2023 Graduate Student Kickoff Speaker Opens Dual Paths in Music and Science

Emma Breen is completing her master’s degree in trumpet performance and preparing to continue her studies at UCLA this fall as a doctoral candidate. She has also marked the world of science, a passion she also shares with music and intends to continue.

2023 Graduate Student Launch Speaker Emma Breen

“You have to be versatile,” Breen said, reflecting on his decisions to go multiple paths. “And UCLA is a great place to prepare for a career in the 21st century.”

The 2023 Graduate Student Launch Speaker came to UCLA very consciously. She chose UCLA over the Royal Academy of Music, both because she wanted to work with trumpet teacher Jens Lindemann, and because UCLA offered a different type of education.

“The Royal Academy is much more traditional in its approach,” Breen said. “I felt like UCLA would give me opportunities to do other cool things, and that was awesome. I was also blessed with a scholarship from the Mimi Alpert Foundation, which really permit to come to Los Angeles.

Breen amassed quite a record while doing graduate school at UCLA. She was selected to perform with the Disney All-American College Band. She won the post of principal trumpet of the American Youth Symphony. She is an active session recorder and has performed across the United States.

“There are a lot of opportunities for musicians in LA,” Breen said. “You have to keep your eyes open and be active. It can be a great place to work.

Preparing for a concert in May at the Catalina Jazz Club

Breen jumped into the life of a professional musician with both feet. In addition to recitals and performances with ensembles at UCLA, his most recent session work includes recording for Unicorn, an upcoming HBO animated series from the director of The PowerPuff Girls. This in turn led to an invitation to perform at San Diego Comic-Con this summer. And it all added up to a leadership position with the American Youth Symphony (AYS).

“It’s so much work,” Breen said. “I got the newest music for AYS when the trumpet studio was in Boulder, Colorado for the national trumpet competition. And I sat in the hotel room, looking at the material, I thought said, ‘That’s too much. I’m going to have to stop the trumpet.

But then Breen got to work, finding she was able to learn music and keep up with her demanding schedule. She attributes the welcoming culture of AYS.

“Most of the other musicians are a bit older than me and have more experience,” Breen said. “But they welcomed me straight away and they were so supportive. It really made all the difference.

Then there is Breen’s scientific work. Breen doesn’t have an undergraduate background in science, but she’s worked in a lab since high school. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, she served in the university’s famed Pinkett lab as well as the SONIC/ATLAS lab, collaborating with NASA’s long-range space missions by conducting cognitive research in Russian and English.

Live from the Lab

How Breen ended up with four years of lab experience — without a single undergraduate science course — is a story we’ve covered before and well worth reading. But it wasn’t just an undergraduate job. Breen currently conducts stem cell research at the Zamudio Laboratory within the Department of Molecular Biology of Cell Development at UCLA.

“Science is important to me,” Breen said. “It feeds a part of me that music doesn’t. And I don’t see the need to choose between the two. I know sometimes people think that if you’re not focused on something, you can’t do it well. But I do not agree.

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