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A Violinist’s Anthem Duncan Hart ’24 lends his musical talents to Washington and Lee University athletics by playing the national anthem on the violin before home events.

Duncan-Hart-bball-600x400 A Violinist’s AnthemDuncan Hart ’24 playing the national anthem before a W&L men’s basketball game in February 2024.

A sound issue led to the perfect opportunity for a violinist who loves sharing his passion for music with the broader community. Music and mathematics double major Duncan Hart ’24 had been working in the Athletics Communications Office since his first year at Washington and Lee, assisting with game-day operations and collecting statistical information, when during his junior year he was on the sidelines and overheard the field hockey players’ disappointment in how the national anthem sounded coming through the broken speakers. Hart was quick to act, and approached Sydney Anderson, director of athletic communications, about playing the national anthem on his violin and she agreed — at least until the speakers were fixed.

Fortunately, Hart was no stranger to playing in front of large crowds, having performed the national anthem several times for the Winston-Salem Dash minor league baseball team. As he began playing at more field hockey home games, the athletics communications team quickly saw the benefit he provided and asked him to share his talents at a variety of home sporting events.

Hart continued playing for the field hockey team as well as for the football, volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s lacrosse, baseball, wrestling and women’s tennis teams. Depending on the venue, Hart switches between playing an acoustic violin and an electric violin, typically opting for the electric for outdoor stadiums where he can plug into the stadium speakers on the field or from the press box.

The numbers speak for themselves: W&L has amassed an overall 60-11-2 record on days that Hart has performed, in addition to a 7-1 record in conference post-season play and a 5-1 record for NCAA tournament games. For Hart, this demonstrates the tangible impact music can have, and how music can be an important tool for fostering community and collaboration.

“Duncan has become a staple in our office, and his playing the national anthem has put a special touch on our home games,” Anderson said. “Game officials, parents, players and staff regularly ask me if Duncan is playing today. He is such a great representative of this university, and I am excited to see where his journey takes him.”

Performing the national anthem at W&L also helped Hart forge close relationships with the student-athletes, and he combined these relationships with his interest in math and music to design a research study investigating the impact of music on basketball. Wanting to explore whether music has an impact on how well athletes play, he asked basketball players at different levels to shoot free throws with different genres of music playing, so that he could examine if the number of free throws made increased or decreased as a result of the type of music. Hart worked with the W&L club basketball team, the W&L varsity men’s team and the Virginia Military Institute’s varsity men’s team, and found that rap music and rock music tended to do well with the players, while classical and jazz led to more missed free throws. Hart attributes this to the nature of the performance space and the types of music or sounds you expect to hear in an athletic gym, as well as the familiarity and driving beat of the rap and rock songs.

Hart’s research project is the culmination of four years spent exploring a range of interests within the music department. He has studied violin under the direction of Jaime McArdle, lecturer in music and applied violin, and composition under the direction of Scott Williamson, visiting assistant professor of music. Hart is also the concertmaster of the University Orchestra and a frequent collaborator with W&L’s choral program, even traveling to Ireland with the University Singers to accompany them on the violin during their tour. Hart also works closely with Chris Dobbins, associate professor of music and director of instrumental activities, through the Instrumental Conducting Mentorship Program, which provides podium and conducting time for students-rare at the undergraduate level-as well as small-group conducting lessons where students learn more advanced techniques. Hart now mentors younger majors in the program, and is thankful to the entire music department for the “tremendous” support they have shown him over the years.

“Duncan has been an incredibly dedicated student for four years, and in his role as a violin section leader, he has helped oversee a real positive shift in the culture of the ensemble and the quality of the violin section,” said Dobbins, who also serves as Hart’s music major adviser. “However, my favorite part about Duncan is that he’s just generally a good guy who goes out of his way to be helpful and positive. His enthusiasm is infectious, and we’re really going to miss that over here in Wilson Hall.”

After W&L, Hart will work as a technical solutions engineer at Epic, a healthcare software company in Madison, Wisconsin. However, he wants to make sure music remains a central part of his life and hopes to join a community orchestra or string ensemble group through his company.

“My favorite part about playing the violin has been some of the opportunities for growth as an individual, and I love the support of the community along the way,” said Hart, who began playing violin in the fifth grade.

If the University of Wisconsin has an open call for national anthem performers for their athletic events, you can count on Hart’s name being on the audition list.

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