Talents are tricky things. They’re part body and part mind, crafted through abilities both natural and trained. But there would have been no Van Gogh without a paintbrush, no Ansel Adams without a camera—and for these three Northwestern students, objects helped them get their start in what they do best. Whether it’s in art, sports or music, here are the contents of their craft.
Thaddeus Tukes, Medill and Bienen freshman
What got you interested in the vibraphone? In third grade, I was accepted into a percussion scholarship group that included vibraphone instruction and free private lessons. My instructors were members of the Chicago Symphony and Civic orchestras, so the program was super intense and classically oriented, but it really honed my technical percussive skills. Later, when my band teacher in high school started a jazz ensemble, I joined as a drummer. Eventually I picked up the vibes in high school.
Tell me about the groups you play with. My close friends and I have a group. We’re mainly a jazz quartet, but sometimes we like to mix things up and experiment. I play with professionals, too. I did a concert with the director of Northwestern’s Jazz Studies, Victor Goines, which was awesome because I got to immediately be involved with Northwestern’s music culture.
What gets you into your element? Healthy competition. I play with people who know exactly what they’re doing, and I have to bring my all if I want to keep up. Also, when I’m experiencing something heavy emotionally, I see music as an outlet and a diary.
What's been your most memorable performance? A show at The Green Mill jazz club. The power went out when I was on stage, and I had to continue playing by candlelight. I couldn’t see anything — it was just me and the music. It was surreal.
Where do you see yourself in the future in regards to music? I'm double-majoring journalism and jazz piano — so I’d love to find a career mix between writing and music. I just need the right medium. That’s why I’m at college: to figure out how to best realize my potential. We’ve become too complacent as a culture, and that can lead to some of the havoc you see today. I want my talents to be able to alleviate that. Regardless, I know I’ll be playing vibes for the rest of my life. Anything to say to the vibraphone haters out there? (Laughs) Vibraphone haters? Talk to me when you learn how to play.
- Q&A by Peter Adams
Vasiliki Valkanas, Communication sophomore
When and how did you first get interested in art? I come from an art family. I started taking art classes in the second grade in a very low-key environment. As I got older I began to get more involved—I took three AP art classes in high school.
Tell me about the groups or clubs you’re in. I’m the managing editor of Helicon. I’ve designed covers and advertisements in the magazine. I just finished a mural downstairs in PARC. Other than that, I participated in lots of art and design competitions. Also, T-shirt designs.
What gets you into your element? There are always a few ideas sitting in the back of my head. Art isn’t something where you sit down and say, “I’m going to create something today.” It’s more like an epiphany. I can be inspired by just about anything.
What is your relationship with these tools? They’re like my children! My friends know to get me art supplies for birthdays. You really have to treasure these tools, because without them you can’t create. They’re vital.
What’s been your most memorable piece of work? Usually in a series of work, my first pieces are my standout pieces. In high school, I did a piece with a series of tree people. There are a lot of optical illusions, and I’m very proud of that piece. Another piece I’m particularly proud of is this Close-inspired self portrait I did in seventh grade. It’s really not that good, but it took about three months for me to complete. I was so devoted to the piece. I would work on it all the time like during lunch and recess. I was so excited about it!
Where do you see yourself in the future with regards to art? Art is always going to be a part of my life. I’m looking to go into marketing or advertising right now, but I’d like to keep that creative energy flowing. I’m the kind of person who can’t hold her hands still—I never stop making art, so I’m sure it’s here to stay.
- Q&A by Sunny Kang
When did you first learn to juggle? I have a lot of the sibling rivalry complex, which is part of the reason I started juggling. My older brother, Zach, first started when he was a freshman in high school. When I was in third grade, he spent some time teaching me how to juggle, and I picked it up and learned how to do that and then didn’t really do anything with it for a long time. But when I got to high school, I joined the juggling club.
Do you juggle at all on campus? I go over to the gym and practice a lot, but normally by myself. There is a group called Cirque du NU on campus and we get together sometimes. If you want a good juggling lesson, contact me.
What is one of your biggest juggling accomplishments? Every summer for the past three years I’ve gone to the International Jugglers Association Festival and part of that is the World Joggling Championships. Joggling means juggling while running, so we went to a local track and there was a full track meet with a range of events. I won the gold medal for the 2012 World Championships of the 1600-meter for Joggling.
What is your relationship with your props? It starts with the fact that I've spent a long time building up this supply. My bag of juggling balls and clubs is the most accessible thing in my room. I pull it out all the time. Everything that is in there I got at a different time, and I've very slowly built up that repertoire.
Where do you see yourself taking this hobby? I plan to keep juggling and improving myself for the rest of my life, because it is always a stress reliever for me. I’m also a secondary education major in SESP, and ideally I’d like to be teaching at the high school level and start a club similar to the one that I had when I was in high school. I’d love to give some people the awesome opportunity I had.
Q&A by Daniele Marx