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To Know the Many Beauties of Life: Professor Jennifer Blyth

One of the main reasons that I chose to come to Dickinson was the music department. Even though I have been playing the piano since I was four, I never planned on majoring in music – I am an International Studies major. I was genuinely surprised when Professor Jennifer Blyth, the head of the music department, reached out to me last March. She wrote genuinely kind words about the recordings that I sent to admissions and offered me a spot in her studio. I was shocked to find out later that I was offered a special scholarship on the recommendation of the department that would allow me to take private lessons and participate in the Chamber Music free of charge. Astonished and truly touched, I learned a bit about Professor Blythe and decided to matriculate to Dickinson. Weiss has become one of my favorite buildings on campus and my weekly lesson with Prof Blyth has consistently been on my highs-of-the-week list.

I took some time and asked Prof Blyth about her life, Dickinson and words of wisdom for HC readers.

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HC: How long have you been at Dickinson?

JB: 20 Years, since 1997! That was my first job out of graduate school.

HC: Why did you choose to come here?

JB: I had other job offers that year: One was in the middle of Nebraska, one was in Georgia, and one was in Fairbanks, Alaska. So as far as location goes, this was one of the more attractive locations. But in truth, what really sold me were the students here. They were respectful, they were dedicated to what I love, which was music, and they respected what I did. I don’t regret my decision and I’m still here.

HC: How has Dickinson changed during your time here?

JB: I think it’s more well-known now and the students are more academically rigorous than they used to be. My department used to be less mixed with the campus than it is now. It is really a crossroad between a number of kids involved in all majors across the college. So for that reason I like it better because I see a good cross section of the Dickinson students through the music department. I learn more about politics, students’ interests, where Dickinson ranks in terms of levels of interest…. It’s definitely more interesting than you would get at a conservatory, where everyone just wants to go on the competition circuit or get a job in music.

HC: You mentioned to me before that you’re a climber. What suggestions do you have for students to balance between their passions and studies?

JB: I would say that the most successful people I know are people that do more than one thing in their lives. Music tends to be the kind of profession that you’re encouraged to give 100% of your life to. I can’t do that. I have two small children, I have a family, I have extended family overseas, and I’m involved in my students’ lives as well, which doesn’t always include music. I have found that for anyone, if they can inform themselves about who they are from many different avenues, not just one, that they are better people. For instance, you plan to become a diplomat – you will become a better diplomat because you know beauty, which is to know music. I have students who do pre-med. I would much rather go to a doctor or a specialist that also plays in their community orchestra, because you know people differently if you play in an orchestra than if you just have a doctor-patient relationship. So I think it’s important to do many things. But I think there’s real value in being humbled by what other people can do better than you.

HC: Dream dinner date, living or dead?

JB: Nelson Mandala. Martin Luther King would be second on the list. Alive… I think Madeleine Albright would someone really cool to have dinner with.

HC: Favorite non-classical musician/band?

JB: Let’s see… I will have to say Dave Matthews or Sting.

HC: I know as a pianist you travel a lot, but you can go anywhere right now where would you go?

JB: Iceland. I travelled there once and I was totally blown away by that little tiny island. I don’t want to live there because I don’t like the climate; but I have never been on a place where I found the general population to be highly educated about things that matter and these are people who are fishermen by trade. Most of them speak six languages. I met most of the people at a pub or at a SPA* where people went drinking. I can’t believe some of these conversations. I sat next to bunch of teenagers and we were talking about Shakespeare while they had beer. I just found it to be a really educated country. The newspaper was interesting and everybody read it. They were open-minded. Everybody was white, yet I found them to have really worldly view point of the world.

*Open lagoons where people go after work for a drink

Julie Yao is a sophomore International Studies major at Dickinson College. On campus, in addition to being the PR Director for HC Dickinson, she is in Chamber Music, Dickinson Christian Fellowship, and Model UN. Julie is passionate about social justice, politics, strange reality TV shows such as Return to Amish, and tea. She is still confused about many aspects of life, but she also knows she has a ton of time for self-searching and finding peace.