By Bob Abelman
Stefanie Cohn, musician/product manager
In the sci-fi action thriller “Divergent,” a post-apocalyptic society is divided into five factions that reflect people’s natural inclinations: Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless) and Candor (the honest). The film revolves around one young woman who defies the norm and the law by fitting into them all.
Lakewood resident Stefanie Cohn’s story is similar, sans the CGI and dystopian overtones. She’s a professional musician by nature and nurture, playing second oboe and English horn with both the Ashland Symphony Orchestra and the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. But her ear for music is complemented by a proclivity for and a bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University in math. So, with performance opportunities were canceled, Cohn started work as an analytical product manager for the tech startup CHAMPtitles.
This might seem like an odd fit, since musicianship tends to tap the right side of the frontal cortex – which is used for visual and spatial skills, imagination and emotion – and product analysis and management tend to tap the left side – which is used for rationality and logical tasks.
But according to the journal Brain and Cognition, Vanderbilt University psychologists found that professionally trained musicians more heavily and effectively use a creative technique called “divergent thinking,” which means they have elevated use of both brain hemispheres. The reason is that instrumental musicians are asked to integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece. Also, they have to be good at simultaneously reading musical symbols (left hemisphere) and integrating the written music with their own creative interpretation (right hemisphere).
In short, musicians think differently than the rest of us.
“So working in the tech industry certainly makes sense,” Cohn says. “And when you factor in the immense discipline, hard work and dedication that goes into making music, musicians make the best employees.”
To hear her tell it, Cohn has been able to pursue these two disparate interests with equal determination and drive. After COVID-19 hit, she began making use of qualitative and quantitative product user interface and experience data by day. By night, she diligently practiced études, orchestral excerpts and solos until opportunities to perform returned.
Cohn is now back performing with both the Ashland Symphony Orchestra and the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra, and is teaching oboe at Cleveland State University in addition to pursuing her tech career.
It’s not clear whether either activity necessarily informs the other in any concrete ways – it isn’t as if creative and analytical problem solving is going to help her circular breathing technique or embouchure – but both are certainly expressions of who she is.