Most 5C students are involved in hobbies or activities outside of their normal classes, but it’s not often that students consider what their professors do when they aren’t teaching class or grading papers. 5C professors have fascinating hobbies too: outside the classroom, some may be athletes, chefs or even songwriters, like professor Pierre Englebert.
Englebert has been a professor at Pomona College since 1998 and currently serves as the William H. Russell professor of international relations and politics with a primary focus on African politics. While Englebert was an undergraduate student at the University of Brussels in Belgium, where he is originally from, he became interested in African politics and decided to get his master’s and doctoral degrees in the United States. Since arriving at Pomona, he has become a comparative politics and development scholar.
However, when Englebert is done with his work as a professor for the day, he typically spends his time playing and composing music. His passion for music started when he was in high school and continued through college; Englebert played guitar and wrote songs for himself and the bands he played with while an undergraduate. Although he took music seriously in college, Englebert practiced less and less as he got more into his studies and career and eventually stopped playing regularly for many years.
It wasn’t until he took a sabbatical a few years ago that Englebert realized he missed having music in his life, and he decided to take guitar lessons at the Claremont Folk Music Center, as well as two music theory classes at Pomona.
“Suddenly it opened this floodgate, like all the music had been sitting there waiting … and I suddenly felt like I had, like, a new musical life in me.” —Pierre Englebert
“Suddenly it opened this floodgate, like all the music had been sitting there waiting … and I suddenly felt like I had, like, a new musical life in me,” he said.
After practicing for a few months and reacquainting himself with music, Englebert decided to start composing his own songs. The songwriting process consumes almost all of Englebert’s free time since he begins with playing the guitar, then develops the song further by adding piano, drums, bass and other instruments through his electric keyboard. Once the music is mostly figured out, Englebert then writes his lyrics and records the song.
“My wife says she hardly sees me anymore,” Englebert said with a laugh.
All of that time spent songwriting paid off for Englebert; this past May, he released his first album. The album, titled “Back to Plan A,” includes nine original songs and was released under the name of Englebert’s one-man band: Not a Moment Too Soon.
Hoping to have a bit of separation between his professional career and music career and also comment on his slightly late entrance into the music world, the name “Not a Moment Too Soon” was Englebert’s thoughtful creation.
“Somehow music came back into my life, and I realized, well, it’s really not a moment too soon to get going with this,” Englebert said.
When asked about how he comes up with his songs’ concepts, titles and lyrics, Englebert explained that he typically writes his songs with three different themes in mind: humor, personal stories and political commentary. These themes can all be recognized in “Back to Plan A.”
His sense of humor can be seen in the song “I Knew It, She Likes Me!” which Englebert based off of the game “Would You Rather?” He realized that he could write from the perspective of an insecure guy who is trying to talk to a girl he is interested in.
“He goes to this girl; he says, ‘Hey, would you rather?’ and gives her a lot of terrible options, ‘or go out with me?’” Englebert said. “And then we never hear her answer. But then he says, ‘I knew it, she likes me.’ Right? So the guy is delusional. So I thought, that’s kind of a good little punchline.”
One of Englebert’s more personal songs is “If You Were No Longer in My Life,” which he wrote about his wife. The song is playful, with creative lyrics such as “if you were no longer in my life … I would have breadcrumbs in my beard, children would mock me and run scared,” and then the song abruptly ends with a transition to French lyrics.
“Little Senegal and the Upper East Side” is about the integration of migrants and the curiosity Englebert has about their lives. He came up with the idea for the song while he was having lunch during a visit to New York City and noticed a group of Black women pushing white children in strollers. Englebert thought about the emotional labor of having to care for someone else’s kids.
“When do they have time to love their kids?” Englebert said. “What will happen to these little white kids? Will they remain, you know, connected to this woman?”
“I don’t try to be a social critic, but sometimes I think of some issues, and they come out in songs.” —Pierre Englebert
“I don’t try to be a social critic, but sometimes I think of some issues, and they come out in songs,” Englebert said.
“Back to Plan A” can be found on most of the major music streaming or purchasing platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud. Even though his debut album was just released, Englebert has eight more original songs ready; he is planning to release them on his next album, hopefully coming out early next year.
Balancing his time as a professor and musician is not always easy for Englebert, but he said he has learned to be very disciplined with his time and thankfully finds joy in both fields.
“I’ve been able to combine both in ways that are very rewarding,” Englebert said. “Each time I’m happy [with] the one I’m doing. So I feel very lucky.”