Campus Celebrity Tomal Hossain '17


Where are you from?: Los Angeles, CA.

How does the weather at Amherst compare to the weather back home?: In terms of environmental difference, I like to say that I would have initially felt more at home at some college in Mexico. Having lived in Los Angeles my entire life, I’m used to light clothing and basking in the sun all day, every day. Of course, one in my situation begins to take the year-long summer season for granted and in turn are unaffected by the natural beauty of their surroundings. That mentality was purged from my mind after living in Amherst for a few weeks. Now I really love it when it’s sunny, and I also don’t mind some rain here and there.

Why did you choose to attend Amherst?: More than anything, I was drawn to Amherst’s generous financial aid package. Secondary to this consideration were a variety of motivations including the small college town vibe, small class sizes, and the ability to freely craft your academic journey.

I know you are involved in musical groups here on campus. Would you like to tell me more about that?: As a music major, I spend less time completing concrete, academic assignments than most of my non-musical peers. In fact, my time here at Amherst is split evenly between academic and extracurricular pursuits. These activities include singing in the the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble, a Jazz combo, Concert Choir, and the DQ (an a capella group). Each one of these groups demand upto 4-6 hours of rehearsing per week to really be on top of the music.

The Jazz Ensemble is an excellent place for vocalists to stand out, because you’ve got the combined backing of big band horns and rhythm section components to dramatize and bring out the best in your voice. Rehearsals for Jazz combos are much less structured and much more student-driven. Though groups of 4-6 people have a single coached rehearsal per week, it is largely up to group members to choose and interpret repertoire, and so creativity skyrockets in such settings. Of all the groups I participate in, Concert Choir demands the least degree of creativity and the greatest degree of discipline on members’ parts. I don’t mean to say that singing in a choir transforms you into a robot. Rather, it teaches you focus, awareness, and self-control because the top priority is blending as a group rather than standing out as an individual. Singing in the DQ is similar to singing in a full choir except that the rehearsal environment in a capella groups is much more anarchical and informal. Though we have two co-directors, everyone’s opinions are equally valued and unanimity is a must when agreeing upon anything as a group.

You also pursue music on your own. What would say is your sound? What’s that experience like?: Despite all the extra-curricular groups I participate in, it may surprise some that I don’t primarily consider myself a Jazz, Western Classical, or Pop vocalist. Before coming to college, all I ever rigorously listened to and practiced was Hindustani Classical and traditional Bengali music. I began learning Hindustani voice from a very young age and continued gigging on a weekly basis right up to my enrollment here at Amherst College. The main reason why I participate in the groups I’m in is because I wish to expand my musical vocabulary and perspective as much as possible. That is to say, I consider my extra-curricular pursuits an immense learning opportunity opposed to performance opportunities. Honestly, my knowledge of Jazz, Western Classical, and Pop songs and artists is so miniscule that I often surprise and even anger my musical peers. I tell them that I’ve never heard of “that song” or “that band” and they give me a look that is somewhat pitiful but mostly resentful. Of course, I almost never have the opportunity of showing off my grasp on Hindustani Classical history, theory, repertoire, and practice, thus leaving me feeling inadequate and estranged at times.

Aside from practicing ethnic music, I have also dabbled in composing and producing original music. My music tends to be rather meditative and abstract, largely because I employ unconventional vocal melodies and not-your-average chord progressions or lack thereof, and I prioritize music much more than lyrics. So far, I’ve not completed a single project of mine nor have I felt satisfied with anything I’ve ever cooked up, but I’m eager to further experiment and discover myself further in the medium of sound.

Besides music, what other interests do you have? I don’t have very many interests besides music, but I do enjoy running, playing basketball, and coding. I’m not very big at all on books, movies, or the many forms of media. For the most part, I’m either secluded with musical instruments and technology or secluded with a laptop and programming environment. However, I will say that I find political philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultures throughout the globe to be fascinating.

What are your plans for the rest of your time at Amherst and beyond?: Aside from studying abroad next year, I plan on continuing my regiment of equal academic and extracurricular pursuits. I look forward to composing a senior thesis in music composition. Throughout my time here, I look to grow my perspective on life i.e. expand my horizons by engaging myself in anything that remotely interests me.

What’s something you’ve always wanted to say but never got the chance to say it?: Sometimes we’ve got to spend more time with children to be reminded how to live.