Artist Jacob Collier Dazzles and Inspires Frost Students

The brilliant, unconventional musician Jacob Collier, beloved for his audience choirs and genre-defying creativity, captivated Frost School of Music students in a masterclass.

Students at the Frost School of Music get to hear a lot of spectacular artists. But none quite like Jacob Collier, the chameleonic, charismatic, uncategorizable prodigy who’s captivated millions with his jaw-dropping skills, globe-trotting collaborations and mesmerizing audience choirs, where he conducts thousands in improvised song. Collier visited the Frost School recently, drawing hundreds of thrilled students who lined up for hours to hear the multi-Grammy winning English musician. 

“I love it here,” proclaimed Collier, 29, from the stage of a packed Clarke Recital Hall, eliciting cheers as he donned a Frost School of Music sweatshirt offered by Dean Shelton G. Berg. Collier, who previously visited the Frost School in 2018, asked to return after a Miami Beach show on his Djesse Vol. 4 concert tour, and kept students spellbound for over two hours. 

Jacob Collier talking onstage with Reynaldo Sanchez, Frost Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation
Jacob Collier talking with Reynaldo Sanchez, Frost Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation

Collier didn’t just present, he engaged. “Let’s sing,” he began, before leading one of his famous audience choirs. Simultaneously playful and profound, Collier took students through his musical thoughts and inspirations, demonstrated complex harmonic concepts and riffed brilliantly on piano. He advised them, in multiple ways, to do what they loved and trust that the rest would follow.

“Ask yourself – what would you do if there was no chance of failure?” Collier said. “What matters to you? I became so interested and fascinated with what I was making that I forgot to think about everything else. I don’t remember thinking I want to have a career or build an audience. I wasn’t trying to compete for people’s attention.”

The students hung on every word, laughing and applauding. “I love how he’s very experimental and not afraid to be himself,” said junior Amilyah Robinson, a percussion performance major. “This is an amazing opportunity for me and lots of other students who love not only Jacob Collier but music. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to bring the music community together on campus.”

Frost students were mesmerized by Jacob Collier
Frost students were mesmerized by Jacob Collier

Impish and gangly, with a dancer’s fluid, expressive physicality, Collier's uninhibited persona only highlighted his eloquence and accomplishments. He described first experiencing music as a toddler sitting on the lap of his mother – a violinist, conductor and teacher at London’s Royal Academy of Music – as she practiced. “I’d look up and see the violin and it was so amazing,” he said. “I was right inside the music. That feeling never leaves you.”

His first musical loves were the likes of Bach and Stravinsky – and Stevie Wonder, his favorite artist. “When I was two, three, four, I just loved him immediately,” Collier said. “He really just stands for joy in the world. I’m also quite a joyous being, and I’m drawn to sounds and elements and people that light me up.” He didn’t mean just kumbaya sweetness. “Joy is broader and deeper than ‘let’s all just get along’,” Collier said. “It's about the alchemy to a more open or more communicative or cathartic state. Stevie doesn’t just write happy songs. He writes songs about the whole world.”

A child prodigy, Collier taught himself to play over a dozen instruments and produce, recording YouTube videos where he sang and played multiple parts. “From age seven to 20 it was all just me in a room making things,” he said. He went viral with a dazzling version of Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” His fans included legendary producer Quincy Jones, who became an artistic godfather, leading to Collier signing with Jones’s management company and making his concert debut at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea

Jacob Collier demonstrated his musical ideas during his master class
Jacob Collier demonstrated his music and ideas during his master class

Collier has collaborated with a mind-boggling array of artists, from Coldplay to Lizzie McAlpine to T-Pain to Oumou Sangare, a process he described as “finding the divine in others" and "a kind of dance – you have to adapt yourself to the needs of whoever you’re working with.” In 2023, he released a version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” made from 100,000 voices gathered in audience choirs and Instagram submissions.  

Collier repeatedly emphasized humanity, inspiration and connection over conventional ambition and strategies. “Don’t try to be cool,” he told a senior asking for career advice. “The world needs more warm people. There’s a big difference between reaching a lot of people and moving a lot of people. It’s so weird. It’s this really strange bright packaging culture filled with competitive marketing where people are starved for genuine stuff. So do things with deep integrity, with warmth.”

“I love how it’s not just about his music, but the whole community’s music,” said Yang Yang, a master’s student in jazz composition from China.

Don’t worry about hits, Collier said. “One of the things I’ve been most grateful for is I haven’t had a really big hit song,” he said. “People think that must be the best way of doing it - you definitely need a sudden influx of pressure and responsibility in your life, that’s gonna be great for your creativity. It’s not. I’ve had the luxury of being able to adapt to each stage of the pressure as I’ve gone along.”

He practices his own “Jacobean values.” “Treat everybody with respect, treat everybody with kindness,” he said. “You are open. Don’t toe the line. You don’t boss people around, or bully or manipulate people. Your team grows out of whatever your values are.”

“Don’t be put off by people who feel entitled to tell you to be someone that you’re not. You can’t change who you are. You can grow into who you are, and make decisions to prioritize that.”

Collier finished by leading students in a choir on “Somewhere” from the musical “West Side Story,” the ballad of yearning for a place to be oneself; gesturing, reaching, sculpting hundreds of Frost student voices into a soaring chorus of longing for an ideal. It was a perfect ending to a session that pointed the way to an infinite musical future.