Missing the music: Why the college experience threatens musical talent

The small practice rooms available to students makes it hard for even those with a lot of talent to keep up their skills.
Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

I used to think my best friend was pretty much the modern-day equivalent to Mozart. When she played the violin, the world seemed to grow quiet as she captured the attention of the room.

I, on the other hand, was constantly trying out new instruments, forcing myself through piano and recorder lessons (yeah, I took actual recorder lessons), while she’d been in a monogamous relationship with her violin since age 5. By the time she reached second grade, she would practice at least two hours a day, and she would later spend her summers travelling around Italy to play concerts in famous cathedrals. I was, and still am, in complete and utter awe of her talent.

While I was visiting her over winter break, it crossed my mind that I hadn’t heard her play in a while. I asked if she still played regularly, and she explained to me that she hadn’t really touched the violin since moving to college.

At first I was confused and sad, wondering how she could give up on such a remarkable talent, until she explained to me how hard it is to keep up a musical passion in college if you are not pursuing it as a major.

Not only is it hard to fit practice time into busy schedules, but roommates may make it hard to find uninterrupted quiet space. Many people consider playing their instrument to be a personal experience and prefer not to play when others are listening. This might deter them from ever practicing when others are around — which, in college, seems to be pretty much always.

And then there is the issue of storing instruments. People who play smaller instruments may be able to easily keep them in their rooms, but what if you play piano or the drums? A small apartment in Berkeley may make pursuing these interests a lot harder.

I know there are music rooms equipped with pianos in the freshman dorms, but what about after freshman year? You can pay to use practice rooms on campus, but who has the funds for that? What do you do? What happens to all those kids who have practiced an instrument their entire lives when they go to college?

These are the thoughts that have crossed my mind, not that they apply to me — you can hardly say my piano, guitar or recorder career took off. However, I know so many people who were incredibly musically talented — practically prodigies — until they turned 18 and moved to college, where they were forced to abandon their instruments. I often wonder how many people struggle with this as much as my best friend does and what they do to maintain their interest and foster their abilIties.

This is not a story with an answer. It’s more of a story about a question: How are passions in music encouraged and supported in higher education?

Although I’m not an expert musician myself, I am an avid listener. I realize now that my best friend might not be Mozart, but listening to her play gave me much more joy than listening to our old friend Wolfgang Amadeus’ music on Spotify. And it’s for that reason that I think we should all do more to nurture an environment where the longevity and practice of music is encouraged and cultivated.

Contact Frida Schaefer Bastian at [email protected].

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