Their musical backgrounds vary from self-taught to classically trained, but the Reflections Display pianists share two things in common — they love the tradition of Muster, and they volunteer their time to create an atmosphere of reflection for one of the tradition’s most cherished facets.
The Muster Reflections Display is a living memorial dedicated to the current and former students listed on the Roll Call for the Absent. As visitors in the MSC Flag Room quietly view the objects and photographs meant to give an intimate glimpse of who an Aggie was, music often flows softly from the grand piano in the corner. Classical, contemporary and movie soundtracks — the music varies and sets an emotional undertone to a place of both celebration and mourning.
Biology sophomore Ray Cortez said he plays in the Flag Room often, so he volunteered for the Reflections Display last year before really knowing what it was.
“So I started playing and a girl — might’ve been a family member — sat behind me and was reading a letter and when I finished the song, I could hear crying while she was reading it,” Cortez said. “I obviously won’t ever know what she was feeling or thinking, but it was definitely a nice feeling for me knowing I could connect with her emotions like that.”
Cortez started playing piano his sophomore year of high school and said he hasn’t spent a day without touching one since. When Cortez volunteered to play at the Reflections Display again, he said he knew he wanted to replicate the emotions of last year.
“I love knowing that I can provide a beautiful sound in the background while there are people taking in the beauty of this event and the lives being honored,” Cortez said. “It just really adds to the effect of the emotion this week brings to the Aggie family.”
Stephen Findeisen, chemical engineering sophomore, taught himself piano nine years ago. This will be his first year playing for the display. Findeisen said he wants to help visitors understand the atmosphere of the Reflections Display and how it fits into the tradition of Aggie Muster.
“Music really bridges the gap from mind to heart,” Findeisen said. “Somber emotion is a lot about song choice and dynamic softness. You can’t be banging away at the keys. You have to hold a lot back and let the silence between the notes speak.”
Business honors junior Ben Johnson has played piano since the first grade. Johnson said he doesn’t necessarily view the Reflections Display as a somber place.
“I don’t see the Reflections Display as a place to be sad,” Johnson said. “I see it as a place to celebrate and honor the lives of those displayed. So I don’t necessarily try to play somber music, but music that helps people reflect and remember those we’ve lost. I love playing at the Reflections Display because it’s a small way I can serve one of my favorite traditions, and by extension, the Aggie family.”
Zane Litzmann, geological information and science technology sophomore, has played for students and visitors at the Reflections Display for two years now and hopes to play next year as well. He plays movie soundtracks, and creates custom arrangements of current songs.
“It just adds to the whole atmosphere of everything,” Litzmann said. “You know you’re also reading, but it’s just something in the background that kind of drives everything forward.”
Marketing sophomore Lauren Evans, one of the coordinators for the Reflections Display, said she has a special connection with the music playing during the display. Evans said it helped her emotionally connect with her father, who was honored at the 2015 Muster.
“When I would hear the piano players play a certain song we would always think of, it was just a closer connection to him, more than looking at pictures of him,” Evans said. “It was a way of almost feeling him again, so that’s what makes these piano players so special and that’s why we like them. We want to create those connections and also set the appropriate mood.”
Evans said she is glad the piano players have responded and volunteered their time to play.
“There’s something very special about music,” Evans said. “It’s something that unifies people and at the same time creates a unique experience for everyone. So having piano players here gives the opportunity for students that are maybe walking through, or families that are coming to see their loved one’s display, to connect with this music — but also have it ingrained with a memory of such a special person.”