Majoring in Passion
Writer(s): Samantha Harsh
In the basement of Ball State's Hargreaves Music Building, there lies a maze of tiled white hallways. The walls are a bland blue, and the cabinets are discolored and old. Practice schedules are tacked up on the doors of the studio rooms. The sounds of a lone trumpet echo down the hallway.
This building, along with the Music Instruction Building across the street, is the home of Ball State's music majors.
Music is important to many. For music performance majors, however, it's a way of life and a path to their future.
Rily Franklin has practically been playing music his entire life. Franklin, a senior percussion performance major, comes from a musically-oriented family. His grandma gave him his first drum lesson when he was in fourth grade. For Franklin, drumming really took off his freshman year of high school, where he played in the marching band and performed in competitive percussion ensembles. He is expected to play all percussion instruments, but his primary instrument is marimba.
The percussionist arrived at Ball State as a music education major. "Being a band director wasn't really up my alley," he says. "Being a director would be way too stressful."
When Franklin switched to music performance, he loved having more time to practice and actually play music.
"Even if I had to play cowbell every day, as long as I'm playing percussion I'm going to be happy," he says. "It's about riding your experiences and learning from them. Constantly getting better is the name of the game."
In the professional music world, constant improvement is crucial. Erwin Mueller, Franklin's instructor, knows what it's like to balance a performing and teaching career. He knows how important it is to work hard and jump on opportunities when they arise.
"It's very much about grabbing the opportunity and taking it. You just have to start auditioning," he says.
For many major orchestras, such as those in Indianapolis and Chicago, a performer has to submit a one-page resume to the orchestra. Then, if the orchestra wants to hear them play, they'll invite them to audition. Many times, there are more than 100 players auditioning for one spot in one orchestra at a time. There are occasional "walk-ins" but this kind of auditioning takes a lot of guts and confidence and is rarely successful, Mueller says.
"You don't know what's going to happen if you don't get an audition," he says. "Being in performance is a hard job. Once you make it past the audition, it's easy. But it's getting there that's the hard part."
For sophomore Parker James, it all started with the click of a mouse.
When James was in eighth grade, his parents bought a new iMac for the house. He decided to take a look and little did he know that the GarageBand icon on the bottom of the screen would change the direction of his life.
James' perspective changed after he discovered GarageBand, an audio editing program made for Apple computers. When he started recording his drumming on it and experimenting with the different sounds and effects, he knew that this was what he wanted to do.
James is now a sophomore, and happily says he enjoys being "immersed in the environment with like-minded people," spending a lot of time with fellow music majors. He is in Symphony Band and a jazz ensemble primarily playing the marimba. He says he spends a lot of time in the music building, working with the state-of-the-art equipment and creating his art.
"It's not like you can just throw some paint on a canvas and call it art," he says. "There's a formula, there's a pattern to it." Music technology focuses on recording and producing albums. Even though it's centered more around the production of the music itself, all students studying through the School of Music are required to study and play an instrument of their choice for at least two years. Though he spends a lot of time in the recording studio, James still has a passion for percussion.
Someday he hopes to combine both performing in a band or orchestra and recording.
"There are just so many things I want to hold on to," James says. His major takes up a lot of time and energy out of the classroom, as is the case with most music majors.
"Not everyone can be a music major," he says. "To really do all the School of Music requires of you, you have to take five years."
Even through all of the work, practicing and studying, James knows that this is the right path for him. However, he's taking advantage of his time now to live and breathe his passion of making music with his fellow musicians.
"I'm really enjoying it for what it's worth," he says. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it."
When Gina Buzzelli talks about her major, she smiles and her eyes light up. She's eager to speak, leaning forward as the words spill out in a rush, as if they can't keep up with her excitement.
Buzzelli, a freshman violin performance major, has been playing since she was 8 years old.
The violinist has always known she would have a future in playing music; it was just a matter of when. Both of her parents are professional musicians, and Buzzelli has been surrounded by music performance all her life.
"No matter what instrument it was, I knew I was destined to play something," she says.
This summer she will travel to Rome to perform in a pit orchestra for an opera with Academica Lirica Italiana, which is a music training program based out of Italy.
"As a music performance major I think it's important for me to get as much playing experience as I possibly can," she says.
All of the performances and traveling are great, but her relationships with the other players is what really makes everything worth it, Buzzelli says.
"I definitely love the social aspect of playing," she says. "Music has given me so many opportunities. I've made so many great friendships, and they're basically like my family."
At Ball State, Buzzelli takes the same general classes as other students. She also has two hours of studio a week, where she and other violin performance majors play for each other and reflect on their progress. On top of that, she takes private lessons and piano classes, a requirement of all music performance majors.
"Music performance is definitely one of the harder majors," she says. "You can't just not practice. I know I'm supposed to be practicing more than I'm supposed to, but sometimes I just can't do it--I just don't have the time."
Nevertheless, Buzzelli still knows that playing the violin is what she's meant to do. Her goal after graduation is to play for any orchestra preferably playing jazz, folk and classical music.
"I can't picture myself not playing the violin for the rest of my life," she says.
Katie Harms started playing the harp when her elementary school music teacher bought one as a part of a music education program. Since Harms' mother worked at the school, she would come early every day to play it. In high school, she went back to the program to teach younger children how to play.
For Harms, choosing her college major came way before her senior year of high school. Since harps can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000, she had to decide if playing the harp was really what she wanted to do with her life or else her parents wouldn't buy her one.
"I know of other majors I would like, but I've never doubted harp performance. I would never give up my harp, no matter what," she says.
Harms has had many opportunities studying harp performance over the past couple of years, including a lot of opportunities to travel. She's been to Seattle, the National Music Festival in Virginia, and Hancock, Maine, where she and a group of other musicians stayed in cabins for six weeks and played in a concert every Sunday. They received new music every Monday and had seven days to perfect it and then perform it.
"You have one chance to get it right, and that's when you learn a lot about yourself. You look at your fellow players and the audience and realize, 'This is why I want to be a musician,'" she says.
"I couldn't have asked for a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere. It's incredible to see the growth in each other and in ourselves," Harms says.
Harms is very close with her fellow musicians, especially the four other harp majors. She even rents an apartment with one of them. The small group comes from all over the country, including harpists from Alaska, Texas, Virginia and Michigan--not one is a native of Indiana.
Even though they are far from home, Harms says they're the best of friends.
"Our family is our studio. We're at home with each other," she says. Return to top