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Music has always been an important part of my life. Upon entering the fifth grade, my parents bought me a flute, at my insistence. After moderate success playing the flute, I saw greener grass on the other side of the musical fence. Singing just had to be easier than making music with a long metal pipe. My perception and reality did not exactly match. Singing has its own subtleties and complexities which are not readily apparent to the casual observer. Abandoning the flute for singing, I began taking voice lessons in the tenth grade. My voice teacher was very experienced and encouraged me to pursue my interest in music beyond high school. After much deliberation, I decided to major in voice during college. This path would be fraught with unforeseen difficulties and exciting challenges.
After announcing my decision to a number of friends and acquaintances, I began to encounter not a few misconceptions about the study of music. Many people readily expressed their uninformed opinion that music (particularly vocal performance) was an easy college major for anyone with a modicum of talent: “Just open your mouth and let the music pour out.” Some showed their ignorance by commenting that music majors had both light and easy course loads. There are even some people who refuse to acknowledge that music is a serious academic discipline. They believe music is a refuge for slackers who do not want to tackle the really difficult courses. Others have insinuated
that music majors choose a career in music by default (i.e., because they could not think of anything better to study).
Of course, none of these perceptions are true. Two short months studying music on the college level has exploded these misconceptions. The study of music is a rigorous academic discipline which only gets more difficult as one progresses further into the curriculum. While our professors are understanding and helpful, we certainly are not coddled. Music majors quickly learn that hard work and long hours is the price of success in the world of music. The subject matter demands dedication and discipline.
Music majors do have some respite from the demands of our discipline. For voice majors, there is choir. Choir provides an opportunity to learn in a more passive manner. The choir director leads the members of the choir toward the desired goal – the mastery of the piece of music to be performed. While choir members must be attentive and receptive, the burden is primarily carried by the director.
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Even though choir provides a break from the hectic schedule of a music major, breathing room is still hard to come by. An average school day includes between three and five music classes, two core classes, and two solid hours in the practice rooms. This does not include extra hours spent on homework or practicing. Obviously, such a demanding schedule requires great discipline on the part of music majors. When every spare minute must be spent accumulating practice hours, little time is left for leisure and recreation (let alone partying).
Long hours of practice also severely cut into homework time in core and required courses within the music major. For example, vocal performance majors are required to take a diction course. Dictions students must learn how to write English and certain foreign languages in a universal alphabet called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). One of the objectives of this course is to teach students how to read and pronounce words correctly in the language in which a particular piece was written. In the class, students are taught how to read and write English, Italian, Latin, German, and French in IPA. As anyone can see, transcribing a variety of languages into a single universal language is not a task for the weak minded. Students must obtain a rudimentary understanding of the pronunciation of five different languages in the scope of a single year.
In addition to learning how words in a piece of music are supposed to be pronounced, music majors must also learn how to shape their voices so that the desired sound is strongly projected. To acquire this skill, music students are assigned a voice professor whose responsible for teaching the student how to properly open his or her throat and how correctly to round his or her lips. This professor also works individually with students to help them acquire the proper breathing techniques (e.g., how to sing with the breath as opposed to the throat).
Even with all of these other challenging and time-consuming courses, music majors are also required to take music theory. Music theory may be the hardest music class offered by the University of South Alabama. Because the course takes three grueling years to complete, eighty percent of the students drop out after their first year. Students of music theory you are required to learn exactly where each note is on the five line staff, and which value it is given. For example, it may receive one beat, or it may receive only half a beat. Without a sound understanding of music theory, a vocalist has no way of knowing what pitch (how high or low) he or she is supposed to sing. Everyone knows that, without the right pitch, music would not sound very pleasant at all.
Music majors do not have a harder course of study than other students. Every discipline has its own unique demands and challenges. The purpose of this paper is not to place music above the other academic disciplines at the University of South Alabama. Rather, this paper is intended to dispel the myth that music majors have chosen an academically easy path through college.