Finding His Voice
Joshua Comins came to the University of Maine to find the answers to the questions he’s been curious about all his life.
As a member of the UMaine community, he also found his voice.
“Ever since I was a few years old, I was asking my parents questions about perception, nature and behavior,” says Joshua, a psychology major with a minor in music, who will graduate in May.
“He asked many interesting ones,” his father added, “like: ‘Does one’s language affect legal reasoning?’ ‘Does the brain ever fill up?’ ‘When did early life first need to have blood?’
“Psychology was the best place to find most of the answers.”
In his major, Joshua focused on cognitive/biological psychology, especially in the classes of professor Thane Fremouw and, for two years, in the lab of professor Shawn Ell.
This past year, with a Center for Undergraduate Research fellowship funded by the Presidential Request for Visions of University Excellence (PRE-VUE) Program, Joshua studied human implicit and explicit category learning systems. In particular, he explored how people categorize stimuli using different learning systems and whether changing the paradigm they use — asking subjects to elaborate on their thought processes — would impact their learning.
A newly inducted member of Phi Beta Kappa, Joshua recently received the Department of Psychology’s Scholar Award for his research.
Beyond his success in the research lab, Joshua’s favorite campus haunts have been the rehearsal studios on the second floor of Class of ’44 Hall.
Joshua has been playing piano since age 5, following the lead of his older brother, 2007 UMaine alumnus James Comins, and his father, UMaine Professor of Physics and Astronomy Neil Comins.
Before enrolling at UMaine, Joshua also dabbled in choral singing. For three years, he participated in chorus at Maine Summer Youth Music camps on campus. But it wasn’t until he was a Bangor High School senior and joined the UMaine Black Bear Men’s Chorus that, he says, “I found out I was able to sing.”
Now, for the past four and a half years, Joshua hasn’t just been singing bass with a loud, low voice that resonates. He has found his voice as a basso profundo.
“Josh began singing with the Black Bear Men’s Chorus when he was in high school,” says Daniel Williams, who conducts the UMaine Black Bear Men’s Chorus. “From the moment he auditioned, I could tell his voice was something special. It’s unusual to hear such a low, resonant voice in someone so young.”
During his time with the men’s chorus, Joshua’s singing improved greatly, which can be attributed to, among other things, an incredibly strong work ethic, Williams says.
“But as good a singer as Josh is, his speaking voice has developed into something even more special. He has done several readings as part of Black Bear Men’s Chorus performances, and when he opens his mouth to speak, there is an audible reaction from the audience,” says Williams. “I just don’t think they expect to hear that voice coming from a tall, skinny body. He’s our very own James Earl Jones.”
As a UMaine junior, Joshua began taking voice lessons from School of Performing Arts faculty Francis Vogt and Nancy Ogle. On campus, he joined UMaine’s Collegiate Chorale, conducted by graduate student Justin Zang. In the community, he joined the Mainely Music Chorus as the youngest member of the group dedicated to barbershop singing.
“Psychology was my first love in college and music my favorite pastime — a way to unwind,” says Joshua. “Now, those may switch positions.”
When he graduates, Joshua plans to continue voice lessons and may pursue graduate work in vocal performance. And he will seek opportunities to join a touring musical troupe.
His dream job? A gig with the Grammy Award-winning male a cappella chorus Chanticleer.
“In high school and my first year of college, I was introverted. Eventually, I found a group of friends who dragged me out of my shell and made a world of difference. In addition, Danny Williams and Justin Zang have been both inspirational and supportive of my singing. I have a feeling if I had not come here, I would not have found the egging along (I needed) — egged on in the best possible way.”
Joshua’s other inspiration: his father, who has been a member of the UMaine faculty since 1978. “His work ethic is indomitable,” says Joshua, who took one course — basic astronomy — from his father.
Neil says having the opportunity to see his sons succeed at UMaine has been an enriching experience. “It’s been very satisfying to see Josh’s collegiate success and social development in real time,” he says. “It shows both Josh’s tremendous capability and that the university has done a good job.”
Joshua says his advice to incoming UMaine students is the same message his father gave him: College is what you make of it.
“I made sure to meet as many people as possible, join clubs and activities, and have a whale of a time.”