Pictured: Ethan White (C’21). Photo by Mandy Moe Pwint Tu (C’21).
By Jeremy O’Neill
Music has been an important part of the life of Ethan White (C’21) for as long as he can remember. Growing up in a family of musicians, jam sessions and singing with relatives were common staples in his early life, and continue to this day.
“Music always has been and hopefully always will be a central part of my existence,” White said.
He grew up harmonizing and playing instruments by ear with his family, and once in middle school, started playing saxophone in jazz band. From there, White slowly expanded outwards, and at one point was actually playing keyboard in a Savannah rock band, “Habersham Vibe.” Here at Sewanee, White is primarily a singer, but he values variety and change, and as various points in his life he has put saxophone or piano at the top of his musical list.
A native of Savannah, Georgia, White is in his second year on the Mountain, and is majoring in history and music. He is a member of the tenor section of the University Choir, and views the ensemble as a vital part of his weekly routine. The University Choir sings is a significant time commitment, with Choral evensong on occasional Sunday afternoons, in addition to their regular duties at the 11a.m. University Service in All Saints Chapel. The choir is also embarking on a tour of the Southern United States, with stops in New Orleans, Texas, Little Rock, and Memphis, over spring break.
White remarked on how he got connected to organized singing: “I always sang for enjoyment on the side but never gave it proper attention until high school, when I got involved in musical theater as both an actor and pit musician. At Sewanee I joined the University Choir and began taking private lessons to enhance my technical skills.”
Music is always a combination of the artistic and the technical, and all great musicians have to find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum. Reflecting upon his own musical journey, White credits his familial background in helping him find appreciation for both aspects of the art form. Both of his grandmothers were church musicians, albeit one a classical musician in the Episcopal tradition and one a southern gospel musician in the Pentecostal tradition. His musical upbringing was therefore a combination of being able to read and appreciate written music as an art form, while also learning the value of being able to pick up a guitar or banjo and have a good time.
“In my approach to music I try to blend the intuition with the technical skills,” said White. “I think the best performers are those who can play with both precision and emotional clarity.”
Music has taken White to some unique places, both in the music world and out. When he was a senior in high school, his school choir was given the opportunity to sing at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City as well as at the Verona Arena in Italy, both of which were unforgettable experiences for White.
His greatest claim to fame, however, came when he was in seventh grade. He was a member of a community choir in Savannah that was asked to sing backup on Esperanza Spalding’s song “Black Gold,” which featured on her album Radio Music Society, and won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2013.
White complimented the Sewanee community for helping him keep music as a part of his life while also allowing opportunity for exploration of other areas. “I hope that music is able to enhance my life in whatever career I end up pursuing, and I am really thankful that Sewanee has afforded me so many opportunities to form myself as a complete person, both musically and in general.”