Music and Words

October 22, 2011

The Story of a Music Degree

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 1:15 pm

I am a musician.

I’ve been playing piano since I was 8, singing in choir since I was 12, and I studied music in college. I have a BA in music, with a theory emphasis and a business minor. It took me a long time to choose that major.

I went in to college undeclared, but thought I would want to study something science-related. I loved chemistry in high school and I liked working with computers, so I enrolled in Chem and Computer Science classes in my first year of college.

I hated both of those classes. Now, a lot of other things went wrong my second semester of college as well, but I had this identity crisis come up, and decided that I would fit into the music department better. I’ve been surrounded by musicians for a long time, most notably the four years of high school. Musicians are my people.

I already knew my instrument would be voice – it had just been so long since I’d really been involved in piano lessons, and besides, do you have any idea how much work goes into studying an instrument like that in college? At least, I figured, singing would be easy.

Totally not true.

I spent one semester as a general music major, intending to go into music education. You have to have a focus instrument to do that, though, and I spent a semester taking weekly voice lessons with a grad student. I hated them. First of all, I spent most of that semester sick with one virus or another. Secondly, have I mentioned I hate performing solos?

When I say that, I mean I actually experience performance anxiety. I worry about it for days, I get that sick feeling in my stomach, I even start to shake uncontrollably while I’m performing. As a pianist, I could fake it. You can’t see my hands shaking when I play. As a singer, though, you can hear it in my voice. I had no support to begin with because I was so nervous, and I’m pretty sure you could hear my voice shaking. I even have a great story to go along with this performance anxiety, so hold on tight – rabbit trail coming.

When I first applied to get into the Music Education program, I had to audition in front of key faculty members from the School of Music. They asked me a couple of questions, then I had to sing. I performed one song for them, the song I had performed for my All-State choral audition my senior year of high school. This was the song that got me into the All-State choir. (That and my excellent sight-reading abilities.) I knew my performance wasn’t all that great – I could hear it in my voice. I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be, and even hit a wrong note or two (right at the very end, how frustrating is that?!).

I just used all three major punctuation points in one sentence.

As I was saying, I knew I wasn’t great. What I was not expecting was this comment from the head of the voice department: “Well, it’s pretty clear that you’ve never had any private voice training.”

WHAT?! Who says something like that?

They let me into the school of music anyway, and after one semester, I was done with voice lessons. Couldn’t handle it.

The next semester, I figured I would get my degree in music business. My school actually had a course of study for that. Pretty cool. I took a couple of business-type classes, but got bored with that pretty quickly. (I also had my tonsils removed that semester, which solved the I’m-always-sick problem. Wish I could tell my voice instructor that I wasn’t lying about being sick all the time, and I really did have something wrong with me. Now I only get sick once in a while.)

While I was going through all this, I found that I absolutely loved my music theory class. My professor was excellent and the material we studied was fascinating to me. I learned about how all the different notes work together to make chords (some of which I already knew through piano lessons, of course) and how the chords work together to create the structure of the song. I finally had something that I was interested in studying, and around that same time, I discovered I could do a degree in music theory. It would involve taking lots of theory classes (great) and composition classes (hmmm). It would also require that I complete a minor as well, which the music education major did not. I guess they figured that studying both music and education was good enough.

I took those composition classes, and promptly discovered that I’m not much of a composer. A few weeks into my first composition class, I went to a workshop full of composition majors. The other students in this workshop kept raising their hands and talking about how they had these melodies floating through their minds and had to write them down, or how they were so inspired by something they just had to write a song…and I was totally intimidated. The only melody floating through my head is the song I heard on the radio before I got out of the car, and I’ve never been inspired to write a song. My mind just doesn’t work that way. I can analyze other people’s music no problem, but I don’t come up with stuff like that on my own.

Here’s the funny part, though – I can compose. I can follow the rules in composition (whichever set I’m supposed to be following, early counterpoint vs. classical forms vs. 20th century) and it’ll sound good. I just won’t have any idea how it sounds until I get it down on paper and play it to myself. Following the rules works for me, being “inspired” doesn’t.

As I mentioned, I had to choose a minor. My minor is in business administration. I picked this mostly just because I had already done a few of the classes needed for this minor when I thought I was going to study music business.

Business classes are boring, though. I had one good professor, and he taught a business math sort of course. Most of the other classes were at best, boring, and at worst, awful. Seriously, I had one professor who yelled at us for not raising our hands when he asked what the current exchange rate was from the euro to the dollar. We didn’t raise our hands because he always yelled at us when we got the answers wrong, and we knew better than to answer questions at all by this point. When someone finally did raise their hand to answer the question, they were off by a dime or so, and got yelled at for being wrong. The professor went on a tirade about how European kids would know the answer to that question, and American kids are stupid because they don’t. Personally, I thought that’s what Google was for. Unless we plan to spend money overseas, why does it matter what the exchange rate is at this exact moment? When I was in Germany, I did know what the exchange rate was.

Now that I’ve finished college, though, I’m actually putting the business classes to use. (Not the exchange rate, although I did need to know what the US-Canadian exchange rate was last year.) I’m involved in marketing and management, which were both horrible classes I had to take. Both marketing and management are much more interesting now that I see how to do them in real life.

I loved my major, even though I’m not doing anything related to it now. I love my current job, even though it had nothing to do with my major. I’m well aware that most people who graduated within the last few years (actually, plenty of people in this country, regardless of when they graduated) don’t have jobs at all right now, or don’t have jobs they enjoy. I’m thankful that I do. Most of all, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to spend 4 years in college studying something I dislike in order to have a good job when I graduated.

Plenty of people who studied “useful” things in college don’t have jobs right now anyway.


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