PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Sofia Frohna first set foot on the Brown University campus, she knew she wanted to join a musical group.
There was just one small problem: She didn’t play any traditional instruments.
All she had brought from home was a melodica — a small plastic keyboard that makes noise when the player blows into an attached mouthpiece. The melodica is typically considered little more than a kids’ toy or a gag gift, and it rarely makes an appearance in formal performances. But against all odds, both Frohna and her melodica were welcomed into the Brown Band.
“I showed up to the first day of band practice and I said, ‘Hey, can I play this?’” she said. “And they said, ‘Sure, just find a section that will take you.’ So I ended up joining the flute section and played melodica with them all four years. I never learned a real band instrument.”
Over Frohna’s four years at Brown, what began as an amusing pastime evolved into a full-on passion for plastic instruments. In her sophomore year, the music concentrator and composer wrote a piece for three melodicas and performed it at a concert with her roommates. Two years later, as a graduating senior, Frohna decided her honors thesis would be a musical ode to plastic: a six-movement piece composed for an orchestra of melodicas, recorders, egg shakers, boomwhackers, PVC pipe flutes and other instruments more likely to be found in a toy store than in a music shop.
“I began to really fall in love with the melodica, and I thought, hey, even though this is viewed as a toy or just an educational tool, there's some really beautiful, interesting things you can do with it,” Frohna said. “When it came time to decide what big project I wanted to work on for my senior year, I said, ‘Why don't I include this thing that's been a part of my life the whole time I've been here at Brown, and also think about it more intellectually than I have so far?’”