Sophia Serghi ’94, Pianist and Composer
Sophia Serghi was the first student ever to come to Lewis & Clark from Cyprus. That is not, however, the only way she distinguished herself while at the College. Attending as a Fulbright and Presidential Scholar, she went on to receive Cheney Foundation Scholarships and the Rena Ratte Award (given to an outstanding graduating senior), and to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in music at Columbia University on a full Mellon Fellowship.
Born and raised in a musical family, Serghi started composing at the age of 5 and attended a music conservatory in Cyprus until it was time to choose a college. Courted by some of the top music schools in the United States, she chose Lewis & Clark, partly because the adventurer in her was attracted to the school that was farthest from home. It was a choice she is very glad she made. By choosing the small liberal arts college, she says, “I received a well-rounded education that turned me into a well-rounded human being. The one-on-one attention I got from my professors gave me the confidence to believe that I could excel anywhere.”
Serghi credits two Lewis & Clark professors in particular with her musical development. “Vincent McDermott, my composition teacher, and Alexander Lee Frick, my piano teacher, just made me fall in love with music and made me realize that I had what it took to be a musician.”
In graduate school, Serghi chose to focus on composing. “It’s a more evocative, all-around music experience,” she says. Her dissertation, entitled Extreme Games, was a 30-minute work for orchestra and piano soloist, inspired by ESPN’s “X Games.” “The X Games were big at that time, and I was heavily into it,” she says.
“I try to draw from the adrenaline that is needed to perform a sport, and to write music that requires the same sort of adrenaline and virtuosity from my musicians.”
As an athlete, she continues to find much of her musical inspiration in sports. She has written works about cycling and about skiing, and is currently composing a multimedia opera called Sonic Sails, inspired by her sailing experiences. “I’ve created a niche for myself, composing music related to sports,” she says. “I try to draw from the adrenaline that is needed to perform a sport, and to write music that requires the same sort of adrenaline and virtuosity from my musicians.” Her musicians often bring Gatorade with them onstage, she adds, “because they simply need it to get through the performance.”
Serghi’s latest inspiration is her daughter, Ariadne (Aria for short), born last summer. Serghi recently composed a piece named after her daughter, and has finished the first in a series of pieces called Contractions, whose inspiration should be obvious to anyone who has given birth.
In addition to these ongoing works—motherhood included—Serghi serves as artistic director and pianist of the SCHIZO5 Ensemble in Cyprus; continues to compose stage, orchestral, chamber, and vocal works for performances throughout the United States and Europe; and teaches music as an assistant professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. How does she balance all that? “You just have to be laid-back,” she says, “which is something I acquired while living in Portland.”
“My time at Lewis & Clark definitely shaped me as the person I am today, and was the catalyst that made me a successful teacher,” says Serghi. “I haven’t had a chance to spend as good a time anywhere else. That cozy bubble on the top of Palatine Hill was definitely a very sweet spot in my life. My students always say that I have an insight into their personalities and their way of thinking, and I say, always, that it’s because I was there.”