Q&A: Monica Grady '17

From a young age, accomplished cellist Monica Grady ’17 has had big musical aspirations — literally and figuratively. 

Co-winner of this year’s Boston College Symphony Orchestra concerto competition, Grady took up the instrument before her age reached double digits – although it wasn’t her first choice.  

In addition to the BC Symphony Orchestra, she has lent her musical talents to the Chamber Music Society, Cello Ensemble and Middle Eastern Ensemble. On the heels of a semester in Italy last year, the University awarded her an Advanced Study Grant in the Arts to attend the prestigious Brevard Music Center’s Summer Institute. Grady attributes significant creative development to both.  

During a recent, standing-room-only BC Symphony Orchestra concert in Gasson Hall under the direction of conductor John Finney, Grady’s stellar solo performance garnered a prolonged standing ovation. The Asheville, NC, resident, a biochemistry major and music minor, spoke about her academic and musical experiences, influencers, and aspirations.

What made you choose to study the cello at age nine?

I started playing in my school orchestra program in fourth grade. Originally I wanted to play the bass, but my mom rejected that idea because the bass was too large to bring home on the school bus. So I settled for the next largest instrument, the cello.

Monica Grady
Monica Grady

How do your studies in biochemistry and music complement one another? 

Both disciplines have helped me develop analytical skills. For instance, in biochemistry I often have to break down a molecular process by asking myself how I can connect this reaction to something I already know, so I can understand the concept more fully. And in music, the thought process is similar: How can I think of these notes – what images or experiences can I tie to them – so that I can maximize the expressivity of a phrase? The problem-solving I do in one subject stretches my capacity to do the same in the other.  

What musical piece did you play in the BC Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition? Do you prefer a particular composer?

I played “Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor” by Camille Saint-Saëns [which she also performed in the recent concert]. When it comes to solo repertoire, I love Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto in E minor.” The Elgar encompasses a broader range of expression both technically and musically and forces the performer to access and communicate raw, inner emotions in a very unique way. 

Tell us about your experience with the BC Symphony Orchestra.

I have played with the Boston College Symphony Orchestra since freshman year. It has been great to have the opportunity to play significant symphonic works in a non-conservatory setting. [Director] John Finney has very realistic expectations of what the BCSO can do, and does an excellent job making the most of the skills that the orchestra members have. It was an incredibly rewarding experience rehearsing and performing alongside fellow BC musicians and friends, some of whom I have played with for the past four years here.

Have other BC faculty members have influenced you, and in what ways?

My conversations with [Music] Professor Thomas Oboe Lee led me to shift my conception of cello as an “extracurricular” to something that is a central aspect of my life. Professor Lee was the first to make me consider pursuing music. Now that I have embraced the idea of music as a very serious possibility for the future, I am much happier.

How did your semester in Italy contribute to your creative development? 

I studied art history, Italian cinema, European history, and Italian language at the University of Parma, and did an internship at the Pietro Barilla Children’s Hospital. In Italy I was confronted with art everywhere I turned – in the conventional forms of painting, sculpture, architecture, but also in terms of food, fashion, and language. Being exposed to art in this way distanced me from my stresses and allowed me return back to my “normal” life with the attitude of searching for beauty in what I see and what I do.

What are your post-graduate plans? Do they include music?

My post-graduate plans remain undecided. Medical school has always been a consideration, but for now I know that I would not be satisfied by simply doing cello for pleasure and allowing my skill level to stagnate. I would like to continue a serious study of the cello and see where it may take me.

–Rosanne Pellegrini / University Communications