Gabrielle Cerberville’s (’14) creativity and curiosity has led her to success as both a non-traditional composer and viral mushroom forager on TikTok. Cerberville, who transferred to Butler University as a sophomore, says the encouragement she received in the Music Composition program helped her flourish not only as a composer, but as a person.
As a child, Cerberville remembers how she would drive her parents and piano teacher crazy. Not wanting to play the music in front of her or do as she was told, Cerberville preferred to create and play her own music. Cerberville’s passion for music-making endured, and when she graduated from high school, she decided to pursue composition at Cairn University.
Only a year later, however, Cerberville transferred to Butler after an interview with Frank Felice, Associate Professor of Music Composition. Cerberville found herself in Felice’s office, which was “filled with plastic dinosaurs, interesting books, and weird knick-knacks.” That single conversation was enough to make her a Bulldog.
“Honestly, Frank Felice was the deciding factor for me,” Cerberville says. “He’s just the warmest, loveliest human being, and he’s also so brilliant at his craft that I knew he was someone I wanted to study with.”
Felice, who has been at Butler since the fall of 1998, immediately took notice of Cerberville’s unique approach to composition. He remembers thinking that he’d love to work with her.
Felice proved to be an integral part of Cerberville’s time at Butler, mentoring her as both a student and a young artist. From the very beginning, the faculty and other students inspired her to work freely and creatively.
“I immediately got thrust into the world of Butler composition, which is a fascinating and unique thing,” Cerberville says. “There is sort of a Butler style, and that style is very different from a lot of other schools. The students come out writing things that are so unorthodox and creative. That was something that really inspired me while I was there, and that certainly can be traced directly to the composition faculty, especially Frank Felice and Mike Schelle.”
Two years after graduating, Cerberville began experimenting with mixed media composition, combining installation and audio at a residency program in Iceland. It was there that Cerberville discovered her love for graphic score work, which she now describes as her “bread and butter.” Not using traditional notation, a graphic score employs directionality, shapes, and symbols to develop the musical score. Without telling the musician where to start, graphic scores can be interpreted and played a number of different ways. Cerberville’s first graphic score, “Phases,” is about looking for color in Iceland during winter. According to Cerberville, the piece was received quite well, and Felice even played a version of it at Butler’s Elektronik Musik Fest. Another version, played by Jacob Richman, differs greatly in interpretation. Cerberville says the freedom of interpretation in graphic scores allows performers more agency when compared to traditionally notated pieces.
“There’s nowhere telling you to start, so it becomes an interesting conversation between what I’m saying and what the performer thinks I’m saying,” Cerberville says. “That can lead to some really beautiful and interesting collaborations that center the performer’s creative voice.”
Since returning from Iceland, Cerberville has continued to compose for a variety of mediums. After years of freelance work, she moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to pursue her Master of Music Composition from Western Michigan University. It’s been there in Michigan that Cerberville’s career has taken an unexpected turn on TikTok.
With memories of foraging from as young as five years old, Cerberville has always been fascinated by finding their own food in nature. Known throughout their childhood neighborhood as the “blueberry girl,” Cerberville remembers spending hours on end foraging for berries.
Finding their passion for mycology after graduation, Cerberville began to learn about edible fungi while they still lived in Indiana. After moving to Kalamazoo, Cerberville was determined to find new foraging spots, and they decided to document their finds. Although their first TikToks didn’t get much attention, Cerberville continued posting, until one video about a “puffball” mushroom went viral with 5.6 million views.
“I basically went from about 1,000 followers in my first few months to 40,000 overnight, and I had no idea what to do with that,” Cerberville says. “Then I had that same experience again, funny enough with another puffball video, where I jumped a few hundred thousand followers almost overnight… It’s just crazy. You never know what’s going to go viral and ultimately change your life.”
Cerberville’s account, @chaoticforager, has now reached more than 830,000 followers, and continues to grow with each new video. The TikTok attention has presented compositional opportunities and allowed Cerberville to work with people they never would have been able to work with before.
“I’ve been commissioned to write a couple of works about mushrooms, and my work in the mycology space has given my music a lot more exposure,” Cerberville says. “I have also secured multiple residencies and research opportunities, allowing me to explore things like biodata sonification of fungi, foraged evening-length multimedia events with sound, and installation partnerships, including an exciting opportunity to work as an artist in residence with the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I’ll be going to Panama in June 2022 for a residency/research trip, possibly to Finland later in the summer, and likely will return to Port Austin AiR on the shore of Lake Huron to perform a sound and foraged food event sometime in the upcoming year.”
While continuing to grow their TikTok account, Cerberville is currently applying to doctoral programs and hopes to earn a PhD. Cerberville says there isn’t a name for her ideal career yet, but she hopes to end up in something that has “whispers of both educator and maker.”
Cerberville says that although she struggled emotionally while at Butler, the resources and encouragement her professors provided helped her to work through her struggles and become the artist she is today.
“Butler was a really good place for me,” Cerberville says. “I was the kind of student that could have very easily been passed over and ignored, but the professors paid attention to what I was doing, and they’ve continued to be supportive even as I’ve gone into the world and done different things than what I was doing while I was there.”