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The Academic Path of a Vocal Performance Major

Welcome to the first installment of a short series we’re working on here at HCTNS! 

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted millions of students across the globe. As for The New School, students are taking classes remotely this semester, and we’re not quite sure what the spring semester will look like just yet. With so much up in the air, we’re wondering what it might be like for students who have chosen an untraditional path of education. 

In the United States, high school students are prepped and encouraged to apply to traditional bachelor program colleges and universities. But, not everyone enjoys the idea of sitting in lectures or seminar classes five days a week. If the pandemic has made you rethink your academic endeavors, you’re not alone. Young people around the country have taken the road less traveled when it comes to traditional education. From music to trade schools, there are so many paths to take if an orthodox college doesn’t appeal to you. 

Today we’re talking with a vocal performance student, Maura, who chose to learn more about her passion for music instead of falling into a traditional major. 

Maura began performing at a young age and never quite left the spotlight. After four years of classical voice training, she decided to continue musical studies in college, even though some adults tried steering her down a path that she knew she wasn’t meant for. 

“The more I talked to my school counselors and other adults who were unfamiliar with musical careers, the more I veered from the ‘unstable’ path of the arts,” she said. But, her voice teacher soothed her worries: “I told my voice teacher about my worries and she assured me that they don’t know what I know––and what I know is that I love performing. It is more important for me to love what I do and reach for the highest heights, than to succeed in a profession that I despise.”

What began as a hobby in grade school launched Maura into the professional music scene. She went from practicing pop and Broadway songs at recess with her school’s music teacher to mastering arias and scales multiple days a week during high school. She said her love of music changed during her very first opera lesson, and she realized it was something she wanted to take more seriously. 

“It’s hard not to take opera seriously so I dedicated a lot of my time to my pieces and my performance efforts.”

Almost every eighteen year old has a hard time applying to schools. The college application process in the United States is exhausting; many students get tutored to take entrance exams and spend hours outside of school beefing up their resumes in hopes of getting into their dream school. For Maura, she didn’t have her sights set on one place. The only thing she was certain about was getting into a conservatory. 

The conservatory application process is just like the traditional college process––test scores, essays, recommendations––plus prescreens and in-person auditions. Maura spent the majority of her weekends traveling to different cities along the east coast just to sing a few songs in front of admissions boards and some of the biggest names in contemporary opera. Talk about pressure! On top of that, she faced a lot of uncertainty from her school counselors. 

“People who are in more ‘traditional’ industries would constantly ask me what I would do with a degree from a music school,” she said. A year ago she hated having to answer those types of questions, but now she’s more sure of her studies than ever. 

“Now that I am able to converse with other people who encourage me as an artist (fellow students and teachers) I know that there are so many career options for me and it makes me more and more excited every time someone asks me that question,” she said confidently.

As for the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s definitely thrown some obstacles in her path. She’s spending her first semester at home in the suburbs of Philadelphia; she relies on technology to help her learn, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. 

“With online learning, it is hard to connect energies with people and even harder to make sure that my internet connection doesn’t lag my singing too much,” she said. Plus, she’s had to buy so much equipment just to take certain classes. “ I spent weeks waiting for dozens of technology gadgets to enhance my learning, all of which were not even covered by tuition. There are so many struggles. It is hard to pinpoint them until I’m cursing out my laptop because my software keeps shutting down.

When the world went virtual back in March, Maura continued taking voice lessons with her teacher in Philadelphia. Although it was difficult to hear her teacher’s piano playing, she made out okay. What she’s struggled with the most is performing online with other students, something the conservatory requires all students to do all four years of their schooling. 

“I have found my Ensemble class to be the most difficult. How can I truly learn how to sing in an ensemble while singing on my own in my bedroom? Doing Ensemble virtually is very time consuming because it drives me to perfection.” she said. “I find myself redoing my part over and over again because I am able to hear the recording over and over again, ultimately resulting in over use of my voice.”

Difficulties of online learning aside, Maura is very happy with her decision to study something she loves so much.

“I enjoy every class that I am taking because it’s subject matter that I am genuinely interested in. I am looking forward to actually being able to be a real performance major in person and collaborate with people in real time.”

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted not only lecture halls but performance halls too. If you’re a young person who’s not sure the traditional four year program is for you, you are not alone. No two educational paths look the same, just like no two students are the same! There’s a place for you to learn both in and out of a traditional classroom. Take this time to really figure out what you love sharing with the world. Then, the learning comes easy and the hard work feels like play.