Dylan Iskandar is a graduating high school senior who has been a student at the Community School for 13 years (piano and guitar). Dylan will be matriculating to Stanford University in the fall and is looking to explore the means to combine music with AI.
This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.
Hi Dylan, would you share a bit about yourself and how you became involved with the Community School?
Currently, I’m a high school senior, and growing up I was very involved in performance. I picked up piano when I was around four or five years old. And I’ve been doing that ever since, and I also picked up the guitar. I’ve been in classical and jazz guitar since I was around six and involved in performance through primary and middle school. I’ve been attending the Community School for a very long time now, and piano has been a very big part of who I was growing up. Then in high school, I started to explore other areas, and I became interested in computer science.
These past few years, I’ve been working to increase the computer science aspect of my education. And I think the possibility to combine the interplay between computer science and the background I have in music, whether in composing, using computer algorithms, or creating electric compositions or something like that shows how two seemingly distinct things can be combined.
With your involvement in STEM education and the performing arts, have you found other similarities between the two disciplines?
Yes, I think that there’s a very big overlap of the concepts. I wrote about it in my college essay actually. I was trying to compare how the aspects of performance can apply to technology. For example, in programming, you have your Codas. And in the corresponding performance world, you have your conditional loops. And then your recursive functions and those are Da Capos. And you can quantify the music, for example, there are melodies and you have chord progressions, your beats, your timing, and you can replicate that basically in technology. And with the possibility of deep learning and AI, try to replicate the composer’s thoughts and simulate that with code. So I think one of the really big interesting challenges is how can we get computers to actually think creatively. Is it possible to code a program that generates a cool piece of art? And in doing so, can it pass as equal to what is possible for a human to generate? I’ll be attending Stanford next year and this is the type of stuff I’m interested in. There’s a Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, and they’re trying to do this type of work; they’re trying to develop computational creativity tools that bridge art and code.
Let’s go back in time a bit and think about your early exposure to music or how you first came to know the sound of a piano.
When I was younger, around four, I always liked to tag along with my cousin who’s a few years older. I still remember her performance at town hall; I don’t remember the exact pieces she performed, but I remember the feeling of the emotion I felt when hearing the music. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of artistic expression because my grandparents play guitar too and during holidays they always played. So, these are two early recollections I have of music in my life.
What brought you to the Colburn campus?
So previous to Colburn, I was in the Yamaha keyboard program. My parents realized I was progressing through the curriculum really fast so they sought out private lessons and found my current teacher, Dr. Heewon Kwon, which brought me to Colburn. She took a chance on me and has been teaching me ever since.
As the performing arts have been a part of your formative years, what have they brought to your life?
It’s interesting because I realized that I can convey a theme; I could tell a story without actually saying any words through music. I think that is the biggest part of the performing arts. When you’re on the stage, you get to embrace that time with the audience; it’s your turn to give back to the audience. And performing has given me the confidence to embrace the spotlight and the confidence to face all situations. For example, public speaking or whatever. I’ve learned to fully embrace what people have given me and through performance, I hope to pass that onward to my audience.
Based on your experience, how would you advise someone thinking about attending the Community School?
I would say to just go for it! Looking back, we didn’t plan all of this to happen, all of the experiences. And it’s turned into a huge part of my life. I’ve been here 13 years and have had so many different things happen in that time. You don’t want to miss out on all the people you’ll meet and experiences that you’ll come to cherish by being here.
Do you have a memorable Colburn experience that you would like to share?
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to perform with my brother, Winston. We played a piano duet at the McAllister Honors Recital. It was a really good moment for both of us, just being able to share the stage with him was really nice.
Congratulations on your acceptance to Stanford and for receiving both the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship and Edison International Scholarship. What are your future plans?
Composing and both piano and guitar will definitely always be a big part of my life. Ultimately. I hope to create my own startup company—to incorporate something with AI and technology that has an impact on people. But in the immediate future, this summer I’m interning at a global proprietary trading firm in New York City. I’ll definitely hang out at home with my family and friends before I’m off to college, too.
The Community School is proud to recognize the excellence and dedication of its students through Jumpstart, Herbert Zipper, and Amplify scholarships, and to provide additional scholarship awards in recognition of merit and financial need.
The financial need of our current students and potential applicants consistently outweighs our available funds. If you would like to help us do more to support the futures of these exceptional students by providing philanthropic support to the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, please visit http://www.colburnschool.edu/give or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.