Senior blends jazz performance and neuroscience

The following is a Q&A with Mason Hankamer, a neuroscience and jazz performance major, which will be featured in our alumni magazine. Along with interviewing Mason and putting the piece together, I was the one who pitched the idea at an editorial meeting. I chatted with Mason for nearly an hour to get to the bottom of this interesting choice of majors. It is one of four Q&A’s going in the magazine; we are also featuring a graduate student, a professor and an alumna.     

Q&A: The Undergraduate

Name: Mason Hankamer
Year: Fourth
Majors: Neuroscience and Jazz Performance

Korzekwa: So what do you like about neuroscience?
Hankamer: There is so much that we don’t know about the brain. There is just so much to figure out and who knows what we can do with it once we know how it can be applied.

What is your history with the Longhorn Band?
I joined the Longhorn Band to march my freshman year and have been in it every year since. Although I’m a jazz bass major, I play the tuba in LHB, and have been a section leader for the past two years. It’s such a great organization with amazing people.

And how did you realize you wanted to add jazz performance as a major?
I’ve always really loved music. Doing neuroscience by itself just felt like there was an empty hole, but at the same time, if I were just to do music there would be this entire gap where my academic thinking was missing.

How do you think the two majors come together for you personally?
I have what’s called color synesthesia, where I see music in colors. Certain sounds and instruments have different colors. For example, a song could be deep purple with sharp streaks of orange. I like playing bass instruments because they produce a dark blue color to me. When I compose, it’s like I’m painting a picture. I don’t actually see them physically; it’s more the aura of the color, which is difficult to explain. What really links the two is that we studied the condition once in a neuroscience class. It was really neat to actually learn and understand why I experience this.

What are some ways you think music and the brain are connected?
I am always thinking about music. Just humming a song in my head during class makes me ask so many questions. How and why do songs get stuck in your head? How and why does this song make me feel this way? I think it’s amazing how music completely inundates our entire lives. Take a look at ACL [Austin City Limits Music Festival]. Walk across campus and see everyone with their headphones. It’s a weird force that controls a large portion of our lives whether we think about it or not. There has kind of been this cultural phenomenon created at the intersection of music and the brain.


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