Finding the Perfect Balance
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April is Jazz Appreciation Month, one of the few months that gives music, or any art form for that matter, publicity. So, choosing to be a professional musician—a field that is not known for its job demand, much less its chances for success—can be daunting.
However, Xavier Searle, Jazz I trumpet player and junior, said he plans to major in music and has no intention of changing it any time soon.
“I don’t think that there’s a chance (my college major) will change, music is definitely something that I will be doing,” Searle said. “I’m planning to go to either IU or Ball State for music education and jazz for my undergrad studies so I can have that degree to also teach and then after my first four years I’ll go to either, hopefully, Juilliard or Berklee for grad school.”
The decision to pursue music, according to Searle, has full support from his parents.
“I would say (my parents) are supportive in the ‘do what you want’ way. They think that as long as I work towards it and as long as I’m happy doing it then that it’ll work out,” he said. “My dad is a musician; he plays a bunch of instruments and he went to school for recording engineering, and before him my grandpa was a piano player, so I’ve just been surrounded by music.”
But while Searle said he’s got support, Melinda Stephan, College and Career Coordinator, said peer pressure to be successful is common and can come from a multitude of sources.
“In my career I used to work as a career counselor at Butler so that’s pretty much what I did, helping people figure out what they want to do,” she said. “As an adviser at IU, same thing, and then as a counselor for high school students, absolutely there’s a lot of pressure (to choose a successful major or career path). I think that it’s one of those things that is hard because there’s so much out there in the media, and you hear from your peers and your parents about being productive members of society and being able to support yourself, and for a lot of our students it’s about being able to live in the manner they’ve accustomed.”
Stephan said she also sympathizes with parents being worried about the success of their child in certain majors.
“As a parent, I understand the desire to want our kids to be successful, to be happy is probably what we’re most worried about, but a lot of the times with the happiness comes the security and being able to provide for ourselves. There’s that tugging at you because you want your children to do well at school so that they have many opportunities and choices so they can be successful, but sometimes that is in direct conflict with what the student is passionate about or maybe sometimes it’s just about the parents not really understanding what that path of the student wants to follow is all about… A lot of (parents) associate difficulty finding jobs with certain fields and so there have been multiple cases where the parents did not want their kid going into, for example, art.”
Soo Han, Director of Orchestras and Carmel Performing Arts Chair, said not many people within Carmel High School even pursue a music career, despite the very large student participation in the performing arts here.
“People have a lot of misunderstandings about the students in our program because we have such incredibly high achieving students in all of our performing arts programs,” he said. “I think people look toward our school and
think, ‘Oh, Carmel High School must have tons of students that are going to be majoring in music,’ but that can’t be further from the truth. The percentages of people who actually go into music as a profession is very low, so I would say less than 5 percent, and maybe even less than 3 percent. From this graduating class I would say there’s about three or four people in the orchestra program who are pursuing a music degree. And (the percentage of students going into a music degree every year) is pretty consistent.”
For her part, Katriel Marks, Jazz I pianist and senior, said she has no intention to pursue jazz as a career despite her heavy involvement with the genre.
“I got started with jazz band in sixth grade actually. I heard it in fifth grade and I decided in middle school that I wanted to be a part of it so I auditioned and ended up making it and I’ve done it ever since. It’s just been something I’ve constantly been involved in and I really enjoy the people in it, some of my best friends are in jazz band and I say it’s more of a hobby than a passion,” she said. “I am going to go into biological engineering at Purdue, and I really have a passion for world hunger, so I’m going to use my engineering skills to make farming easier for subsistence farmers in the third world (countries).”
Despite the stark differences in their plans for the future, both Marks and Searle said they have felt compelled to choose career paths other than the one they are set on currently.
Searle said he has faced peer pressure to choose a path that has a better possibility for success.
“I have definitely felt (pressure to choose a major where getting a job is guaranteed) because I want to be a jazz trumpet player, and there are very many of ‘me’ and not a lot of bassists, trombonists or bassoonists or anything like that, so it’ll definitely be harder than any other major, but I think that as long as somebody has the drive for it they can at least make enough money to stay able to do what they love,” he said. “Even though it will be harder for awhile, it will eventually pay off and you’ll be able to be successful.”
