Declaring a Music Major

Declaring a Music Major… What the h*ck did I just get myself into?

Believe it or not, I entered my undergrad as a nursing major. I wanted to specialize in the neonatal field and work with babies. Both of my parents have worked in the medical field, and I thought it was a part of my future too. I went to a 4A high school in the Des Moines metro, so we had a pretty sizable band program. My former band director likes to say that I tried to be the “mom” of our program. And in a way, as much as I don’t like to admit it… he was right.

I came from a school where I was a drum major of a 160 student marching band, section leader of our top symphony band, lead trombone in our varsity jazz band… you get the picture. I was always somewhere, always doing something. Not to mention my extracurricular ensembles outside of school hours. My entire senior year, I experienced some of (what I thought would be) the most intense burnout I’ve ever felt.

Hahaha. Oh, high school.

Eventually, that is what pushed me to be a pre-med student. I hated being the one “in charge” over all of my peers. I had high expectations for myself and everyone around me, which turned me into a grumpy, tired, beast that I desperately wanted to leave behind.

I got to the University of Iowa, and I kid you not that by day four of classes, I was convinced I needed to switch to music. I was struggling to find passion in anything that I was doing. I was still in the symphony band despite my non-music major title, and I think that group was essentially what pushed me to make the full transition.

So, here I was. A few weeks late into the semester, but ready to study what I was truly passionate about. I was so excited; I got to go to class and learn how to play the piano? For SCHOOL??

Sooner than I expected, my music school “beer goggles” were torn from my eyes. I realize that everyone around me seemed to have so much more knowledge and understanding of music and its complexities. I began to realize that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The Rumsfeld Effect to its fullest extent.

I laugh back it now, but I almost *never* practiced in high school. I was a fast learner and had a pretty decent ear for my age. It annoyed the crap out of my director, but, eh, he could deal with it. When I came to my undergrad, these students were practicing every single day for at LEAST two hours, if not double or triple that amount. WHAT?

(I’m cracking myself up as I write this. I was so clueless. Poor child.)

I’m able to say now that in my third year of my undergrad, my habits have changed DRASTICALLY. I have healthy warm-up routines, I’m learning to practice efficiently and effectively, and I’ll brag a little bit when I say my time management skills are pretty dang great. It’s crucial to be organized as a music major, and especially while studying to get your teaching certification as I am. Let me take you through a quick list of my ensembles/responsibilities from the 2019 academic school year:

  • Fulfilling requirements to apply for the TEP program

  • Top symphony band

  • Marching band (required of music education students, 10+ hours a week)

  • Graduate-level trio

  • Tuba-euphonium studio ensemble

  • Brass choir ensemble

  • Lower level University Band (doubling on tuba)

  • Preparing for regional competitions

  • Preparing for recitals

  • Work (for me, approx. 25-30 hours a week)

  • Coursework (enrolled in at least 20 credit hours each semester)

Now, that’s a pretty intimidating list for anyone. Not to mention, this was all piled on top of me while trying to maintain any semblance of a social life, AND while battling a personal mental illness. It’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool, but it’s also somehow on fire, and maybe there’s some piranhas in there too or something. You can’t really swim, but you’ve gotta learn. As stressful as those semesters may have been for me, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else. That was the life I loved leading… even if I didn’t realize it in high school. I think in most cases, you learn to love the crazy.

My dad always tells me; take on everything that you can. Keep on adding to your schedule little by little, and you’ll adapt. If you begin to slow down, then you know where your limit is. That is probably some of the most valuable advice he’s ever given me. Because now, in the world of COVID, I’m obviously not doing half of the things mentioned above, but, I’ve continued to make a number of personal developments. I’ve founded a university womxn’s brass organization, I’ve found my REAL passion (conducting), continued to build professional networks, and I’ve become a contributor to this incredible website.

If you take away anything from this post and my experience, it’s this:

No matter how crazy and stressful your schedule may be, you’re constantly building skills for yourself and gaining experience. Time management, organization, communication, the ability to work under pressure… the list goes on. Take every opportunity you can to learn.

Your future self will thank you.

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