Felix Herbst

ASU graduating student combines music, science as a 21st-century musician

By

Lynne MacDonald

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Felix Herbst refuses to settle on one path. The 21st-century musician is a violinist, vocalist and arranger-composer as well as a scientist. He will graduate in December as a dual major honors student with a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and a Bachelor of Science in molecular bioscience and biotechnology, and he plans to pursue both careers after graduation.

“The idea of majoring in music had been on my mind for a while, but I felt really committed to it near the start of my senior year of high school,” he said. “It was more of a slow and steady progression rather than a single moment. I made up my mind to add the double major in biotechnology halfway through my first semester at ASU when I realized that I missed science a lot.”

Following graduation, Herbst plans to spend some time in Arizona with friends exploring the state a little more before he begins a research project and a career as a musician. He says then he plans to move to Boston in the short term “for a potential part-time cancer research position, followed by a more definitive move to Los Angeles, New York City or Berlin to pursue my career as an arranger, composer, writer and performer.”

Herbst began playing the violin in first grade after emigrating from Germany to Northern California with his family. His passions extend beyond the classical realm and include jazz, pop, rock, fiddle and hip-hop styles. After attending ASU for three years on a National Merit Scholarship and adding a science degree to his music studies, Herbst spent one year at Berklee College of Music in Boston to explore contemporary performance.

Herbst has performed with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, ASU Gospel Choir, Urban Sol and ASU Choral Union on violin and vocals. He participated in a wide variety of musical groups as founder, producer or participant, including Side Note (a semi-professional a cappella group) and Priority Male (an all-male a cappella group that he directed). Herbst has performed with or opened for the band Moonchild, Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliott, Alex Lacamoire and Old Crow Medicine Show, has written and recorded string arrangements for bands in Arizona and Massachusetts, and arranged and co-produced Priority Male’s EP recording.

While artist-in-residence at the Phoenix Art Museum, he performed at the museum and also created a sound installation. Herbst co-founded Third Thursday at ASU, a set of music/arts festivals on the ASU campus, and performed for the Boys and Girls Club of Tempe, senior clinics, hospice and transitional care facilities.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Early on in my college microbiology class, I met someone in their late twenties who was raising a child by themselves and simultaneously getting their bachelor's degree. Hearing her story reshaped my idea of how college can and should function. I tackled underlying assumptions I had about what a typical classmate could be.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My decision to attend ASU was very last minute. I was incredibly conflicted among the 20 schools where I applied. My mom informed me that with a National Merit Scholarship I could attend ASU fully funded. I visited ASU, toured the campus, took a trial lesson with Dr. Katherine McLin and visited Barrett Honors College, all of which confirmed for me that this was the place I wanted to study.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. McLin, my violin teacher, taught me more about playing and performing than I could ever share here. The most important lesson she taught me is how to learn and progress from things that I considered failure. I appreciate her more than she could know.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Utilize the resources ASU can offer. As I near the end of my college career, I am starting to realize the incredible number of things that the school system can offer while in school and the things I'll have to say goodbye to once I'm out. ASU has gig referral programs, funding applications and a myriad of incredible people who care about their work and are more than willing to share it with you if you only ask. This community is one of a kind — take what it can give you.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: James Turrell’s architectural art installation Skyspace: Air Apparent, near the Biodesign Institute, is beautiful at night. It has been a place of solace for me, as well as sharing moments of silence with other strangers enjoying the same space.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Clean drinking water access. Forty million dollars cannot develop water infrastructure every place that needs it, but it can go a long way in improving hundreds of thousands of lives affected by drought and lack of sanitation.