Jon Chase/Harvard News Office

Arts & Culture

Laurence Coderre sings the praises of China

4 min read

Laurence Coderre came upon her concentration in music and East Asian studies almost by accident.

After spending three months in Hong Kong following her high school graduation, Coderre fell in love with the city and, when she arrived at Harvard, began studying Chinese so she would be able to speak the language on her next visit.

Coderre’s other love has always been music. She began taking singing lessons, she said, when she was very young and sang in choirs in high school and in the Radcliffe Choral Society at Harvard. Last December she gave a senior recital in her House, Pforzheimer.

But blending her two loves wasn’t initially obvious to Coderre. She arrived at Harvard as a freshman in the fall of 2003 interested in biochemistry. She began looking for a science department that caught her interest, she said, thinking she would do concentrations in music and physics or math. But the more she looked the more she began to realize science wasn’t for her. She maintained her work in music and visited Hong Kong again after her freshman year. That summer, as she contemplated another year of Chinese language studies, she realized that studying Chinese music and culture would be the perfect fit.

Coderre graduates today with a joint concentration in music and East Asian studies, but said her interests are broader than simply Chinese music. She’s interested in different ways the Chinese express themselves, she said, and plans to broaden her studies to include Chinese literature and cinema next year in graduate school.

“I’m interested in forms of expression in the Chinese context,” Coderre said.

Coderre plans to attend Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the fall to begin a two-year master’s program in regional studies focused on East Asia. She hopes to pursue a career in academia, she said, because she thrives in the academic environment.

While many people pursue area studies, Coderre said she hopes her training in music will give her a unique perspective on an aspect of culture that regional studies experts shy away from.

“I think people who do area studies but who are not trained as a musicologist tend to shy away from that aspect of culture. I have those tools and I plan on using them, but not restricted to one medium,” Coderre said.

Coderre has had hypomyelinative neuropathy — a condition that interferes with the nervous system’s signals to the muscles — since birth and gets around campus on a red scooter. While she’s occasionally been frustrated with some of Harvard’s old buildings being inaccessible, she said she’s never had problems getting to classes. While her condition is part of who she is, she said she doesn’t let it define her.

Coderre has traveled extensively in Hong Kong, studying abroad last summer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, taking classes on Western classical music in 20th century China, on Chinese literature, and on Hong Kong cinema.

Coderre grew up in Quebec in the small town of Knowlton. Her family moved to New York state when she was 14 when her father took a job there with an electronics company. After Coderre graduated from Binghamton High School in 2002, she decided to take a year off before coming to Harvard.

During that year, she and her mother, Shirley Smith, visited Hong Kong for the first time, accompanying her father, Jacques Coderre, on a business trip. Coderre and her mother spent the time exploring Hong Kong.

“I was thrown into this incredible world,” Coderre said. “I just kind of fell in love with the whole environment.”

Coderre has been back every summer, she said. While at Harvard, she not only sang in the Radcliffe Choral Society, but also served as tour manager in her sophomore year, arranging a trip to Atlanta. She also served on the Society’s Executive Committee and as financial manager in her junior year.

Coderre also wrote for The Independent her freshman and sophomore years and is a tutor for the Bureau of Study Counsel. She draws on her own experiences when counseling freshmen searching for a concentration: “I tell freshmen freaking out about their concentration choices, ‘Don’t worry and keep your options open.’”