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A Director at Heart

by | May 28, 2024 | Alumni Profiles, Culture

Natalie Laurie ’23, assistant band director for the UC Davis Marching Band, started their undergraduate studies as a cognitive science major, with plans to go to graduate school for cognitive science and psychology. But Laurie quickly realized they wanted to further explore their interest in music. 

Laurie started playing piano at age 6, sparking an interest in learning other instruments. “I just kind of wanted to learn everything I could from there,” Laurie said. They played piano competitively and then competitive accordion. Laurie moved on to guitar, violin, various percussion instruments, and then woodwinds like flute and piccolo. In college, they started taking music more seriously, joining a percussion ensemble and becoming proficient in most of the woodwind instruments. 

Balancing music endeavors with the cognitive science major, Laurie said they had hesitations about getting a graduate degree after college. “I just felt like something wasn’t right,” they said. Laurie discussed their interest in music with their professors and was encouraged to try directing music as a conductor. Laurie completed their honors thesis in conducting, double majoring in music and cognitive science and eventually applying for a job in music, at the UC Davis Campus Recreation and Unions. 

Currently, Laurie assists in music direction for the UC Davis Marching Band. They also direct and organize logistics for trips and events, including Battle of the Bands during Picnic Day, and gigs at football and basketball games.

“Wherever the band goes, I go,” Laurie said. 

Laurie also instructs a class band, which performs each winter and spring. They said they have faced a steep learning curve in their first year of teaching, as well as the difficulty of accepting mistakes. “Every time I’m doing something, I’m probably doing it for the first time,” Laurie said.

Outside of UC Davis, Laurie teaches beginning band at an elementary school, guest teaches at band clinics and other institutions and is a freelance musician.   

In the future, Laurie said they plan to do research in music and neuroscience, studying links between neural signatures and conducting patterns. Eventually, they added, they will go on to get a master’s and doctorate with hopes of directing ensembles at the university level. “It’s so difficult and it makes my brain do backflips, but it’s my favorite thing in the world,” they said.