Tennis: Philosophy Grads Find Success in Music
How do two graduates from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences become sailors-turned-musicians? By studying philosophy.
Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met by chance in a philosophy course. Riley, who Moore says is dyslexic, mistakenly signed up for the class. It wasn’t long before they fell in love and declared philosophy as their major. When they graduated in 2008, Moore had planned to go to law school. But instead of jumping right into more education or a career, the pair detoured, deciding to take what they learned from their philosophy degree—doing something for its own merit—to explore the world.
“Patrick had this long dream of becoming a sailor and a desire for the simplicity and the self discipline of being at sea—and the difficulties of navigating, to harnessing the wind and being the master of your own vessel,” says Moore. He convinced her it would be a worthy endeavor.
So instead of backpacking across Europe as many grads do, they decided to buy an old Cape Dory sailboat and tour the East Coast. They sold all their material possessions in Denver, flew to Florida to take a one-week sailing course and then lived and sailed on the small boat until they ran out of money.
When they got back to Denver, they had a wealth of amazing experiences that needed a creative outlet. They quickly discovered that the adventurous routine they had grown accustomed to at sea was missing from their landlocked lives. “We were feeling this profound nostalgia and honestly just missing the experience. Every day on the boat had this raw or visceral quality to it,” says Moore.
Although both had played music prior to their voyage, they hadn’t played together. As students of philosophy, Moore says that they were taught to do something for the sake of itself, for its own reasons. So as a means to process what they experienced on the boat, they poured their energy into writing music together for the first time ever, for the sake of itself.
“Every song that we wrote together was unintentionally evoking all of the memories and experiences, and even the aesthetic in general, of being on the sailboat,” says Moore who plays piano. Before they knew it they had a full album, aptly named Cape Dory, that went viral on the Internet after sharing it with just a few friends. It wasn’t long before they heard “Marathon”—now one of their most popular songs—on the radio.
They consider their music to be vintage pop, borrowing production styles and vocal elements from the 40s, 50s and 60s. “We were really only a band for three months,” says Moore. And then they quickly had to scramble to start touring because people wanted to see them live after hearing them online. But first they needed a drummer. Riley, who plays guitar, recruited James Baron, a 2007 graduate from the CU Denver College of Arts & Media, to join their band. They called themselves Tennis.
Tennis just launched a summer tour, playing in Europe and around the United States at music festivals. They’re taking things day by day, not completely sure what the future holds. “Tennis was such a weird, happy accident,” says Moore. But they’ve recently accepted that they’re true musicians and would like to make two or three more albums and then see what happens. “It’s a really serious endeavor to take yourself seriously as an artist; it’s a huge commitment.”
Moore and Riley credit the Department of Philosophy for not only helping them meet, but also for providing a path to their current success. “UCD has this amazing significance to our lives—Patrick and I met there and stumbled our way into the philosophy department from different fields, which was a very important stepping stone in our life.”
“We look back very fondly on our entire experience in the philosophy department and every professor meant something to us in their own way,” says Moore.
As for advice for students as they prepare to graduate, Moore shares some words of wisdom from Sharon Coggan, director of religious studies: “Don’t let your graduation get in the way of your education; keep learning.”