Music at College of the Atlantic

Drum class From the first class of College of the Atlantic students in 1972 to today, music has been woven throughout the study and practice of human ecology. Just as the visual and performing arts are essential to the exploration of human ecology, so too is music.

Over these five decades, students have studied music in the context of history and culture, and have developed an appreciation and understanding of the powerful roles music can play in shaping personal, social, and political life. Students have examined natural and social processes through sound and music, and utilized music as a tool to communicate insights they’ve developed in other disciplines. And as would be expected, students have studied the widest variety of instruments and developed their own musical skills both independently and as part of ensembles, from the stage to the theater pit, to ceremonies, and in all manner of contexts.

Darron Collins '92 Darron Collins '92One student whose life has been deeply shaped by music is alum and president Darron Collins ’92 (pictured). The leader of our college over the past 13 years, he may be better known as an anthropologist, but if you knew Darron as a student you would have known him for his love of music and his passion for guitar.


Four Focus Areas for Music at COA

1. Ethnomusicology - Studying music in the context of history, culture, and politics
2. Sound and the Environment - Examining the relationship between music, sound, and the natural environment
3. Musical Practice, Creativity, and Self expression - Developing music skills towards self-expression and multidisciplinary learning
4. Visiting Artists - Cultivating the performing arts at COA and on MDI through local and regional collaborations


Inaugural Chairholder and our Vision for Music and Sound Studies in the Human Ecology Curriculum

In 2022, College of the Atlantic welcomed ethnomusicologist, composer, and producer Jonathan Henderson as our sole full-time faculty member in music.

Henderson Jonathan’s academic research explores how local musical traditions are transformed through recording studio practice and come to articulate new meaning in their international circulation. He has years of experience studying music from the Black Atlantic, from Brazil to Senegal to the US South, andremains active as an artist and performer. In 2018, Jonathan produced the album Routes for his band Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba. The album was recorded both in Senegal and North Carolina and garnered critical acclaim from Songlines, Afropop Worldwide, The Financial Times, and Robert Christgau for Vice, among others. In 2020, he recorded and produced the album Diassing Jalikunda with the korist Yousoupha Cissokho at his home in M’Bour, Senegal. Jonathan has written music for film and theater and is a founding member of a wide variety of performing ensembles. Jonathan has 15 years of music teaching experience at the secondary and post-secondary levels. He holds PhD and MA degrees in music from Duke University and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Guilford College.

Jonathan believes music is essential to the exploration, study, and practice of human ecology, writing: “At the heart of music teaching and learning at COA is a commitment to cultivating the capacity to listen across lines of difference. Learning how to listen in a close and informed manner to musical cultures outside one’s usual worldview is a humanistic project that hones practices of compassion and appreciation, one that builds trust. In a moment when we strain to listen across cultural and political boundaries, even within our own national context, cultivating the capacity to hear another’s humanity through sound is a skill that takes on renewed urgency. By exposing students to a broad range of musical expressions from across the world, the study of music can help students develop self-awareness and an appreciation for the multiplicity of human brilliance through the practice of careful and creative listening.”

We envision COA as a place where music, musicians, and the study of sound thrive. Where students have ample opportunities to engage with a range of professional musicians—visiting artists who are passing through Maine as well as local instructors. Where students build upon the musical practice they developed before college while they branch out in new directions. Where students with no previous musical experience can pick up an instrument for the fi rst time, struggle with the rigor required to develop their skills, and work toward the joyful promise of musical ability. A strong music program will contribute to a vibrant social life at the college, both for students and the surrounding community. Our hope is that music will spill into social spaces at COA—evening concerts, open mic nights, student ensemble performances, and opportunities for students and community members to engage with world class musicians-in-residence.


Funding the Collins Family Chair Darron playing guitar in his COA dorm room Darron playing guitar in his COA dorm room

While music has been a part of our curriculum for decades, program expenses including faculty salaries, staff support salaries, music equipment, technology, and other resources have been funded through COA’s general operating budget. The Collins Family Chair in Music and Sound Studies is a $2.5M funding opportunity that would endow a permanent faculty position in music and sound studies, and provide a baseline budget for the maintenance and improvement of music equipment and resources at COA. This dedicated endowment would provide stability to a program that is critical to COA’s academic curriculum and culture while freeing up general operating resources to be used for other ongoing and emerging needs. If you’d like to support the Collins Family Chair, please click here to make a contribution.