I am graduating tomorrow. It feels weird, and a little anticlimactic since I’m going back for the credential program next year. But I know that a lot of things that have been the norm for me for the past six years are coming to an end, and that is big and strange and hard to comprehend. I won’t do any more juries or complain about how over repertory class I am, or not show up to music history, or lie in my practice logs. It does feel strange.
When I first graduated high school, I knew I wanted to do music and kind of that I wanted to teach, but I wasn’t completely set on my career path yet. I applied to a bunch of private colleges because I felt like that was the way to make people proud of me. My first choice rejected me based on my audition (rightfully, in hindsight) and my second choice did not offer me enough financial aid. I had applied to two CSUs which shall not be named. One of them looked terrible when I visited and the other was extremely rude to me about my audition and I decided I did not want to work with them. As enrollment deadlines approached, I had no idea where I wanted to go.
At the last moment, a friend suggested I apply at NDNU. I was quickly accepted. I honestly didn’t save much more money than I would have at my other option, but I felt that things were clicking and meant to be. (What I didn’t realize was that the school was simply really small in a way that would not be beneficial to me.)
Ultimately, NDNU really has no programs in place for Music Education. I hadn’t had opportunities to do theatre in high school, but I quickly discovered at NDNU that I hated the process. I was miserable in tap dance class and got mad when brilliant performers couldn’t sightread as well as me. Some wonderful teachers tried to tailor a program to suit my needs, but I just wanted something quite different. I wanted a choir, an orchestra, conducting class, more music theory. This was just not the place for me.
I stayed for two years. The second year was sort of a floundering year for me, in which I tried to figure out how to transfer, failed, and tried to make NDNU fit better. I finally decided to go home to Sacramento for a year to attend the junior college and get my ducks in a row. I got my Associate of arts in Social Science while I was there. (That’s right, not music. NDNU just had me take a lot of history and social justice type classes that ended up fitting the bill for that degree really well.)
I am grateful to NDNU for many experiences I did have, to be fair. I made a few lifelong friends and loved the community I was a part of. I learned how to audition really well and had a wonderful voice teacher, so I felt totally prepared to transfer with confidence. I also was allowed to do some really ridiculous things in our chamber music class, like perform a song from World of Warcraft with a chorus of banshees behind me. Everyone at NDNU knew I wrote music and most people supported me and gave me opportunities to perform, whereas I haven’t really had the confidence to make that known at SSU. But, ultimately, I knew this was not the place for me. I honestly just wish it had been a less expensive mistake.
My year at home was probably the worst year of my college career. I felt completely cut off from the community I had found at NDNU and found myself nearly friendless and painfully lonely in Sacramento. I felt like a total failure. I stayed with a couple from my church, who I felt gradually came to resent me and the way I was handling myself. After a particularly rough morning, I cried all the way through my P.E. class, got on the bus home early, and then had to jump off to puke on the side of the road because of my anxiety.
This was the year I started taking antidepressants. I’m really glad that happened. I didn’t know this was how normal people felt, and that wanting to curl up in a ball and cry at the slightest inconvenience did not have to be my norm.
I hadn’t yet decided where I wanted to transfer, but I was choosing between Sonoma and Sac State. I felt it would probably be more reasonable for me to go to Sac, stay close to home, work, and get my driving going. I had already had the experience of going away to college. This was the logical thing to do, probably. I decided to audition at Sonoma anyway and see what kind of financial aid I got from each school.
My dad took me to my audition at SSU. And, wow, the Green Music Center completely took our breath away. We took pictures in Weill and ogled the organ in Schroeder. The draw of having Ruth Ann Swenson as a voice teacher was big for me at the time, too. The faculty was incredibly nice and the music education program sounded like exactly what I had had in mind. I finally felt like I had found my place.
So I didn’t do the logical thing and that was probably more logical of me anyway. (And I have only fallen a little behind. I do have a real college kid job now and I am getting my driver’s license next week and I’m renting instead of living in the dorms, so I am taking steps out of my arrested development. ) I transferred to SSU for my fourth year of college. I lived in the beautiful dorms for my first two years there and tolerated my roommates. I really didn’t have any friends my first year and struggled to overcome my insecurity and my paranoia about how much everyone probably hated me. Turns out they all thought I actually hated them, so it was all pretty silly.
I attended the California All State Music Educator’s Conference my first year at SSU and it inspired me to no end. I also got to help organize CMEA festivals, watch young musicians perform, and meet teachers from all around the area. The more I finally learned about teaching music, the more I knew that this was the career for me.
