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Joshua Cohen ’24 Charted His Own Path at St. Andrew’s

Read more about how Joshua Cohen's love of music - and eventually playing and working on the organ - became a passion he hopes to continue next year at Harvard.
When Joshua Cohen ’24 first signed up for classes as a freshman, he figured, why not fill up his whole day and take seven classes? His parents encouraged him.  “What’s the worst that could happen?” Worst case, he could drop a class and take less going forward.

He never dropped a class. The next three years, he’d always take seven. Every trimester, never take a study hall. 

All the while playing organs, including at the National Cathedral where he played last year during St. Andrew’s Opening Chapel, and fixing them as well. He helped repair one built by Hilborne Lewis Roosevelt – first cousin of the U.S. Presidents – a pioneer in organ building.

Joshua’s rigorous schedule along with extracurriculars – like being the Editor-in-Chief of the Mane News – led him to an early acceptance into Harvard, where he will matriculate in the fall of 2024. His love for music – and eventually playing and working on the organ – has become a passion he hopes to continue next year.

“I've always been very musical ever since I was a really small kid. I always like listening to music and singing along with it.” Joshua said. “Eventually, when I became old enough, my parents signed me up for piano lessons and got me a small 61-note digital keyboard to practice on.”

The instrument had a synthesizer with a bunch of different sounds on it, like a piano or harpsichord strings. One was the organ. And the young musician found his muse.

He liked how it sounded different. Not an electric sound like an electric guitar, but a mechanical instrument that fully produces something that sounds like the piano, harpsichord, and other orchestral instruments.

Then he saw the mammoth wind instrument.

“I looked it up and saw these pictures of massive instruments in huge cathedrals with 10,000 pipes, four keyboards, hundreds of thousands of miles of wiring that connects it and makes it all play, and these complicated winding systems. I just got hooked on it immediately,” Joshua said.

“In addition to liking music, I've always liked the way things work and how these complicated mechanical systems can all work together to achieve their intended goal. So this combination of music and complicated instruments – I was suddenly caught in a trance that never really stopped.”

He possesses a true passion for this often-misunderstood musical instrument. Joshua has performed at each of St. Andrew’s Opening Chapel, Baccalaureate ceremony, and Graduation. He has traveled the region working alongside some of the top experts in the field helping to restore and preserve pipe organs. 

In ninth grade, he created an organ during the pandemic to give him a deeper understanding of how the instrument worked and he took advantage of any opportunity he could to expand his knowledge. 

Joshua is creating a “sample set” for digital organs (a recording of each sound a pipe organ can make) to be digitally recreated on electronic organs. He taught himself about sound recording and digital processing to accomplish this. Whenever Joshua encounters a challenge, he corresponds with experts in organ sound sampling in the United States and Europe.

As for all those classes, Joshua had a good experience the first time around. So as a voracious learner, he couldn’t see a reason not to keep taking seven classes. There were always more options that piqued his interest. 

Before ninth grade, he took Geometry over the summer to project himself onto a more rigorous math track. In tenth grade, Joshua asked to take two eleventh-grade requirements (health and religion) a year early to enable him to take more challenging year-long classes in eleventh grade. He has performed at the highest level in almost all the honors and AP classes that St. Andrew’s offers.  

Teachers made the experience that much better.

“They've all just been so perfect, so inspiring, and so passionate about what they do. I find that passion is the most important thing the teachers have here. None of them are teaching because it's a job. They're all here because they love the learning and they love the teaching,” Joshua said. “They love watching the students grow and helping them grow. And they all love and are extremely inspired by the topic that they teach. That inspiration naturally rubs off on me.”

All the while he feels his St. Andrew’s experience readied him for what lies ahead at Harvard. Especially those teachers in the many classes he took.

“Inspiration from my teachers is going to be the biggest thing [that prepared me],” Joshua said. “I'm going to go in and take these really hard courses. From my teachers, I learned both the actual content but also how to enjoy the content. How to take the tons and tons of work that I'm going to do next year and  enjoy it, have fun with it, and be passionate about it.”
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.