Peter Sykes: From Glee Club to Computer Science

Departments: Computer Science

Peter Sykes, a second-semester junior, is the current president of the Yale Glee Club. In addition to performing with what the New York Times calls "one of the best collegiate singing ensembles, and one of the most adventurous," Sykes manages to find time to keep up with his two majors, Music and Computer Science. It’s a particularly ambitious year for the Glee Club, as they will be traveling internationally for the first time in years to perform in Kenya (they’ll also be performing in Washington D.C.). We spoke with Peter about singing and how he balances and sometimes combines music and computer science. 

As president of the Glee Club, what do you do?

It's kind of a hodgepodge job. My main job is to be the connection between the students in the glee club and our director, Jeff Douma. A few of the things that I do are sending out the weekly newsletter and helping plan social events. I'll check in with Glee Clubbers and make sure they're all doing OK, and I’ll help do announcements during rehearsal. We have a really talented team of officers, the other students with more specialized jobs. A lot of it is just kind of overseeing and making sure that all those jobs are getting done and everyone is doing a good job and everything that needs to happen is getting done. 

Do you combine your two majors, Music and Computer Science in any way?

A little bit, yeah. I'm taking Computer Music this semester with Scott Petersen, which has been a really interesting class. It's focused on using computers to write a kind of algorithmic and mathematically inspired music. For example, I just finished a project last night that was writing pieces of music that use dice rolls to determine certain aspects of music, like how many sections there are and how many notes there are per section. 

How did you get involved in singing?

I've been playing piano since I was four, and I did classical piano pretty seriously throughout middle school and high school. And then in high school, I started singing in choir and just fell in love with it. Playing solo classical piano is honestly kind of lonely because you just spend a lot of time practicing by yourself, versus choir, which I'd argue is probably one of the most social forms of music-making because everyone is doing the same thing. You're all breathing together and singing together, and it’s so collaborative. I think that's one of the reasons I really enjoy it, so I started singing in 10th grade. I sang for the rest of high school and then joined the Glee Club my first year.

How did Covid affect things for the club?

It affected a lot of things because it’s singing in a choir, an aerosolizing activity, which is one of the most dangerous things you can do in a pandemic. During the 2020-2021 school year, we spent basically the entire year online. We did a lot of virtual choir projects, where everyone records themselves individually, singing only their part, and then you send in that video and a video editor stitches them all together and lays them on top of each other. It sounds like everyone's singing at once, but really it's just a bunch of stitched videos of people singing on their own. And obviously, that's not the same experience as singing together in a group. So it was a tough year, but we got through it, and I'm really proud of that.

Are there any particular pieces that you especially like singing?

One of my favorite things about the Glee Club is we sing such a diverse repertoire - everything from Renaissance and Baroque music and motets all the way to newly commissioned pieces. We're premiering a couple of works this year, things that have been written in the past two or three years. In our first concert of the year, we sang a piece by Nico Muhly which was written before the pandemic started. So I honestly don't think I have a favorite style of music to sing - I really appreciate the diversity.