As part of our on-going Alumni in the Field series, where alumni reflect on their career paths and how their Amherst experience shaped their lives, Darryl Harper ’90 discusses how he entered Amherst College as a psychology major but graduated with a commitment to pursuing a career as a professional musician.

Amherst Alumni in the Field: Darryl Harper ’90

October 11, 2018

Darryl Harper ’90 arrived at Amherst with plans to study psychology, but the possibilities of music were more intriguing.


I can sit with you in a room, for two hours, and through music we can actually travel through time. We can go back to the 17th century, then we can jump to the 19th century, then we can jump to the present day. We we can do all of that through music. You know, if you talk to a physicist the'll say, well it's not possible. Time-travel is not possible. But talk to a musician, because we think it is possible.

My name is Darrel Harper, class of 1990, and I was a music major. I'm a professional musician. I perform. I compose music. I've been teaching at the college, university-level for the past decade or so. A lot of what I do has to do with actually training the body. It's very similar to the way an athlete works, where you have to stay in shape.

I started playing clarinet when I was about 6 years old, but by the time I was thinking about Amherst, I wasn't sure if I wanted to have a music career or wanted to do something else.

The liberal arts college philosophy was really appealing to me. And in fact I started here as a psych major. The Amherst experience is really distinctive. You're going to learn these skills of critical inquiry and that those skills are going to serve you no matter what you do. And at Amherst I really felt, when I finished, I was ready to try any number of things.

This is a privileged position for you to be in. To be able to go to a place like this and spend all day, every day thinking and learning how to think and reading and debating and honing your ideas. At least for me, you know, there was this really clear sense of responsibility. I'm going to take this education and I'm going to do something with it that helps other people or that makes this community better.