Music has always been a part of Sam Genualdi’s DNA.
The Evanston student grew up as a serial instrumentalist, working his way through a litany of recommendations from his parents – violin, piano, percussion, double bass – but it was not until he taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 15 that he found his sweet spot.
“When I picked up the guitar, it felt like something on my terms,” said Mr. Genualdi, a senior at Lawrence University. “I felt like I was rebelling against my parents through the electric guitar.”
As his musical interests evolved, he discovered collaborating with other musicians was vital to his creative process. Later this year, Mr. Genualdi will embark on a year-long musical “binge” to feed his creative hunger that will take him around the world to engage in collaborations with musicians he has not yet met.
Mr. Genualdi, a student-designed contemporary improvisation major at Lawrence, was recently named one of 40 national recipients of a $30,000 Watson Fellowship for a wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Beginning in August, he will visit Scotland, Peru, Indonesia, India, and Japan.
“I plan to spend my Watson year in five countries steeped in unfamiliar musical traditions,” said Mr. Genualdi, a 2011 Evanston Township High School graduate. “Music can be a powerful tool to bridge cultural gaps. I hope to co-create music that makes this evident. I want to engage in musical collaborations that push against the boundaries of existing genres.
“I have always thrived on collaboration,” added Mr. Genualdi, who has had plenty of opportunities as a member of numerous groups and ensembles at Lawrence, including the small jazz combos, the improvisation group IGLU, Gamelan Cahaya Asri, and the Sambistas Brazilian drumming group, among others. “While I’ve done a fair amount of solitary work as a musician, the experiences that most excite me are those that involve interacting with other people.”
At each of his global destinations, Mr. Genualdi hopes to work with musicians he meets by attending concerts and jam sessions. He will approach local musicians as a student to better develop relationships and more effectively absorb the culture.
“Taking lessons will give me the opportunity to interact with these musicians on a personal level, accumulate skills and expand my musical vocabulary,” said Mr. Genualdi, the son of Cynde Gillard, Evanston, a producer at WFMT, Chicago’s fine arts radio station, and Joseph Genualdi, a violin professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “I may learn a new instrument to gain perspective, but mainly I intend to communicate musically through my primary voice, the guitar.”
Brian Pertl, dean of Lawrence’s conservatory of music and campus liaison to the Watson Foundation, calls Mr. Genualdi “an explorer of sound.”
“Sam is infinitely curious about sonic possibilities and how improvisation and collaboration can create musical worlds yet unimagined,” said Mr. Pertl, himself a 1986 Watson Fellow. “He has been pushing the boundaries of improvisation during his time at Lawrence and now will have an opportunity to explore his passion across the globe. I can’t wait to see what new musical concoctions will emerge from his grand adventure.”
His Watson experience, says Mr. Genualdi, will deepen his relationship to music and profoundly affect every aspect of his life moving forward.
“The musical experiences I’ll have in each country is sure to be different, but each will help bring into focus a larger picture of the human experience. Music is an important part of lives across the globe and I’m intensely inspired by discovering these connections.”