Like any little boy, of course Michael Poll C’09 wanted to be a rock star. Among other things. “I wanted to be both a professional baseball player and a rock star,” he elaborates.
His mother had slightly different ideas.
“My mom convinced me that every rock star had classical training,” Poll recalls. “Which is not entirely false.”
So, he started taking some classical-guitar lessons. Years later, the aspiring ball player cum stadium-shaker is becoming a different kind of star. Poll was one of two Penn people awarded Marshall scholarships this year. (The Gazette profiled the other, senior Cory Metzman, when he received a Truman Scholarship in 2011 [“Gazetteer,” July|Aug 2011].)
The Marshall Scholarship is meant to encourage Americans to study in the United Kingdom. Students may study at any university there; the scholarship covers their overseas transportation, tuition, and personal expenses for two years. The scholarship organization is ultimately responsible for placing scholars, and Poll hasn’t found out where he’ll be placed.
But, he says, “The beautiful thing about the Marshall scholarship is that it guarantees that I can work in music for the next two years.”
During his time at Penn, Poll performed with the Penn Baroque Ensemble as well as the Penn Choir and Choral Society. He supplemented his musical education as a visiting student at the Curtis Institute of Music.
At Penn, Poll was also founding member of the Penn Green Campus Partnership, which coordinates initiatives to make Penn a more sustainable campus. For Poll, environmentalism and music are closely related. “I think that music is a civic activity just as environmentalism is a civic activity,” he says. “I think the environmental issue is the most important civic issue of our time.”
Yet, Poll’s civic engagement isn’t limited to environmentalism. When he is around Philly, Poll volunteers at Musicians on Call, a non-profit that brings both live and recorded music to bedridden patients in healthcare facilities.
Poll won a 2010 Fulbright Scholarship, and is currently perfecting his classical-guitar performance at the I. J. Paderewski Academy of Music in Poznan, Poland. He lives a musician’s life. “I wake up, I practice, I go to class sometimes, I practice some more,” Poll laughs.
He tries to practice for six to eight hours a day. “The expectations of the conservatory are very high for solo players,” he says. “They expect me to learn a very large amount of music in a very short amount of time.”
He also tries to play for an audience as much as possible.
“I’m always open to invitations. Both traditional presentations and anyone who is open to music.” This means he doesn’t discriminate in terms of venue. “I played last year at the National Theatre in Panama, and I played last week in Berlin, at a nursing home.”
Poll’s ultimate goal as a performer is to “change the way in which people look at classical music,” he says. “I want people to be confronted with it in a way that they aren’t now.”
Both Poll and Metzman will be taking up their scholarships this fall. Metzman is currently a senior finishing up his dual degree in international studies and business through the Huntsman Program. He plans to pursue a master’s in development studies at the London School of Economics, and then a master’s in evidence-based social intervention at the University of Oxford.
—Maanvi Singh C’13