As graduation and senior recitals approach, several Belmont music students are out of town looking toward their future rather than dwelling on their past.
For some seniors, going on to graduate school is not only the next step in higher education but the next step in a long career of musical learning.
Christine Comer, a percussion performance major currently going through graduate school auditions, has been playing music since she was 3 years old.
“Having been in school for four years, it seems to make the most sense to me, for the career path that I want to do, to stay on the school train and keep that momentum going,” said Comer.
Comer sees graduate school as an opportunity to learn from new people and synthesize their ideas about music with her own.
“It’s commonly said that school is the one time when you can really focus on practicing like your job. Being able to devote as much time as I possibly can to practicing right now while I’m in school gives me the best chance to get accepted into graduate school,” said Comer.
Comer shares the idea of honing skills in graduate school with others. Belmont’s Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Kris Elsberry, and Dean of Belmont’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, Dr. Stephen Eaves, both agree graduate school is important for students wanting to further specialize in their discipline.
Though this recommendation of graduate school is the reason some people follow the route, the overall love of learning propels others.
For senior piano performance major Olivia Richardson, graduate school is not just a necessity.
“Being a piano performance major, it’s sort of expected that you go onto graduate school. That’s the way to get really the best jobs,” said Richardson. “For me, I don’t feel ready to stop school, and I think I would love to study music in a more specialized setting.”
Richardson’s desire for more learning mirrors what Eaves said about the benefits of graduate school.
“The good thing about an academic world is it is an environment that is rich with opportunity for learning,” said Eaves.
This environment, though conducive of opportunity and learning, takes on different forms for different people.
“The most important reason to me for choosing a school is the professor,” said Comer. “Their record of success is important, but also how well I get along with them and their approach to teaching and to music and whether I work well with that style.”
For Richardson, in contrast, the best environment is one catering to her desire for an assistantship, accommodating her love of teaching and allowing her to learn from professors who are friendly and effective.
Through these different desires, Comer and Richardson have narrowed their options and are now auditioning for entry into various graduate schools across the country — taking them out of the classroom and complicating their busy lives as graduating seniors.
Though the department doesn’t solve this problem by granting waivers for students missing classes for auditions, professors are lenient and cooperative with students in this scenario, said Eaves.
“We are very proud of our students when they go to audition for graduate schools, and we, as instructors, make every effort to be as helpful and cooperative with them in their efforts,” said Elsberry.
As the undergraduate phase of their lives ends and the graduate phase starts, Comer and Richardson agree that though these auditions have a significant impact on their lives, they are ultimately not in their hands.
“I’ve learned a lot about trusting God and letting go and saying, ‘He’s given me the ability to do the work. I’ve done the work and now there’s really nothing I can do,’” said Comer. “You really can’t control what happens when you get into the audition room. It’s just going to happen.”