It’s easy to see the passion for the music he plays in Quincy Delp’s features. He is bent slightly over his piano – a Steinway constructed in November of 1875 – and contemplates the work as he gives it sound. “The rules around classical music,” he explains, “are ever-evolving in one sense, and completely unchanging in another. The math stays the same, but you can create a million problems with it and solve just as many equations. It’s both controlled and totally wild at the same time.” He starts to hit a string of seemingly random keys in a dynamic and tonal succession. “For example, here, if you play random notes, slowly, with a contrasting degree of volume variance, it still sounds nice. I’m not sure why. The scale is just designed that way.”

If Quincy’s relationship with the musical world seems more mechanical than one would expect from an artist, it’s because he’s an engineer by trade. Hailing from Stanford and Palo Alto, California, Delp, 23, grew up surrounded by the mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists that heavily populate the booming San Francisco Bay Area. When he applied to college at the end of high school, he had initially intended to enter a conservatory and study classical piano. “At the end of high school though, I was stressed and worried all the time, and getting my music school pre-screenings in by the November deadline just didn’t feel possible,” he recalls, referring to the initial round of applications typically required for conservatory admissions, which are due months before non-conservatory applications. “So I studied engineering at Bard and Columbia, and kept up with my piano practice the whole time.” It wasn’t until he spent a summer interning at a sound technology lab in San Francisco that he realized his fascination with not only music, but the listener’s experience as well. “Sound technology was the space in between music and computer science.”

So, where does a sound engineer find the time, place, or need to freelance? Delp says, “Honestly, I think teaching piano taught me more about piano than learning it did.” To supplement his income in high school and college, Delp diligently relayed knowledge of the instrument to children, sitting with each of them for hours on end as they learned their scales, tempos, and beginner’s songs. Conveying this information, according to Delp, first ignited his interest in understanding why people experience the emotions they do in listening to music. “I wanted to know why the human mind reacted the way it did to certain combinations of notes, rhythms, and dynamics.”

Teaching also heavily influenced his musical aspirations, as he worked with students from a variety of socio-economic levels. “This field has to be accessible–this is especially true for classical music and composition. In order for this field to continue to thrive, it has to keep reaching people the way it does, and it has to continue to enthrall them.” He adds, “Music can be a new experience at every listen–even for the same song. I want to know why, and I want to use that knowledge to make it a more inclusive space.”  

Quincy notes that if it weren’t for his musical teaching career, he would never have arrived at his career destination. “As a performer, you can’t really see what people think of your music–you can certainly feel it, but you may not necessarily be able to study and collect data on it the same way you do when you’re teaching. In that sense, freelancing was one of the most important steps in my career.”