Take Five with Brent Morden ’19



Brent Morden ’19 is a composer, arranger, conductor, vocalist and actor from Queens. His career highlights include conducting his original work Fell Swoop with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble at Carnegie Hall in March 2019, and composing and co-writing the 2018 original comedy musical Once Upon a Fortnight. As a student, Morden served Columbia’s performing arts community as president of the CU Wind Ensemble, music director of Uptown Vocal and co-composer for the 125th Annual Varsity Show. Since graduating, he has assisted acclaimed music director Rob Fisher, played Prince Charming in a touring musical theater production of Cinderella and sung as a professional holiday caroler. He now is the choir manager for Every Voice Choirs, a Teachers College-based choral program for kids 7–16.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was bright-eyed, ambitious and hungry to take on the world. Really, I was excited about EVERYTHING! My new freedom, new friends, student groups, classes, dining halls and all that jazz. I threw myself completely into it.

By that time, Columbia was already a familiar friend — during my high school years, I often visited campus for extracurriculars ranging from Quiz Bowl to tennis practice. I fantasized about one day being a student. So, when I finally arrived, it felt magical. I savored both the comfort of being close to home and the excitement of entering a new chapter of life. The College looked to me like a vast ocean of opportunity — fresh, blue and ready to be explored!

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Ah, good old Furnald Hall. Furnald felt like home from Day 1. It suited my personality: quiet and enigmatic from the outside, yet vibrant and warm once you step inside. Furnald attracted the sorts of individuals whom I connected well with. In fact, my first-year floor community quickly became my closest friends. We were a tight-knit bunch. I especially remember hanging out together in the Furnald 3 lounge. One minute we’d laugh our heads off ping-ponging ridiculous jokes back and forth, and the next we’d dive into a deep conversation about life. We’d playfully roast each other yet lend our ears to listen to our problems. Good times; great people. I enjoyed living in Furnald so much that I returned there in my junior and senior years as an RA.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

Without a doubt, Lit Hum with Mark Lilla. This class was an intellectual gym. It’s where I refined my chops as a thinker, writer and a student of history. I remember how stepping into Hamilton 301 felt like crossing a portal into another universe. And I remember the feeling when Professor Lilla would enter the room. His presence electrified the air with a wonderful energy. His clean-cut look and smile said, Today we’re going to make excellence happen.

In a word, Lit Hum was a dream. It challenged me in all the exciting ways that I had hoped for in the Core. It challenged me to think more deeply about everything, to open my ears to different worldviews, to handle critical feedback of my ideas, and to write more maturely. In Lit Hum, I always felt that I was in the presence of greatness. Greatness not just in the sharp mind of Professor Lilla and in the literary masterpieces, but also the greatness in all of us that this class brought out.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Riverside Park was important throughout my College experience. As much as I enjoyed the hustle of classes and rehearsals, I needed my space, too. Riverside was just the spot; there I found peace in the solitude of long runs. I found comfort in the sights and sounds of nature. The park was my go-to if I wanted to think through a problem, clear my mind or simply enjoy a beautiful afternoon. I have many fond social memories from there as well, in the walks, disc-tossing sessions and other outings that I shared with friends.

Many things came and went during my college years. I had my highs and lows; I had my times of uncertainty and times of glory. During it all, Riverside Park was the one constant I could count on. Riverside was reliable. It was always there for me.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

Every time you decide how to spend your time, there’s a trade-off — you give up the opportunity to do one thing for doing another thing. That’s not necessarily bad or good; it’s just a part of life. At Columbia, I made certain decisions about how to prioritize my time. I decided to focus intently on my studies, extracurriculars and personal development. Of course, that reaped its own rewards. But sometimes I lost sight of the people around me.

In short, I’d try to better exercise my social muscle. I’d spend more quality time with friends, attend more events, strike up more conversations, go on more dates and take more risks. Nevertheless, looking back, I have few regrets and a lot of gratitude.