CarlyMae and Lily Buckner

Year of Graduation: 
2021 and 2022
CarlyMae and Lily Buckner

“You always listen to every instrument just to get to know how your part collaborates with the others."

For sisters CarlyMae ’21 and Lily Buckner’22, music is in their DNA.

Raised by “genuine mountain musicians” George and Brooke Buckner, the natives of Asheville, North Carolina, can trace their musical bloodlines across three centuries. “We’re fifth-generation musicians,” Lily says. “That’s special because it means we can connect to our heritage and our ancestors.” 

CarlyMae received her first fiddle, a 1/16th-sized model, at the age of 3. By the time she was 7, the elder sister was accompanying her string-plucking parents on stage performing at bluegrass festivals. Lily, however, gravitated to the French horn, an instrument outside of the bluegrass sound, often relegating her to spectator during the family jam sessions. “We’ve never been able to play together before because fiddle and French horn don't really mesh,” CarlyMae says. 

As members of Exeter’s Chamber Orchestra, with CarlyMae now on double bass, the siblings are playing side by side for the first time. “I actually stand right next to where Lily sits,” CarlyMae says. “We get to play music together almost every day and that’s really cool.” Playing in an orchestra setting allows the pair to feed off not just each other’s playing, but that of the two dozen other musicians who make up the group. “You always listen to every instrument just to get to know how your part collaborates with the others,” Lily says. CarlyMae notes the “interpersonal feel” of the music, something she attributes to the sense of trust among the players. “A couple days ago we rehearsed without the conductor to see how it would work and it was perfect,” she says.

The sisters’ collaborative spirit carries over to the classroom. “It’s like putting together a puzzle,” CarlyMae says about her time around the Harkness table. “You have pieces from someone’s idea, and then you can add your own input and then together as a class you’re able to come to a conclusion.” 

Exeter has allowed the pair to pursue subjects they might not have otherwise. Lily is exploring computer science, while CarlyMae is learning Japanese. “Studying Japanese is something I never would have been able to do anywhere else,” she says. 

As residents but not roommates in Wheelwright Hall, the sisters share a familial bond with more than just each other. “It’s like we have 50 sisters,” CarlyMae says. The duo appreciates the diversity and range of different perspectives represented under one roof. “My roommate she’s from Kazakhstan,” Lily says. “I never really imagined that I could meet and interact, let alone become really good friends, with people who come from such different backgrounds.” The girls broadened their worldview even further by traveling with the Chamber Orchestra to England during a spring break concert tour last year. “We got to play [in] places that are otherworldly,” CarlyMae says. “We performed in Westminster Abbey and then got to interact with the Westminster School students.” 

As for the future, the sisters are unsure if they’ll pursue music professionally, but with their family’s musical history and shared experience of playing together, they feel strongly it will remain with them forever. “You can never really get rid of music from your life,” Lily says. CarlyMae agrees: “I will always have the music in me.”