When I applied for college, majoring in music wasn't my plan. I was going to major in theology and education and minor in music. Somehow, I flipped around music and education on my application and ended up coming in as an intended music and theology double major with a minor in education. Since majoring in music got me 1-hour piano lessons - which I'd never had before - I decided to keep the major for just a semester so I could keep the lessons and switch back to an education major in the spring as I had originally planned.
By spring, I had dropped the education minor and fully intended to stay a music major. Two years later, I'm still here, the department still has to put up with me, and I haven't once regretted my decision.
That isn't to say that I haven't looked at my decision and wondered if it was the right one. I spent much of my freshman year (second semester in particular) watching the upperclassmen and my fellow freshmen perform beautiful, complex classical pieces that I felt were all much more elaborate works than I'd ever be able to play. I thought often that I wasn't good enough to be a music major. Lexi could play two instruments brilliantly. Katie pretty much sounded like a seasoned opera singer. Isabella had had piano lessons from an amazing teacher for years and had played pieces in high school that I could only dream of playing. And here I was, this awkward, insecure music major wannabe who hadn't had any real classical training and hadn't even had lessons in four years. I stressed myself out with thoughts of being good enough and playing perfectly, which led to nothing but a lot of frustration and mistakes, both in practice and performance. I contemplated dropping the major because I felt like such an amateur. I would never be as good as the other majors, so why did I think it was a good idea to try?
My sophomore year, we got a new choir director, who is one of my favorite people on the planet. (Also, I don't think I've ever met anyone who loves their job more than he does. Life goal: find a job that I love as much as Mr. T loves being a choir director.) At one point, I told him about my stage fright and he told me that the way to get over it was to realize that performing isn't about me, but about the music. It sounds cheesy, but it's true. Sure, people come to hear you play, but they probably wouldn't show up just to watch you sit on stage for 30 minutes and do nothing. The whole point of performing is music. Not perfection, and certainly not being better than everyone else. And he follows that idea in the way he teaches. He wants us to enjoy singing, not to be concerned about never making a mistake. Of course he expects us to work hard and know our music, but if something goes wrong, he doesn't dwell on it. More than anything else, he wants us to be musicians and love what we do. He doesn't push us to be perfect because after all, "perfection," he says, "doesn't exist in live performance. It just doesn't." So why stress about it?
I will say that I've improved a lot since then. I still get nervous before I perform; my hands still shake, I still get butterflies in my stomach, and I still make at least one mistake per performance. But I beat myself up less about them (most of the time) and I'm getting better at letting people just tell me that they enjoyed the piece rather than saying, "Thanks, but I really messed up on..." after they tell me that I did a good job. I stress less about the complexity of the repertoire that I have and focus more on playing my pieces well. I try to care less about what people (except for my teachers) think of me, because it doesn't matter in the end.
Once I realized that nobody actually thought I was a complete idiot of a musician, I found the sense of family that I'd always wanted but never had. In high school, my friends who went to public school talked all the time about how much fun they had with their choirs and their bands. They'd go on trips to different places to sing and perform and geek out about music together. It all sounded like so much fun and I was really sad that I wouldn't ever get to be a part of that.
Except I was wrong. (Surprise!) I have the extreme privilege of being one of the members of our auditioned choir (still not quite sure how that happened) and boy, do we have fun. Last month, we sang Mozart's Requiem in D minor at a venue 30 minutes away. I was squeezed into a van with 6 other people and we had an absolute blast on the way there and on the way back. We made dumb Snapchat videos, we made fun of each other, and we sang along to Disney all the way back, even though we completely sang our voices away during the Requiem. I realized at one point that I was literally living the dream: this was something that my high school friends talked about that I'd envied and never imagined myself having, and yet here I was.
I also started taking organ this semester. Trying to learn how to play music with my feet is not the easiest thing I've ever done and has required a lot of drills and re-explaining of various things. (Though it's probably been pretty comical to witness at times. Falling off the bench is a thing that happens, people.) My teacher is a wonderful, patient human being who loves the organ, church music, Germany, and Bach preludes and fugues and always has at least one neat, random fact about a piece I'm playing or a registration I'm using.
In the nearly 5 months I've been playing the organ, I've discovered that the organ world is small, delightfully odd, and a great place to be. I've gone to several concerts with my teacher and Rebecca the organ major, as well as a few other organ students over the past few months and even though a lot of it has been completely over my head, I've enjoyed every minute of it. Nothing helps you get to know people better like spending two hours in the car riding down country roads through the middle of nowhere while on your way to an event that only nerds of a very specific variety will attend. And it's fantastic!
And then there's the people in my class. They keep me sane. Or insane. Not sure which.
Let's go with both.
We're an all-girl class and there are only eight of us, so we're a pretty close-knit group. There's the athlete, the band geek, the composer, the cellist, the somewhat-anti-social-but-still-friendly one, the princess-in-a-good-way one, the kind-of-punk organist, and me, who you may characterize as you will. Six of us battled through music history 1 this semester and bonded over long hours in the music library whilst writing papers and screaming at our computers and beating our fists into the tables as we tried to learn hours of new(-to-us) renaissance music for tests. They're the most encouraging, ridiculous, unique group of people I've ever been a part of and I love them dearly.
Things that being a music major has taught me:
- Scores are way too expensive.
- Flat VIs, Neapolitan sixes, and Picardy thirds are wonderful things.
- No matter how hard you resist, the music building will eventually be more of a home than your own room. I vowed freshman year that I wouldn't become that music major who lived in the music building. I made it a year and a half before I gave up.
- If I can't do more than one thing at once, I shouldn't be worried about anything other than the one thing I need to be doing.
- Oboes sound like strangled ducks when you don't know what you're doing.
- Practice room floors are plenty comfortable for naps, especially if you don't want to be practicing.
- If your performance isn't perfect, nine times out of ten, the only person who will actually remember will be you.
- I'm very good at aural dictation but bad at almost every other aspect of theory.
- It's a lot easier to fall off the organ bench than I thought it would be.
- Music major life is the best life.