Adam R. McFarlane ’03, PhD ’14

Take Note

Adam McFarlane has worked behind the camera and performed notably in front of it. He’s taken on some of the biggest stages in America (Conan O’Brien’s, for one), and he recently collected his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Clemson’s stage. His career and talents have carried him from the West Coast to the East Coast to overseas, for months and even years at a time.
But McFarlane’s dream realized has not meant commanding a national audience. It has been coming home to Clemson and earning an opportunity to help other young learners pursue their educational aspirations.
A native of Greenville, his musical training began in elementary school when he mimicked, by ear, his older sister’s piano playing. Later, he took lessons but mostly honed his talent by playing along with the radio.
[pullquote align=’right’]By the time he arrived at Clemson in 1999 through Clemson’s STEP program (Science and Technology Entrance Program, now the Early Success Program), he realized music was a great way to meet new people and relax.[/pullquote]
McFarlane quickly earned a reputation as a keyboard player while he earned his bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in sport management. A couple of years overseas as a videographer for NFL Europe was followed by a master’s degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma. He moved to the West Coast working with athletic video by day and exploring the Seattle music scene at night.
McFarlane had moved back to Clemson to pursue his Ph.D. when he and comedian Rory Scovel (in the cast of the TBS comedy series, “Ground Floor”) reconnected. Years earlier, when the two Greenville natives were living in Seattle, they performed a musical-comedy act to much acclaim.
Scovel was already scheduled for the spot on “Conan.” He asked if he could bring McFarlane along, wear tuxedos, use a Liberace-style grand piano and create a comedy experience that was kind of classy and truly unique.
The show agreed, and the result was, in a word, hilarious.
For all the experiences music has made possible, it’s not McFarlane’s professional ambition. He’s seeking out a career in higher ed, working with young athletes and coaches to help college students find success, academically and socially.
“I don’t want to be a full-time musician,” McFarlane says. “That to some degree would take the fun out of it. I’ll always play because of the joy it brings me, but for my career, I want to make an impact on students’ lives. I’m excited about what comes next.”
See the “Conan” video at