Senior Max Rhie balances an impressive array of interests, from working with kids to music. The Echo sat down with Rhie to talk about some of what he does.
Note: part of this interview appears in the November print issue of The Echo.
Echo: Alright, Hello, how are you?
Max Rhie: I am doing alright, I am doing well actually.
E: How has your year been?
MR: My year so far has been good. It has been by far the best year of my school career. I am doing things maybe for the first time in my school career that feels really meaningful. Like for example, being a teacher’s assistant for the middle school gym classes. Playing trumpet in the band. Doing other musical endeavors during music lab. Collaborating with other people here. Yeah it has been good.
E: You went to private school for a year or two right? And how did that compare to Greylock?
M: Oh man, that’s a hard question to answer. They’re so different in so many dramatic ways. Maybe the biggest difference [at Berkshire] is that a vast majority of students there were boarding students, so they lived on campus. And that creates a lot of interesting situations. It forces people to grow up and become independent adults at ages that are younger than I think maybe they should be forced to do that. I left Berkshire during my sophomore year when I started to be a boarding student after my family had moved back to williamstown. I did not find myself able to take on that responsibility fully. I think it caused people to try and act like they have it together and that they are grown up before they really are. Academically its very similar. Berkshire school students are dedicated and motivated and the classes are rigorous but I would not say that is very different than Greylock. It’s slightly strange living in a boarding school because everything is self contained to that campus. You do not really leave the campus at all. There is no sense of the day ending and you going home. It is all one continuous thing. You definitely don’t have much free time at boarding school whereas at public school, you can have a lot of free time or time to explore new things independent of the school you go to. As more of a personal observation people at Mount Greylock are much nicer and there is a much better social community. There is a culture of general understanding and kindness towards one another. There is much less judgement. I would walk into the dining hall at Berkshire School and feel anxious as to where I was going to sit, who I was going to sit with, what kind of people I would have to talk to. I would walk in and just feel judged.
E: Your dad came to greylock last year for a Greylock Talks about meditation. Are you also interested in meditation?
MR: Yes, short answer yes. I try to meditate every day. I don’t always succeed in that effort
E: What does that entail?
MR: So I’ll sit in a zen community (it is called sitting not meditating). I try to sit for 20 minutes or 30 minutes (if I am feeling adventurous) and the process entails… I am definitely not a qualified person to describe this. For me, I’ll try to follow my breath. I’ll try to become very aware of what is going on around me. So some of the physical queues to follow are mainly your breath and the sounds around you. When you actually sit down and listen you realize that there is a lot you are unaware of. For example in the foyer. If you were to take just five seconds to just listen you would hear this loud vent. Plus people walking by. Conversation all around you. It sort of connects you to the here and now and whether it is different and special. But the goal of meditation is to calm and settle ourselves when things arise. Emotions deep down, anxieties, fears, all of those things that we are so eager to run away from and that are so tempting to run away from. And so difficult to face. But you find that when you are willing to be open to these difficult experiences they become less difficult. The very basis of mediation is to embrace the full spectrum of experiences that you can have in life.
E: And is your dad the one who got you to try it out?
M: Absolutely. He inspired me to do it by not by encouraging me to do so. I get this sense of stability and calmness that I do not see in many other people and I have so much respect and admiration for it. I feel like there is so much on a daily basis that we suffer from and there is too much anxiety. So much fear. So much insecurity and so much stuff that makes life feel so burdensome. And in starting to meditate I was trying to break out of that cycle where I had to constantly experience all of those terrible things and be wound up by them.
E: Did you see a decrease in these things like anxiety?
M: Oh absolutely. It completely changes your relationship towards your own suffering. And I think suffering for people that are not familiar to mediation seems like this really intense word but I think if we are being really honest there is lots of suffering going in relative senses. Meditation completely changes the way you can relate to these negative experiences you have. It really is life changing.
E: Throughout the year you have taken on initiatives to give back to the community, like helping out at the Youth Center. How did you start doing this?