Marks said she felt more pressured to continue her music career due to her skills and merit than her friends and bandmates’ peer pressure.
“Most of (the jazz band members) are very chill about (jazz). It’s fun to do, we enjoy the different styles and it’s very different from concert band which we all are also in,” she said. “I felt the pressure mostly from myself. I did independent study for piano my freshman year and those programs are supposed to be for people who are going to college for music and I loved that class…and at that time I saw myself majoring in music, like I had prepped myself for a Juilliard audition and I was
like, ‘I can do this!’ but now I don’t want to. Also, being so involved in band, it was kind of inferred, and they always ask who’s going to major in music or who’s doing to study music in college and it’s kind of weird to see everyone else wanting to at least minor. I’m comfortable with it now but for a while I felt like I really should (major in music) because I had invested so much time in it here.”
If definition of success means the possibility of finding and maintaining a job, the most successful careers would be in the STEM fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, within the top 20 fastest growing occupations 90 percent of the jobs listed fit within the STEM category.
Senior Catherine Meador, who plans to major in human biology, is one of the students whose passion happens to be in a major falls under that definition. She said her love for the STEM field started before high school.
“I went to a private middle school, and in eighth grade we took anatomy and physiology and my teacher was so supportive and I realized that I really liked the material and she gave me a bunch of extra stuff to encourage me to like it. Coming into high school I took a bunch of science classes and junior year I doubled in science classes, and this year I have biology and physics, and then I joined Science Olympiad for my junior year into my senior year to get as much exposure and experience as possible,” she said. “I feel like I chose this major first and then later on realized how much opportunity there is in the field, and it’s super nerdy and I love it; I’ve known that from the beginning.”
Marks, whose major also fits within the STEM field, said she finds comfort in knowing her major has a positive outlook, but her motives for choosing biological engineering are not entirely for success.
“Actually I had a biology teacher that I really connected with and I was in regular biology and regular chemistry, and I started to realize that I really like science and I went on a mission trip and had this ‘Aha!’ moment of using science skills to help people in the third world,” she said. “(My biology teacher) has helped me participate in World Food Prize, which is a way for high school students to share their ideas about world hunger, and that’s really been the reason why I wanted to participate in STEM fields. Of course, it’s great that (the STEM categories) have a growing job field; it makes me feel more secure about my choices, but I think first it’s passion that made me choose (this field) first.”
No matter what the major is, Han said he believes pursuing the field that makes you happy is the best choice, but if you are conflicted between the performing arts and another field there are always other options.
“(Choosing between success and passion) is tough because everybody’s outlook on life is different,” he said. “My philosophy in life is to be happy, and money can’t buy you happiness. Being an Asian-American child, that concept sometimes goes against the philosophy of an Asian households. My parents’ outlook on life was that money and financial security is happiness, and for me it isn’t.. Look at the percentage of your life you spend in your work, it’s enormous. And you’re going to spend that much of your life being miserable just so that you can make money? I don’t think that’s any way someone should live their life. Now, am I saying that everyone should live a fun life and it’s all fun and games? By all means no. Even if you pursue your passion, it’s work, and you have to be prepared for that.
If someone comes up to me and (is conflicted between going into the STEM field or performing arts) I would say congratulations and ask if they’re ok (with this decision), and usually a lot of individuals are. And then to satisfy their craving to be involved the arts, there are lots of opportunities throughout every community here in America where individuals can get involved in community orchestras and community bands. There are no shortages of opportunities to continue being in the arts. And of course we need patrons in the arts as well, so if you grow up and you end up being just an avid patron of the arts program, you’re important too.”
Despite the hurtful comments he has gotten from others about his choices for the future, Searle said he will go through with his plans for majoring in music because passion is more important than success to him.
“There have been people who have told me I’m not going to make any money doing what I want to,” he said. “It definitely affects me to some extent because it’s a really interesting thing to hear that something you really have a passion for is going to get you nowhere. That’s never good for a person. But recently one of my closest friends told me that if you actually have the passion and drive for something don’t let anybody stop you or tell you not to do it, so that’s pretty much what I’m doing now. I think that passion should be the foundation and success will come soon after.”