‘Gathering different sounds and stories’: CMC student Kyra Varivaya’s summer of travel and music

Kyra poses in front of a street with many buildings in the background.
Kyra Varivaya CMC ’25 spent the summer visiting 10 European cities as inspiration for her E.P. album, “Sonic Skyline,” thanks to an Appel Scholarship. (Courtesy: Kyra Variyava)

In her song “In the Trenches,” songwriter and artist Kyra Varivaya CM ’25 asks: What would you construct if “you were the architect of the blueprint of your mind and dreams?” For Varivaya, she would construct a world where the love of exploring music prevails. After spending the summer visiting 10 European cities as inspiration for her E.P. album, “Sonic Skyline,” Varivaya understands how music serves as an outlet to tell stories of the world through her experiences.

Varivaya was five when she wrote her first song, “Survivor,” with her dad. 13 years later, she acknowledges how this early encounter has been one of her most prominent experiences. 

“The first time I performed that song, and honestly where I was recognized as an artist, was in grade three,” Varivaya said. “My teacher asked me what I was writing, and I said it was an expansion of a song that my dad and I have been working on. She invited my dad to class literally in the middle of school, and he came with his guitar, and we just sang a song, and that’s when people started realizing my talent.”

Varivaya believes that the appreciation of music cannot be quantified in letter grades or numbers. 

“Aside from songwriting, I’ve been playing the piano for the last 10 years and the guitar for nine years,” Varivaya said. “But I never took any exams, because I’m a huge believer that music should be something that you can never be tested on. You can only feel music.”

A member of the 5C acapella group Mood Swing, Varivaya attributes significant growth in her journey as an artist to her college life. 

“Another important place for my musical expression is the Marks music room,” she said. “It is one of my favorite places on campus. Marks was my freshman dorm, and it had a little piano and a little room that I always had … access to. It is one of my favorite pockets of music on campus.”

Over the course of this summer, Varivaya found other pockets of music far away from the 5C campuses as she traveled to several international cities. Composing, producing and writing lyrics for her album “Sonic Skyline,” Varivaya found inspiration for her music in the different cities’ skylines.

“Music has the ability to transcend a moment in time and leave you with a tangible memory,” she said. “To me, my music is a storehouse of the collection of stories and experiences I pick up along the way … Gathering different sounds and stories, these songs capture lost moments in time of people, paintings and places in hopes of finding them a small space in our future history.”

As a recipient of the Appel Scholarship, Varivaya used her grant to travel around Europe. She mainly traveled in Austria and Italy because she wanted to experience the places she knows through music for herself.

“Traveling by yourself is a huge deal. I was apprehensive of being judged for sitting alone in dining halls before. But after this trip, where all my meals were by myself, I realized the importance of spending time with myself.”

Kyra Varivaya CM '25

“For me, experiences guide the melody,” Varivaya said. ”I chose Austria because I wanted to see the places where all of my favorite classical artists have composed their music. May it be George Schubert or Mozart — their music came from Austria. As cheesy as it sounds, ‘Vienna’ by Billy Joel is my favorite song, and it was one of my biggest reasons why I wanted to go. Once I was in Vienna, music came to life and the world made sense.” 

Varivaya also highlighted the unexpected lessons she learned through her project and travels.

“Traveling by yourself is a huge deal,” she said. “I was apprehensive of being judged for sitting alone in dining halls before. But after this trip, where all my meals were by myself, I realized the importance of spending time with myself.”

The experiences that Varivaya recalls most fondly are not only limited to sightseeing, but also to meeting people. 

“I was sitting at a restaurant one night, and the bartender and I started talking, and he told me that he also took a similar trip,” she said. “He gave me some advice that will stick with me for life. He told me that ‘90 percent of the time, people would want to help you. And you should try and find those people. If not, they will find you.’”

“Sonic Skylines” has helped Kyra define what music means to her identity. 

“Not only did the skyline help me gain a baseline for the melody, but it was also a great inspiration behind the lyrics of the song,” she said.

To her, music is not only an escape from reality, but also a marker of history and a documentation of experiences. 

“Music isn’t only meant to capture you at your best –– in your moments of victory, pride, or confidence,” Varivaya said. “I find that it is best captured in your moments of self-doubt, unacknowledged efforts, anxiousness, and disappointment, alongside its reassuring presence that things work out the way they are meant to.”

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