Just north of Queens Park stands a building that looks like Shermer High School from the movie The Breakfast Club. It was built in the 1960s, and was found to contain asbestos, and we just got new chairs — the first update to the building I’ve seen since coming to U of T. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the Edward Johnson building, home to the Faculty of Music and yours truly.
Let me tell you a bit about myself. When I was seven, my parents began searching for an extracurricular hobby for which I would show enthusiasm. I tried ballet, soccer, and rhythmic gymnastics for a couple of years. I enjoyed each of these activities, but I had no aptitude for any of them.
I had nothing that I was truly passionate about until my parents enrolled me in an operatic choir. That is where I discovered my passion for classical singing. From that moment on, I continued singing in choirs, performing in shows, and spending my Friday nights taking vocal lessons. I’ve wanted to study music since the tenth grade, and I am lucky enough to have been accepted into an institution where I can fully dive into the intricacies of classical music with some of the best instructors.
Being a U of T music major truly makes you feel like you’re inspecting a specimen in a laboratory, but that specimen is your instrument in the classical or jazz stream. Unlike most programs, taking an extraordinary amount of breadth electives is not required. In my case, required classes include English and Italian art song, music skills, music theory, and choral ensemble. So, yes, I go to school to try to create pleasant sounds, and no, it’s not as easy as it seems. I’m not saying that a music major is the most difficult thing in the world, but from experience, a theory class is no walk in the park.
From the moment you enter the program, you are surrounded by great musicians who have the same drive to learn as you do. All of my peers are technically excellent. While I used to see this environment as an overwhelming burden, which it no doubt can be, I’ve learned to view it as an opportunity instead. Listening to those who are more experienced than myself allows me to take notes on how I can improve.
Moreover, a niche community where everyone knows everyone has its upsides and downsides. The help that you need is always available and class sizes are small. Professors know you by name, and you’re not wandering into a lecture hall of 1,000 people aimlessly trying to make connections.
Being a part of an interwoven community is part of what makes artistic careers so great — it allows you to meet and work with brilliant people that will help you grow as an artist. When you inhabit professional musical spaces, specifically in a small institution like a school, you never know if you will run into someone again. Being cordial and respectful is required to maintain good relationships in any setting, but what I have learned is that pleasing everyone is a near impossible task. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed making connections, but I’ve come to understand that they shouldn’t come at the expense of your authenticity, and that it is okay to not be loved by everyone.
It can also be easy to orbit only within the halls of academia or the arts when you are a music major. Of course, I am a singer, but my identity is not entirely art and is not homogenous with all the other musicians around me.
If you know me, you know that I’ve orbited both in and out of the arts community for the last 10 years. I didn’t grow up listening to classical music — it happened to find me at a young age at an impromptu choir audition. My family is not a music family, and I am partly glad about that because I have come to see the world from their perspective as well. Sometimes classical or jazz musicians assume that the rest of the world has the same attachment to classical music or the arts in general.
As much as I’d love to live in a utopia where everyone listens to Mozart, it became strikingly clear to me that this is not the case when I sang at a wedding and around 90 per cent of my repertoire was too unrecognizable to mainstream audiences for me to sing. I am committed to classical music, but at the same time, I have started to consider that I may need to become more versatile as a singer if I want to perform in various settings.
Additionally, I am taking classes and exploring disciplines outside of performing as I feel that I need to be a more well rounded person. As much as I love being in music, I can’t stay in the same building for my entire university career, and I want to be around people who don’t consider themselves to be ‘creatives,’ so I can better understand my own relationship with the arts and also my relationship with myself outside of classical music.
So, where am I now? After a year and one month of university, I have become entirely immersed in the music community, and to tell you the truth, last week was my first time visiting Robarts. I have faced many challenges and pushed myself to my artistic limits, but my greatest accomplishment thus far was finally making it to the other side of campus. In all seriousness, I am grateful for the education I am receiving, and I look forward to reflecting on how my experiences at the faculty will shape me further.
So, in the simplest terms, we are the basketcase of the university.
A Faculty of Music student.