My mental health proved to be a stumbling block for me my first two years of school. I had a hard time leaving my house, or even tearing myself away from my position on my bed staring at the wall in fear and depression. The first semester, my attendance was so bad I failed a class. That was a huge low point for me. My second year, my attendance was also rough in one of my classes with the main music education advisor, and he made me come to his office to discuss my future. He said if my mental health was such an issue maybe I couldn’t hack it as a music teacher and maybe I should consider changing my major. Part of me was indignant, but part of me knew he had a point. But I didn’t want to be beaten. I increased my medication and tried to find myself a therapist. My attendance is still rough sometimes but I haven’t ever had that fear again. I can do the thing I want to do. Of course I can! I just needed some help.
During my first year, I got pneumonia and had to miss my jury and final recital. I also had to vocal rest for the whole summer, which was incredibly depressing. To settle my incompletes, I performed a junior recital. I felt great about it and was glad I had an excuse to do it. Ruth Ann, who I had been ecstatic to work with, left the next year and I was switched to another voice teacher. This was truly one of the best things that could happened to me. My teacher, Jane, has helped me improve monumentally in such a short period of time. She is the best teacher I had in all that time of instruction and I think fate helped it all fall into place.
My second year, I met Elizabeth, who is now one of the bestest friends I have ever had. This year, in a turn of destiny, three friends I had hung out with separately formed a group chat on Facebook with me, and now they are three of my best friends in this world. I feel incredibly lucky.
That second year, I also applied for a job as a church choir director. I had completed all of my conducting classes but I knew I was as green as they come still and I really doubted my abilities. However, after an interview and a trial rehearsal, they hired me on the premise that they knew it would be a mentoring experience and I would learn. It was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life to date. I have become pretty secure in my singing now, but when I felt I had done a good job as a director, that was a new and incredibly proud feeling.
I chose to leave that job that summer. The church was in transition and the situation in the choir had gotten unpleasant. However, I had the good fortune to be hired again at another church. This was an Episcopal church, my own denomination, in a church very similar to my own! This church and group of people was completely different and a much better fit for me. It also helped to start the job able to project some authority and confidence, instead of the fear I had at my old job. Respect helps a lot! I was hired as an interim director, knowing the position would only go through Christmas. But I enjoyed absolutely every second of it and was honestly crushed to leave it. I am not directing now and I miss it awfully. But these jobs proved to me that this career will be the joy of my life.
Last semester, I did my proficiency jury for the Music Education degree. Throughout the program, we learn the basics of all of the families of instruments in order to be well rounded teachers. To graduate, we must perform a very long jury on the instruments of our choice from each family. I was far more frightened about this than about my senior recital. I played flute, trombone, viola, snare drum, xylophone, guitar, and taught an elementary music lesson. It took an hour and a half and was incredibly grueling. I was honestly surprised when I passed!
My senior recital, the next semester, was far more fun for me to prepare. I loved the program I put together and felt great when I was memorized and ready weeks before the actual performance date. I could relax. I got to put on my gorgeous dresses and go out on stage and sing my favorite songs to 50 of my favorite people. Having my friends and family there to hear everything I had been working on and have a fun party with me afterwards was truly an unforgettable experience. It could not have asked for more.
I have now been accepted into the credential program for next year. It will take a year for me to get my credential and then I will be able to go out into the world and teach, hopefully! I also have landed myself a phenomenal student teaching placement with one of the more prominent choir teachers in our area. She is well loved and has some highly respected choirs. I know I will go on to learn so much.
I think back to the miserable, depressed pit of that year in Sacramento, and I can’t believe I finally made it to the end of all of this. I went through that horrible year so that I could keep going towards my goals. And tomorrow I will finally get my Bachelor of Music in Music Education. Even if more school awaits, it feels unbelievable to know that I went through these six terribly challenging years and finally I will have my degree and no one can take that away from me, whatever happens.
I complain about small things at SSU sometimes. Sure, I wish it wasn’t so cold all the time and that we had more practice rooms. But I feel fortunate that my bad experiences before my transfer allowed me to see that SSU is exactly the school I always wanted and this is the program I had dreamed of. This is precisely where I was meant to end up!
I’ve never been one for school pride, though I sort of tried in high school during my short stint in marching band. But, especially as an usher at the GMC, I feel an incredible sense of pride in my school, my music department, our beautiful hall, and all of the things I have come to call my own.
This is the longest I’ve lived in one place since I started in college. This now feels like home. This town, this school, these people, these friends, this life. This is the life I want. I feel so fortunate to have found it and to be able to cling to it as I walk the stage tomorrow and accept my symbolic diploma holder. You are looking at a future music teacher. And I’m gonna teach the shit out of your kids.