Commencement 2021: Music, chemical engineering double major plans for a future in an orchestra

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 10, 2021 – Faares Deeb has been practicing a balancing act between talented musician and dedicated engineering student for so long that it’s become part of his muscle memory. The long hours perfecting both have become routine.

“It’s probably something I’ve gotten used to over the years,” says Deeb. “Sometimes I realize I should remind myself that it’s been a lot of work. But going forward, it’s opened up options for me.”

This month, the hard work pays off as Deeb graduates from the University of Rhode Island with degrees in two very different and demanding majors. A cellist, he is earning a bachelor of music in orchestral music performance and bachelor of science in chemical engineering.

Deeb knew he wanted to study both fields when he entered college. Growing up just down the road in South Kingstown, Deeb was attracted to URI because it was affordable and it gave him the opportunity to pursue both in competitive academic programs.

“The music faculty are very good and I knew the teachers,” he says. “And my older sister is an engineering student so I knew it was a good engineering school as well. So, it just worked out.”

Deeb performs last month
Deeb performs last month during his senior recital in cello.

The dual majors, Deeb says, have opened two potential paths for him. His plan is to pursue a master’s degree in music in about a year, while using his chemical engineering degree to finance his education. His goal is to eventually play cello with an orchestra.

During his four years, the requirements of two professional degrees have meant a heavy course load. Most semesters he’s taken 19 class credits, but he’s had three or four semesters when he’s had to apply for a credit override. This semester, he’s carrying 24 credits, but says the workload has been manageable.

“I think the most hectic time was probably last year because I had a lot of test- and homework-based classes in both majors,” says Deeb, who also works out regularly and tutors in math and physics. “On an average day, it was three hours of studying. That’s not wild necessarily. I guess I’ve just calibrated over time so that I knew what I should do so the work wasn’t piling up.”

He has excelled in both majors. In chemical engineering, he carries a solid B average, and recently completed a senior capstone project in which students designed a system to produce hand sanitizer.

“Faares has a good grounding in chemical engineering fundamentals,” says Angelo Lucia, chair of the department of chemical engineering and head of the capstone project. “He’s conscientious, hard working and personable.”

Deeb’s interest in the cello began the first time he heard it and knew it was the instrument he wanted to pursue. After a year of violin, he started cello at age 9 and quickly advanced. As a teenager, he won the junior and senior divisions of the Rhode Island Music Educators Association all-state competitions, was co-winner of the concerto/aria competition at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, and performed a Haydn concerto with the philharmonic’s youth orchestra.

At URI, Deeb, who performs with the University symphony orchestra and a string quartet, added awards, including earning the Kingston Chamber Music Festival scholarship, which is voted on by music faculty; and winning the department’s concerto competitionHe’s also soloed with the orchestra on Haydn concertos.

“Faares is very talented and has a lot of natural playing ability,” says Scott Crowley, a visiting artist and Deeb’s private instructor. “Although cello requires intense focus and discipline, it should allow complete freedom in musical expression. The better one becomes at expressing oneself musically, the more effectively one can also communicate with others. I can tell that Faares enjoys playing the cello and finding meaning in his music.  Since our first lesson, I have seen him develop a greater sense of communication through his playing.”

One of Deeb’s favorite experiences at URI was getting a chance in 2019 to take a master class with internationally known cellist Sophie Shao during the Kingston Chamber Music Festival, which is held each summer on the Kingston Campus.

“I’ve had great music professors in all of the areas I’ve studied,” he says. “On the surface, the Fine Arts Center [now scheduled for a major upgrade] might make people think the department’s not that great, but the faculty is very good and have a lot of great connections with well-known musicians. It’s been wild to experience more things because of the great faculty.”

After graduating, Deeb plans to follow his interest in green technologies to find a job and save money for graduate school, while also staying active as a musician and applies to graduate school.

Even with years of work on the cello, Deeb knows there’s still a lot of work ahead to earn a spot in an orchestra, including building his personal repertoire and perfecting orchestral excerpts that are common audition materials.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere of an orchestra and the ability to create vast music,” he says. “Playing in an orchestra is essential to a musician because it’s one of the main avenues of performance that we have available.”