded by music. For her, pursuing a music career was never a question. 

“My mom went to school for opera,” Zorek said. “She didn’t end up pursuing art professionally, but it’s always kind of been a part of my life. I played piano and cello growing up and it’s always been a part of me.”

Zorek described her creative approach to new pieces as mathematical, a skill she said she has gained in her major.

“I try and break it down, and that’s something the math has taught me to do,” Zorek said. “I like to listen to [the new piece] before and analyze the harmony or voicing and try to break it apart to find different patterns. It will help [me] retain it and memorize it faster. Math has made me more aware of finding patterns, but as a musician, you always do that to some extent.”

While Zorek’s learned a lot over her four years at Rice, one of the biggest skills she has gained has been overcoming failure.

“[I] had to somehow figure out how to separate [my] playing ability and the critiques that come with that from [my] self worth,” Zorek said. “It’s a part of college where I think I really learned how to do that, but it can still be a struggle.”

Beyond graduation, Zorek will be up against challenging obstacles and possible failure as she navigates the professional music world.

“My mom understands the struggles that [I] go through,” Zorek said. “It takes a really long time to master music and to even get an orchestra job. It’s not uncommon for people to get a second master’s degree or stay in school until you’re 27 before you get a job. I want to get a master’s degree for music and eventually, maybe a D.M.A. [doctorate of musical arts], which is like a Ph.D.”

Outside of academics, Zorek said she’s recently started a duo — still yet to be named — with her friend, Sid Richardson College senior Olivia Spencer.

“[Olivia] and I — she’s a singer here — we’re starting our own duo,” Zorek said. “We’ve gigged a little bit. I think I’d like to pursue that, too.”

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