Duluth East student plays his way to Harvard

Sam Wattrus, a senior at Duluth East High School, is a unique individual not just because of the bass he plays but also because of his extreme passion for music. It all started when his parents made him take piano lessons when he was young. Unimpressed with the mandated lessons, he soon realized this wasn’t something he wanted to continue. After quitting the piano, he promptly joined the orchestra in the sixth grade. This is where he learned to play the string bass, and found a love for orchestra.

“I wasn’t going to continue playing the bass, because I thought I had to purchase my own,” Wattrus said. “In ninth grade I learned that I could rent one so I stuck with it.”

Wattrus has been a member of the Duluth East Sterling Strings orchestra program for 4 years now. He is president of the symphony, sings in the choir, and has taught himself to play the guitar, violin, cello, harmonica and pipe organ. He acquired the miscellaneous musical instruments from friends who quit playing and didn’t have a need for their instruments anymore.

“Once you learn one string instrument, they are basically the same,” Wattrus said. “I’m no expert on all of them but I have a basic idea.”

His talents do not go unnoticed. His dedication to his music and his leadership is admired.

“Sam is a great guy and has really grown as a musician,” Mark Eskola, the orchestra director for Duluth East said. “He plays at a very high level for a high school kid. He has also grown in his leadership skills by speaking up and being a good example.”

Wattrus has taken his musical talents to other areas as well besides school. He spends a majority of his free time rehearsing with his band “Excuse Me Princess,” which was started up by his friend Jack Campbell.

Excuse Me, Princess
Excuse Me, Princess band members: Greta Konkler, Jack Campbell, Ben Ouellette, and Sam Wattrus. Photo credit: Excuse Me, Princess

“My best friend Jack coerced me to play bass for his band,” Wattrus said. “That started something else completely different and got me into the local music scene.”

This band originated when they were both in their sophomore year. The name “Excuse Me Princess” comes from the cartoon, The Legend of Zelda. So far the group has toured twice in the Midwest and released two albums. They have played at several local businesses within the Duluth area and plan to continue playing together until the boys leave for college next year. Wattrus plans to pursue his academic career at Harvard in the fall.

“He plans to keep playing because music is a part of his life,” Eskola said. “Whatever he chooses to study he will do well in. He is a smart guy and a quality person.”

At Harvard, Wattrus plans on auditioning for the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, which is made up of about 80 members.

“Even if I don’t make the orchestra as a freshman, I still plan to continue music,” Wattrus said.

Although music seems like his career path, it is still just one of many interests for Wattrus. Seeing how far he’s come though with music was never something he thought he’d get to do.

“It was so unlikely that I would end up doing music because of my first experience,” Wattrus said. “It’s interesting to look back to where you started and see where you ended up.”

 For more on Excuse Me, Princess. 


Homegrown: Photographers capture past festivals

Homegrown: Trampled by Turtles premiere on the Late Show