Two distinct sisters, united in music



By Anthony Settipani  


Take a moment and think about the difference between two of Mozart’s most famous pieces; for example, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” versus The Magic Flute’s “Queen of the Night.” There is a great deal of difference between the two pieces, even though many might find themselves at a complete loss to describe exactly what.

So, at first, is the case with twins Bryce and Maris O’Tierney, two sisters who are both heavily involved in music at Northwestern.

They come from the same place, pursue similar goals, and in passing you might even confuse one for the other.. But beneath the similarities are two vibrant and highly driven personalities, one strumming, and one fiddling.

“I’m someone who’s three majors: vocal performance, art history, and political science,” said Maris. “And the reason for that is when something inspires me, I dig into that.”

If you think she sounds busy enough, she also left out classically-trained guitarist and active singer-songwriter.

Her sister is no slouch either. On track to finish her dual degree program, Bryce majors in both violin performance and creative writing, all while sustaining a variety of other endeavors.

The poetry editor for Prompt Literary Magazine, Bryce also puts words to music in her own style of songwriting. This combination comes naturally, since the words feel to her like an extension of the music already going through her head. She even goes so far as to write out her drafts on musical manuscript paper.

“When I’m working on a poem it feels like a familiar environment,” she said, “because I’ve thought through it already on the violin. It’s more translation than anything else.”

“What constantly amazes me about Bryce is the way she translates her musicianship to collaborations beyond music,” said Maris.

Currently in the thick of a choreographed music and dance project with Danceworks, Bryce agreed that she works best when working with others.

“This year I just started taking some classes in the dance department,” she said, explaining that it was her violin that first got her involved with the project.

“I always have my fiddle on my back,” she said. “It’s just always with me. So I had it on my back and the instructor said, ‘Well, why don’t you play for us?’ And that’s how it got the ball rolling for this collaboration now.”

This summer saw another similarity emerge between the two, at least on paper. Both spent the summer abroad, Maris in Barcelona and Bryce in Co Clare, Ireland.

After graduation, both sisters have an eye to return to their summer research destinations—Maris for more research and Bryce for graduate school—and both are in the final rounds of selection for the Fulbright grants that would help bring those goals to life.

“If that falls through I could see myself staying in Chicago, and even doing more collaborative work with dance,” Bryce said, adding that she could see herself “working for the dance department here and playing for classes.”

“Artistically I like Chicago a lot,” said Maris. “It feels really good that there’s music that I’d love to share with people and that there’re people that want to listen to it and want to support it.”

She mentioned an interest in starting a band with her twin and a few others who share their goals and dedication.

“If it turned into a record deal that would obviously be amazing,” she added, but it’s the
travel and collaboration that really gets her excited about this idea.

Both sisters gave the impression that while the location is important, and the   recognition is nice, the music itself generates the real force that keeps them going. “I don’t think about backup plans,” said Maris, “but music is like the continuous thread that after I graduate I’m going to keep booking gigs and keep pushing for that until something really sparks.”

“There’s nothing that helps me stay grounded like music will.”

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