Music and Mollusks

Biologist Kool tastes success as pianist

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

    By day he is Professor Kool to the Boston College students with whom he shares his passion for the science of mollusks. But several nights a week he is Silvard, a pianist and recording artist in growing demand.

    Since his college days, part-time faculty member Silvard Kool (Biology) has built a successful career as a concert pianist performing throughout the world and, more recently, as a recording artist. He has a regular weekly gig at Boston's Marriott Copley Place Hotel.

    Kool sees his twin callings as separate yet intertwined, appealing to both his scientific and aesthetic sensibilities. It is as if Kool is caught between two lively children tugging insistently at his sleeve, craving attention and nurturing. Thus far, however, Kool has been able to strike a balance between lab and lounge.

    Kool, who began teaching at BC in 1994, said his two interests are complementary. "I find that by spending time pursuing my interest in nature, I am inspired to make music; and making music helps me to reflect on and continue to explore the natural world.

Part-time faculty member Silvard Kool (Biology). (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

    "They tie together in other ways," he continued. "On one hand, there's a certain compelling logic in how mollusks adhere to mathematical formulas when they develop. But the fact is they are just beautiful creatures of nature. Music has a mathematical aspect to it, too, but again, we are drawn to its beauty."

    Kool is teaching courses in biology, evolution and marine biology while continuing his three-nights-a-week and Sunday brunch appearances at the Marriott, where he has played for 11 years. This year, Kool also gave two benefit concerts to support the Doug Flute Jr. Foundation for Autism. He will take time off from BC in the spring to go on an international tour of corporate and private functions.

    Kool - who performs simply as Silvard - also plans to work on his fourth album during the next year. Two of his CDs, containing all-original material, were successful enough commercially to be added to the catalogue of a national distributor, Music Design Inc., owned by Virgins Records.

    His sedate, romantic compositions, alternately lush and wispy, peg him in the New Age category, although Kool likes to describe his style as contemporary with a classical influence. But no, Kool says, he does not retire to the drawing room at day's end to tinker around on a grand piano; his only keyboard at home is an electronic one, which he only uses at gigs where no piano is available.

    "Generally, I compose as I perform," he explained. "I just start playing and some of it will stick in my mind. Over time, I remember enough to shape the melody I've improvised into a composition that's ready to be recorded."

    Kool began taking piano lessons at age 10 in his native Holland. His teacher said he "probably wouldn't amount to anything" but he continued to play for his enjoyment. Then, while attending the University of South Carolina, he was invited to play two nights a week at an upscale steak house, and his musical career began.

    His scientific career could be said to have begun even earlier. At 6, Kool recalls, he started collecting mollusk shells on the beach and sorting them into little boxes. When a gas station chain began selling shells from around the world as part of a promotion, "I was hooked," he said.

    Kool feels gratified to have the opportunity to pursue his academic interest and takes his teaching responsibilities seriously. While numerous mollusk shells adorn his Higgins Hall office, musical accoutrements do not.

    "I do feel I want to focus on my relationship with my students," he said. "I don't want to be seen as a musician who just happens to be teaching, any more than I consider myself as a teacher who plays a little music on the side. I believe I can make both priorities in my life, and so far the balance has worked very well."

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