M: The biggest thing I struggled with after leaving Berkshire School and coming back to Greylock and was that I felt like there wasn’t anything meaningful. I wasn’t doing anything meaningful. This was also the reason I was motivated to leave Berkshire. In my freshman year of high school I was a really dedicated student and I found great satisfaction and fulfillment in getting good grades and succeeding academically. But over time in between my sophomore and freshman year and definitely during my sophomore year, grades started to feel a lot more meaningless. And I felt like there was this big void in my life that I needed to fill with something. For all of my sophomore year I was quite unhappy because I was feeling that there wasn’t anything meaningful in my life. And so it was my dad who suggested, “Okay max if you don’t think there is anything meaningful in your life for you why don’t you do something that is meaningful for someone else. Volunteer your time so that if it does not feel meaningful for you, it will at least feel meaningful for someone else.” And then banking on my general human goodness if it is meaningful for someone else then it will help me. It is almost a selfish way of looking at it. I reached out to Mike Williams of the Williamstown Youth Center and asked if I could volunteer in any capacity and I started coaching kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade basketball. I was eventually offered a position as a staff member for the after school program there. So I am now a “full time” staff member in the “penguin room,” which is the 1st and 2nd grade room of the Youth Center. That is the youngest age that they cater to. And it has been the most amazing thing ever in my life. It has been the single most amazing thing I have had the opportunity to do, I look forward to it on a daily basis. It is all about the kids that I work with. I have developed very deep and meaningful relationships with so many kids there. And not just the first and second graders. We interact with everybody who goes there. The opportunity to be able to help to increase these kid’s self confidence and tell them they are amazing. To be able to offer them guidance when they are dealing with issues. The ability to connect. And the ability to be vulnerable and open with people and to receive that back is so special. These elementary school kids do not have all of these barriers built up the way that older high school kids and adults have, they just want to connect. And when you are open to that and you are perceptive to their desire to connect with you it can be so easy and so natural and feel so amazing. I will go into work and it is an amazing experience that I am so grateful for.
E: You do not play any Greylock sports, correct?
M: Yes that is correct.
E: And what are your feelings in general on organized sports?
M: This is another thing for that has totally evolved for me throughout my time at high school. I guess I’ll give a brief iteration of my perspective from then until now. In 9th grade I played sports. I ran cross country, I played basketball, and I played baseball. I did them all very seriously at Berkshire School. I definitely felt that people took them too seriously. When a grown man would be yelling at me; a pretty small, scrawny 9th grader on the basketball court for making a mistake, I felt that was kind of just unwarranted and silly. It definitely made me question whether it was worth me playing sports at all. And then in 10th and 11th grade when I stopped playing sports entirely I developed a very judgemental perspective towards them. I thought that people took them as seriously as they did because they wanted something to feel meaningful. I had this sense that it was slightly artificial and that is wasn’t actually meaningful as people wanted it to be. I am no longer so judgemental towards them, I think that it’s unfair of me to judge people for things that they actually get so much joy and meaning from. Now I just think for me I would not be able to, for example, go out on the basketball court and battle against another team of boys for the sake of winning a game. I just would not care about winning the game. And all of the nastiness that comes along with especially boys sports, I am not saying it is not there in girls sports, but there is definitely this sense, especially for example in boys basketball like the idea of actually trash talking another person because of the game you’re playing. And actually doing in a really nasty way is just ridiculous, silly whatever word you want to apply to it. People lose a big game and they’ll act like somebody died. People will be crying and hugging each other, and I understand, it’s incredibly important to these people and to my friends. All of my close friends play sports. I will also feel sad for them. But it is not something that I myself could commit to doing on a daily basis.
E: Alright so you are also a very passionate musician
M: I suppose, yes
E: I would say so. What are all of your musical interests?
