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Non-Music Majors Study, Perform; Some Pursue Music Careers

Through opportunities offered by the Northwestern University School of Music, non-majors can enroll in courses, take lessons, earn a minor and perform in ensembles.

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February 20, 2007 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Broadway superstar and Tony Award winner Heather Headley, School of Communication, 1997. Miss America 1998 Kate Schindle, School of Communication, 1999. The late Robert Harth, former artistic and executive director of Carnegie Hall, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, 1977.

They are just a few of the Northwestern University alumni who pursued music careers but majored in other subjects as undergraduates.

Through opportunities offered by the School of Music, non-majors can enroll in courses, take lessons, earn a minor and perform in ensembles. They do so because they cannot imagine their lives without music.

Lessons, courses and ensembles offer non-majors a great opportunity to continue studying something they love, said Jan Berry, lecturer and coordinator of the Music Opportunities for Non-majors Program.

“More than 800 non-majors take lessons each quarter, some studying more than one instrument,” Berry said. And voice students comprise the largest contingent.

“Voice lessons are the most popular offering,” says Robert Heitzinger, a lecturer in music performance. Heitzinger, a music theater professional, said that more than 250 non-majors are enrolled each quarter in private or group lessons or in “Performance Seminar,” a course that trains singers in a variety of musical styles.

Sixty percent of the students in the seminar are from the School of Communication, Heitzinger said. Many are preparing to audition at the end of spring quarter for the Music Theater Certificate Program, offered jointly by the schools of Music and Communication.

Keyboard skills coordinator Karen Kan-Walsh, who has worked with both majors and non-majors for 16 years, hears hours of auditions each fall. “I find it admirable that non-majors find time for continued serious study in the context of a rigorous academic schedule,” she said.

In addition to lessons, non-majors take can courses in theory, harmony, composition and history or pursue a music minor, coordinated by Linda Garton, assistant dean for admission and student affairs. “Concentration in Music” requires six credits in music theory, music history and world music. Other minors are offered in commercial music, music composition, jazz studies, music technology, music cognition and musicology.

All Northwestern students are eligible to audition for any of 12 performing ensembles including Jazz Band; Concert Band; University Chorus, composed of students and community members; and Philharmonia, the largest orchestra on campus, designed exclusively for non-majors. “These non-majors are very talented and have an important role in these ensembles,” said Berry.

These students pursue their musical interests because they cannot imagine their lives without music, such as, for example, a McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science graduate student, a professional musician enrolled in the School of Continuing Studies and two Medill School freshmen.

Last year Robert G. Hasty, senior lecturer of music performance and conductor of the Philharmonia, invited McCormick engineering graduate student Anand Jagannath to serve as concertmaster. One of the reasons Jagannath chose to attend Northwestern was because of its excellent program for non-majors. “Music has been a part of my life since a very early age, so I've always found ways to make time for music,” said Jagannath. “I manage my schedule so that I can work on my thesis and have time to play violin. Having music in my life keeps me balanced.”

School of Continuing Studies student Nancy Dwyer, who took a class with Berry last summer, has already made a name for herself in the music world. A lifelong performer, Dwyer played fiddle with country artist Charley Pride's band for almost 10 years and composes children's music. Her first album, “PlayNames Everyday,” was on the nominating ballot for a Grammy Award in 2003. “Every Northwestern class I've taken has been fantastic,” said Dwyer, who is majoring in fine and performing arts.

Two freshman journalism majors, Naadia Owens and Sara Fay, were selected through audition to perform in University Chorus. “With a double major in English and journalism, three-hour rehearsals each week can be tough, “said Owens. “But I always manage to fit everything in -- I can't imagine not singing.”

Fay, who also is a clarinet player, was chosen for Symphonic Band, an organization historically designed for music majors. “As far as juggling two performing ensembles and my course load, it is difficult but totally worthwhile. It's really easy to forget why you love music when you're working that hard at it,” she said, “but as soon as you try to live without music...well, that's just not possible for me.”

Music study teaches discipline and focus, said Heitzinger. “These skills translate to other professional areas -- for instance, journalism students preparing for careers in arts criticism or Kellogg students pursuing a future in arts business management,” he said.

“It is not necessary to have a music degree to participate in some way in the music field,” said Ellen Schantz, director of communication and marketing for the School of Music. “A lawyer, for example, may choose to specialize in entertainment law. Finance graduates can become CFOs of record companies, performing arts institutions or artist management companies,” she said.

The common thread tying majors and non-majors is a love of music -- whether they intend to pursue a career in music or in biomedical engineering. As freshman Sara Fay says, trying to live without music -- it's just impossible.

Topics: Campus Life