Exercise science and music spark human connection


Junior Kinesiology major and honors student Brian Neff didn’t have a traditional childhood experience, living in Minnesota, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK all before attending high school in Wisconsin. According to Neff, this might have something to do with his multi-subject interests now as a U of M student.

Neff’s father had a job that moved them around a lot, and he spent his youth playing the sport of choice in different countries (including Australian Rules Football (AFL), ski racing, soccer, basketball, and freestyle snowboard competitions in which he earned top regional and national rankings in the US), not to mention taking guitar lessons. Neff is now studying both Kinesiology and music at the U, and has recently begun performing the Star Spangled Banner—our national anthem—at some high-profile University events, like the 2019 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship, and U of M women’s ice hockey, volleyball, and basketball games.

“It was funny, actually,” Neff said, “I got an email about auditioning to perform the national anthem the day before the auditions were scheduled. I decided to go for it. I was the only instrumentalist and they said they would love to have me play.”

Since then, Neff has received “a lot of exposure for playing such a simple song,” listing the Target Center as one of the coolest places he’s ever performed. He has been performing in local venues since his senior year of high school, but the sold-out Target Center crowd of over 18,000 seats was his largest audience yet. (Check out the video of his performance above.)

Neff said his passion for both music and sports comes from a love of human connection. He was a certified personal trainer at age 18, and loves the way exercise science careers can directly affect people’s health and wellness. His favorite Kinesiology class to date is Mental Skills Training for Sport, taught by Kristin Wood, a blend of sports psychology and high performance training.

“Music creates more unexpected connections,” Neff said, citing one of his other favorite performance memories when he was playing Spanish classical and nuevo flamenco in a restaurant and ended up bonding with a patron who was in town from Spain.

“Now I have a friend in Valencia, Spain,” Neff said.

In addition to his studies, Neff has held multiple internships in the School of Kinesiology and is currently interning with Cal Dietz, the associate director of athletic performance for men’s and women’s ice hockey. When time allows, he participates in various ensembles and music groups, and worked this past fall at the RecWell Center as a personal trainer. Snowboarding also remains an important part of his life – Neff spends weekends volunteering as a snowboard coach with Blizzard Ski & Snowboard School, and in May of 2018 completed a two-week snowboard mountaineering trip in Alaska and British Columbia.

Neff is hoping to one day get to what he thinks might be the “dream job”—training elite-level athletes during the day and playing music at night and on the weekends. Look for him performing at upcoming U of M events, training the men’s and women’s ice hockey athletes, or providing research assistance in the Sports Medicine Psychology Lab as a lead sports performance data analyst.

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