M: Well I started playing saxophone in elementary school when there was that whole you know sort of momentum of me and all of my friends and all of us started instruments in fourth grade. And I definitely enjoyed that I had this sort of natural talent at that and sort of established myself as one of the stronger musicians in our grade. And then when I played the saxophone in the middle school band here when I was in seventh grade. And I was sort of a run of the mill saxophone player, I definitely didn’t care especially about it. I enjoyed the band but it wasn’t anything special to me. And then when I went to 8th grade at a different middle school in Connecticut called Indian Mountain School. Which is this very progress preparatory middle school it is meant to prepare kids for prep high schools. They had an incredible guitar program and this culture of rock and roll and jazz music. Their main guitar teachers name was Rand Miles and I think probably half of the kids in the school were taking guitar class with him. So I was like, oh this awesome, and so I started taking guitar classes too. And quickly, it sounds cliche to say this I fell in love but I guess that is a fitting way to say it. A lot of the people I became close to there were very talented musicians. A lot of whom played guitar or bass drums so then we would start to play together and we would have jam sessions. Where were just sort of working off each others ideas and improvising. And creating music and I was so driven to be able to create with them on an equal level. Where I didn’t want to be the kids that was always just catching up r tagging along. I wanted to be able to lead the way with them so I would go home and practice hours every day, learning all of these scales, and chords and reading about the guitar greats like David Gilmore, Jerry Garcica and all of these fantastic improvisers who had an immense impact on culture just as much the musical world. That is where my love for guitar emerged and that also changed the way i was looking at music. I started to see music as much more of this improvisational creative endeavor as opposed to reading music off a sheet and fulfill a requirement for what you are supposed to play. It is sort of this switching perspective that opened up something special for me. In 9th grade at Berkshire I was sort of playing guitar but it was a lot less structured. There weren’t any rock bands at Berkshire that I were a part of. I played with some of the other people there, that played music. 10th grade when I came back to MG I rejoined the HS band playing saxophone and a lot of my saxophone ability was lost. And a shoutout, Sam Dils, I was very inspired by his ability to play the Trumpet. And I had always admired the trumpet for its beauty and grand power. So that inspired me to start playing the trumpet. This was the winter of 10th grade. Almost akin to my experience with the guitar I would practice every day for so long, trying to fulfill (these are technical terms) my embouchure and my ability to play and I really wanted to be the Sam of the high school band when I came back as junior. So over the summer between 10th and 11th grade I practiced so much and I kind of was able to do that. So in 11th grade I played first trumpet. I would take solos when there were solos and it was all so exciting and joyous for me. And then I continued to practice and between 11th grade and this year I felt the same way. I would practice a lot and I came back this year and It is very rewarding to lead the section in that way. Shoutout to Mr. Moors, best teacher, I love the guy. It has been amazing working with Mr. Moors he has been one of the reasons, maybe the biggest reason that I have been so drawn to that other kind of music. Which this whole concert, band much more other classical traditional repertoire music performance. And then this year I have kind of been really enjoying the different possibilities of genres connecting with one another. I have been working on combining this guitar rock and roll, jazz, funk stuff with trumpet and saxophone playing.
E: So now are you playing all three instruments equally?
M: Yeah at this point I am most proficient at guitar. If I were to try to play in a professional setting I would try to play guitar. But I have a decent ability in all of these instruments
E: And do you see yourself doing that (playing professionally).
M: I don’t see myself having any kind of career as a musician. I think the career path right now being an independent musician in this day and age is incredibly hard and difficult. And incredibly unstable. While it is exciting and there is something attractive about it it is not necessarily the path for me. Last year I went to the elementary school and I wrote an arrangement of “Can you feel the love tonight” from the Lion King. Specifically catered to the musicians in the 6th grade band at WES. And then went in once a week and rehearsed it with them. I was conducting at rehearsals and at concerts. That was super exciting. It gave me a taste of what life of a music teacher could be.
E: Has Mr. Moors inspired you to do things like that?
M: Absolutely, the impact that Mr. Moors can have on such a number of kids and inspiring an appreciation and passion for the music. Is just awesome and something I could totally see myself doing.
E: How do you feel about “Soundcloud rappers” and their ability to get “listens”
M: This is another one of these things where in the past I was overly judgmental to soundcloud rappers. From an objective musical standpoint there is much less going on in soundcloud rappers music than there is lots of other genres of music. As in, in some sense it takes less preparation and years of practice to become a successful musician. And the songs are a lot less musically complex and frankly less interesting to me than other genres of music. I think that it has slightly skewed what the general hs students idea of what music is. Like yes, soundcloud rap is a totally valid kind of music and I understand why it is popular. It is exciting and catchy. But it does not capture the grand scale of what music is and can be and my only slightly frustration with it is that it has narrowed the scope of how people view music. But for all of my friends that are soundcloud rappers keep going. Go for it. It is awesome. I think that it is super cool that it has gotten so many people into actually performing and writing music. That would not have happened without this whole soundcloud rap thing. I mean it is awesome to take advantage of the digital age. This is only possible because of all of these revolutions and sort of recording capabilities. You can have an app on your computer that allows you to single handedly produce a hit song. That is super cool.
E: What are you looking forward to this year and after HS?
M: I am looking forward to continuing to do the things that have felt really awesome so far. I am hoping to go back and do some more music stuff at the elementary school with the students there. Frankly when it comes to after hs that is still a bit of a grey area for me I’m totally not sure about what the next step is for me.