Eden H. Girma ’18 has mixed feelings about the 1 Bus to Boston.
As a student in the dual-degree program sponsored by Harvard and the New England Conservatory, Girma relies on the bus to commute between the two campuses, a time-split that Girma says comes with many difficulties.
“The 1 Bus takes you straight there, but I really have a love-hate relationship with it,” Girma says, laughing. “Every trip is a journey.”
Girma’s own musical journey has been going on for a long time, beginning with singing at home in the shower as a kid and culminating most recently with a performance at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture in November. But it wasn’t until senior year of high school that Girma considered studying music seriously.
“There was a concentrated amount of crazy, serendipitous events that led to various artistic opportunities [for me]” Girma says. “That was when I thought, ‘Not only is this something I am good at, but something I can get better in and do something with.’”
That realization prompted Girma to transfer into the dual-degree program with NEC during freshman year to study vocal jazz performance. Girma says one of the best parts of the program has been the like-minded community Girma has found there.
“They have actively decided, ‘Despite what the world tells me, I’m going to spend my time and effort pursuing a music career,’” Girma says.
Girma has found the culture surrounding art and music at Harvard, on the other hand, to be challenging.
“When you’re a student here, you’re really pressured to find ‘your thing’” Girma says. “Artistically, there are so many hoops you have to jump through to prove yourself to be a part of different organizations or magazines. I think that’s intimidating and frustrating.”
But Girma also credits the artistic community at Harvard, particularly the Kuumba Singers, with broadening Girma’s perspective on the role and impact of music-making. For Girma, singing is a means for self-expression, yes, but also an intellectual and interpersonal challenge.
“Singing and music is about more than just the sound or the personal construction,” Girma says. “We use music as a factor through which to communicate with and impact other people.”
When not singing at the NEC, Girma is pursuing a joint concentration in Mathematics and Astrophysics back on this side of the river. In January, Girma presented original research on black holes to the American Astronomical Society: simulations that suggested the regions of space known for sucking objects in could also be spitting some out, leaving them free-floating around the galaxy. The research was featured in National Geographic and then picked up by dozens of other publications.
Girma’s fascination with space stretches back to childhood, too, which Girma credits partially to pure interest and partially to Girma’s parents’ preference for hard science.
“They were like, ‘Yes, this is good! We approve of this!’” Girma jokes.
Now, Girma is working on a new senior thesis research project: trying to devise a new observational technique for detecting as-of-yet unobserved black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy. When I confess total ignorance of black holes, observing them, and astronomy in general, Girma is quick to teach me, interrupting our interview for a mini-lesson on telescopes and how they’re used to monitor activity in space.
Girma’s penchant for teaching science extends far beyond our 9:30 a.m. conversation in J.P. Licks.
“One thing that has been really amazing to see is the amount of people I’ve interacted with who in some way have a connection to space, whether that’s a mutual fascination, or a television show that they watched, or a museum or planetarium they visited,” Girma says. “Out of all the sciences that I’ve spent time in—astronomy, physics, and pure math—astronomy has always been the most accessible to the public imagination. I really enjoy facilitating that.”
Girma thinks this sort of accessibility is vital to any field of academic study—whether that’s music or astronomy—and that taking an academic-only approach ignores the concrete realities of social issues in the real world. When I ask if Girma sees music, astronomy, and social justice as connected, Girma laughs and responds simply.
“I see everything as connected.”