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Williams student mixes passion for music into everyday school life

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: The Day

Published May 28. 2014 4:00AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Williams School senior Brien Bradley sits with his guitar earlier this month in front of the school. Go online at www.theday.com to see a video about Bradley.

Brien Bradley won't tell you that he's a talented musician. He won't tell you that at The Williams School, he's an honor student, co-captain of the cross country team or the recipient of several prestigious awards.

Bradley, who is graduating next week, is described by his teachers as "unassuming," "genuine" and "resourceful" and not the type of person who likes to put himself out in the forefront.

And yet he has put himself out there by just being himself.

Bradley, 18, of Westerly loves playing the guitar. He has become the unofficial resident musician at the school, strumming away almost daily out in the front patio or on the blue bench in the foyer.

"In some ways, I'm more comfortable playing my guitar," Bradley said. "It's something I'm passionate about. I write a lot of my own music. It's a stress reliever. Whenever I'm frustrated, I go to my guitar."

Bradley started taking guitar lessons in the fourth grade but stopped after a couple of years. He picked up the instrument again in the summer before his freshman year, and it hasn't left his side since.

Bradley's guitar in some respects is his companion. He talks and answers questions while strumming along. It is as if he and the instrument have become one.

When he plays an original piece, like his "Portraits for Sydney," he suddenly becomes confident. His face emotes varying feelings with each changing chord, but then the song ends and the shy young man returns - his face turning red when he's complimented on his playing skills.

"I'm a lot more comfortable performing on a stage than one on one," he said with a bashful smile.

Peter Emanuel, director of music at The Williams School, said Bradley doesn't simply play an instrument, he immerses himself in it. Bradley played in the school's jazz band, which Emanuel directs.

"He comes alive with a string instrument in his hand," Emanuel said. "When he decides to learn something, he'll research, listen and read about the instrument and its history. He will get the total picture when he's studying something. When he decided to learn the banjo, he dove right in, and he will come out of that as a really good banjo player."

Bradley has volunteered at the Mystic Seaport's Demonstration Squad, and studied banjo, in part, to help him play sea chanteys. This year, he expects to work at the Seaport and to use his earnings to help fund his travels for the next year. He plans to take a year off before attending Wesleyan University next year, where he may study biology, history or creative writing.

Music, he said, will always be a part of him, but he doesn't know whether, realistically, he could make a living out of it.

He says he wants to travel all over the United States, particularly the Mississippi-Delta area, the Appalachian Mountains and the Northwest. He hopes the pilgrimage will help him understand more about the music he loves - folk and jazz - but also more about himself.

"Before I go to college, I want to experience more," Bradley said. "I haven't experienced a whole lot of the world. I want to make the best out of the experience."

Bradley said his parents, Michael and Barbara,know about his plans. He says in many respects, he and his father are living parallel lives - they share a love of travel and music andeven resemble each other.

While at Williams, he helped organize the Coffee House open mic nights, with proceeds benefiting a charity. He also helped with the Singing Assemblies and was a featured performer at Compchorea, a school festival of original song and dance.

He won the Eleanor S. Cranz Memorial Prize for Distinction in Music and the Unsung Hero Award for Cross Country.

Greg Bowerman, Bradley's academic adviser, said when someone needs help, Bradley is the first to help.

"He's so unassuming," Bowerman said. "He doesn't feel the need to talk about himself. He's going to do great things that you'll probably never hear about, but that's OK. He'll accomplish those things regardless."

i.larraneta@theday.com

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