Towson High School senior Henri Colombat has two passions in life: Music and soccer.
But it's sometimes a challenge to balance the two, he said.
The 17-year-old Anneslie resident is a longtime piano and composition student at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and is also captain of Towson's varsity soccer team. Colombat excels at both pursuits, and he said, the two, in a way, complement one another.
"Whenever I get home from soccer practice," Colombat said, "I make sure I either practice on the piano or write music no matter what — even if I'm tired and really don't feel like doing anything. It's taught me to be more disciplined and very focused."
Likewise, he is devoted to playing for Towson's soccer team and makes adjustments in his schedule to do his best in that pursuit.
"That's an understanding I have going into soccer season," Colombat said. "It's really a big commitment, especially as captain. So I make sure I can make it to all my games, which unfortunately means missing some of my lessons and cutting back on writing and practicing music."
Music through generations
The love of music goes back at least four generations in Colombat's family. His great-grandmother, Maria Boal, was an organist in the Methodist church. His grandmother, Barbara Berry, played the violin and her husband, Benjamin, was adept on the trombone. The Berrys met at the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, N.Y.
Kati Colombat, Colombat's mother, who teaches French at Roland Park Country School, plays piano and and his father, Andre, who was born in France and is dean of international programs at Loyola University Maryland, plays guitar. Colombat's cousins, aunts and uncles are also avid musicians. In addition to piano, Colombat plays the mandolin, banjo and guitar.
"Everyone really does music in my family to some extent," said Colombat, who was born in Towson and who speaks fluent French. "Every time everyone gets together, when relatives come from out of town for the holidays, we will always play music together. Everyone plays some sort of different instrument."
Colombat said he never tires of playing the music of his favorite classical composers: Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Bach. His favorite music and the genre which he draws most inspiration from is contemporary classical music.
"I really like playing Bach," said Colombat, who has been studying music since second grade at Peabody Institute. "It's Baroque music. It's intricate and very complicated music. It's hard to play and hard to learn, but once you like learn it, it's very fascinating. Your left hand and right hand are doing totally different things at the same time. But at the same time, they are very related things."
Colombat's Peabody composition instructor Judah Adashi said Colombat's major strengths, in addition to his commitment, are his versatility and curiosity.
"He's a terrific student," Adashi said. "He's very curious and his taste in music is very wide-ranging, and he has played and explored a lot of different instruments. He's in many ways exactly what you're looking for in a composition student."
Colombat said he looks forward to his music composition class every Tuesday at Peabody's branch campus in Towson.
Adashi called Colombat "someone with a very engaged and curious mind."
"He listens to so much music, regardless of its style," Adashi said. "He obviously listens to a lot of classical music, but he also enjoys bluegrass and pop and all kinds of different things, and all those things kind of feed into the music he writes."
Colombat said his focus now is on composition.
"My whole life I have been playing other people's music and trying to interpret their music to perform it," Colombat said. "I just thought it would be really interesting to see what kind of different things I could do with my own ideas.
"The music I compose is pretty melodic music, but I also try to play with dissonance," he added about the art of melding clashing musical sounds. "You can do interesting things with dissonance."
Even at the height of soccer season, Colombat practices piano about 14 hours a week. On Sundays, his only free day, he'll often practice and work on composition for eight hours straight.
"It's refreshing to do it that long," he said. "During the week, I don't get as much time to practice as I would like. On Sundays, though, I will practice for an hour or two hours and then I will spend hours writing music. I have the time to do it, so why not? People who are serious about music spend a lot of time practicing."
'Reliable and coachable'
Meanwhile, afield from family room where Colombat works on compositions on his baby grand piano, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 140-pound has had a solid career with the Towson Generals on the soccer field. He started for two years on the junior varsity team before joining the varsity team as a junior and senior. Prior, he played soccer for seven years in the Towson Recreation Council. He has also refereed youth soccer games for Towson rec council for the past five years.
"Henri is very reliable and very coachable," Towson High soccer head coach Randy Dase of the midfielder. "He works real hard. He does a lot of what I call undercover work. He might not score many goals, but he's out there winning the 50-50 balls, playing good defense and distributing the ball to his teammates."
Colombat played a key role in the Generals' season-ending 1-1 tie with heated rival Dulaney at Goucher College on Oct. 21. He assisted on the opening goal, lofting a perfect crossing pass to senior Zakir Bulmer, who scored.
Colombat, who was chosen as a Towson co-captain in late August, is also valued for leadership skills on a team with an 8-3-1 record.
"The biggest thing about Henri is that he leads by example," Towson assistant soccer coach Jon Becker said. "He works harder than anybody in practice and the guys see that. They just want to match that work ethic."
In addition to midfield, the Towson coaching staff has used Colombat as a defender this fall. Dase and Becker have liked what they've seen from him.
"When our left fullback needed a break, we knew he could handle the extra time," Becker said. "He works his butt off back there."
Colombat thinks he made the right decision in giving up track. Yet he sometimes wonders what he could have done in indoor track and track and field during his last two years of high school.
Colombat also ran indoor track on the varsity as a sophomore and was a junior varsity outdoors runner in his first two years at Towson, but gave it up for his music pursuits. His 3,200-meter relay team competed in the 2012 state indoor championships.
"I did love the track team, but it just took up so much time," Colombat said. "I thought it would be nice to spend more time on what I wanted to do with my life."
Colombat, who carries 3.4 grade point average, has other credits to his name. He plays in Towson High's jazz band; is president of the school's music honor society; and a member of Towson High's chapter of Habitat for Humanity. He also takes three advance placement courses: economics, statistics and English; plays in a band called Sidecar Rendezvous.
All these commitments should make Colombat particularly appealing to colleges. Looking to majoring in music composition, he has three colleges at the top of his list: Boston University, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University or McGill University, in Montreal.
His mother is looking forward to seeing him refine his talent in the next few years.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing where he'll be in a couple years with his composition," Kati Colombat said. "I think he still has a lot of things to discover."
As much as Dase and Colombat discuss soccer, the conversation often leads back to music. Dase has learned more about his co-captain's love for music this fall and it astonished him.
"He told me he plays the piano for eight hours on Sunday," Dace said. "I was like, 'You have to be kidding me. Eight hours on a piano?' That's unbelievable. I can't even sleep for eight hours."