When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Perhaps it was an astronaut, a ballerina, a professional baseball player, or any number of improbable professions. By age thirteen, my answer to this question was music. When asked what exactly in music I wanted to be doing, I would shrug, thinking I would figure it out eventually.
Music was in every way my first true love. I was fascinated by its ability to adjust my mood according to the notes and melodies I was hearing. I found myself looking forward to the moments in my day where I could either be singing in choir or simply listening to iTunes with my headphones in. As someone who still remembers what it was like to be a teenager, I can safely say it is anything but easy. My high school experience specifically was incredibly challenging. From figuring out how to be a student with a learning disability, to major family concerns, I often found myself feeling lost and without ambition. Even through all of the trials and tribulations I was facing, my love and passion for music never faltered.
Music was always there when I needed it. There was always a song to make me feel better and music classes to calm and steady my mind. I clung onto music as best I could through those years, but when I found myself at the beginning of my senior year of high school, I realized I had absolutely no plan. I still had no idea what exactly I wanted to do with my passion for music. I didn’t even know where I wanted to attend school. As a girl from a small town just outside of Boston, the thought of leaving felt like one of the most terrifying things I could do. On top of this, I did not have the courage to audition for schools because I was terrified I wouldn’t be good enough. A part of me has always felt drawn to Southern California and everything in me knew music had to be in my life in some way. However, at age eighteen I still did not have the confidence to go after what I knew I wanted. I ended up staying home, working, and attending community college.
Community College Does Not Mean Failure
My year attending community college ended up being one of the most formative years of my life. I got a job working at a local music school called the Real School of Music in Burlington, Massachusetts. Here I met one of the most inspiring women I have ever met named Lisa Symonds. Lisa also happened to be my boss, and together we ran a little children’s theater department. Lisa’s never-ending faith in me combined with the hopeful and inspiring nature of all our students is what finally gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams. They reminded me what it was like to be a kid again, believing the entire world is at your fingertips.
So, I took the leap, and I applied to Chapman University. I wish I could say I immediately believed in myself and my abilities, but it turns out building confidence is not as easy as it seems. It was again my lack of self-assurance that led me to apply as an Integrated Educational Studies major instead of anything music. I still didn’t feel like I was good enough to audition for the music program and feared I would not get in.
As move in day creeped closer, and as I began browsing the class catalogs, everything in me knew I once again had to take that leap. It began with a simple email inquiring about taking music classes, which ended in an appointment for an audition. Dr. Amy Graziano and Dr. Rebecca Sherburn were the two women who made that appointment happen. Their kind and welcoming nature is what gave me the final push I needed to put my all into this audition. I wanted this more than anything I have ever wanted in my entire life. The work I put into preparing for that audition showed, and evidently paid off as I was accepted into the Conservatory as a B.M. in Music Education, with a vocal emphasis.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Wait a second Heather, doesn’t the subtitle of this post say you’re a B.A. music major?”, and you are correct! It most certainly does, but I also gave the heads up that the path leading up to that was going to be pretty out-of-the-ordinary. We’re a little more than halfway there, so stick with me.
Almost, But Not Quite Yet
Studying to be a music educator was incredibly fascinating to me. The classes were small, the students were kind, and I had the privilege of being taught by Dr. Tammy Yi. In these introduction classes we got to connect to each other and to the art of music education itself. We spoke about the importance of music in children’s lives, and I found myself connected to this, remembering how important music classes were to me as a kid. We addressed many intricate social issues we might encounter as educators and so much more. I learned such valuable life lessons in my time as a music education major that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Despite my connection to these classes, something in me still didn’t feel quite settled. I didn’t actually know if I wanted to be a choir teacher or a music teacher in general. By the time spring came around I was considering changing my major to vocal performance, as I thought that was my only other option, but that also didn’t feel quite right. I began to feel almost trapped, thinking my options were so limited, neither of them feeling like they were where I wanted my life to go.
This brings us to the fall of 2020, Zoom classes in full swing. I was still a music education major, but I heard about this new minor that was being offered which was Music Business. I knew a few of my friends were going to take Introduction to Music Business, and I decided to see what it was all about. It was here I met Dr. Jeannie Pool, who I always describe as one of the most incredible, impressive, and inspiring women in the business. Her resume and her achievements are extensive as a musicologist, composer, filmmaker, producer, and lecturer, and it would take me pages to go over everything she has accomplished. I have included a link to her faculty page if you are interested in reading about how awesome she is. The most incredible thing about Dr. Pool is that even with her success, she chose to come teach the students at Chapman University about the music business. Dr. Pool has seen countless artists get taken advantage of over the years, as the nature of the business is extremely intricate, and unfortunately a lot of people learn about it the hard way. Dr. Pool aims to educate artists about the opportunities they have and how to take full advantage of them without making colossal mistakes along the way. Introduction to Music Business opened up an entire world of opportunities for me.
Dr. Pool began teaching us about the hundreds of jobs available in the music industry. She invited so many incredible guest speakers from the business, such as Ken Bunt who is the President of Disney Music Group, who spoke to us about their long and unconventional journeys that led them to the professions they have today. Within the first week of classes Dr. Pool met with each of her students individually to talk to them about what they want to do with their lives, and to try to help them if they didn’t really know yet. Dr. Pool listened to me about my dreams and ambitions, and she made them all sound so incredibly achievable. It was this conversation that had me once again considering changing my path. I met with my advisor, Dr. Jessica Sternfeld, almost immediately after. During this appointment I became a B.A. music major with a music business minor. I still didn’t know exactly what in music I wanted to pursue, but I was comforted by the fact the B.A. opened so many doors and that I would be studying with Dr. Pool for the next few years while I figured it out. It was the fall of 2021 where I decided to pursue music technology. As I am writing this, I am officially a B.A. music major with an emphasis in music technology and vocal studies, with a minor in music business.
So, here we are, you’re all caught up and might be wondering what the point of my story is. Well, the point is in the title, do what you love. Here’s the thing, I’m not going to sugar coat what it’s like to be a music major in general. As someone whose background is singing and whose “instrument” has always been my voice, being placed in a music theory class has been an entirely new academic mountain, and climbing it has not been easy. I can safely say I have never worked harder in my life, and I struggle with a lot of concepts that seem to come easily to a large amount of my peers. I came into this program with little to no knowledge of the basic concepts of music. My struggle to find my path set me back a little bit in terms of progressing in this program, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat, and I will always put everything I have into studying what I love with my entire heart. I know what I love, I know what I want, and thanks to all of the faculty in the Conservatory I have never felt more confident in my abilities to pursue my dreams. So, if you’re in high school, community college, or a non-music major at Chapman who has ever wanted to pursue music but never did because it didn’t feel realistic enough, this is for you. The faculty and students in the Conservatory will always have your back and will always aid you in whatever ways you need to make your dreams possible. This is your sign, take that leap, do what you love.
By Heather Ulwick
Link to Dr. Pool’s faculty page: