Deciding what to major in can be difficult. Finding work in that major can be even harder. Some might even say it’s impossible to find a full-time career in music.
However, it goes without saying that the benefits of learning music are numerous and these skills may help in the “real world” in more ways than one.
Some of these skills helped one student in particular, who is now returning to college after a little over five years of being out in the “real world.”
Keene State College first-year Kayla Borden graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2011. Her main focus was the saxophone, but she graduated with a degree in music education, meaning she could teach kindergarten through 12th grade, but this wasn’t something she really wanted to do.
Borden said she found a passion with music in grade school. She explained, “I started in fourth grade because of my best friend. She was like, ‘I want to play alto-saxophone,’ and I was like, ‘I want to play alto-saxophone,’ and then we did.”
While Borden’s friend only stayed on for a few weeks, Borden found a passion she couldn’t turn away from.
Over the years before Berklee, Borden found an interest in the flute and clarinet. Then high school graduation time came and Borden was faced with a major life decision.
She said choosing Berklee wasn’t hard at the time, but then proved to be a bit overwhelming for her as the years went on.
“I didn’t really apply to any other schools, so once I got there, I was like, ‘Well I’ve kind of got to do it,’” she said. “I think Berklee was not quite the right choice for me at the time. I was just really stubborn about it, like, ‘I’m going to Berklee [and] you can’t stop me.’”
Borden didn’t stop until she graduated. “I think after I left Berklee, I was a little burnt out and I didn’t play much for a long time,” she said.
The 28-year-old worked in accounting and office work. While she doesn’t regret going to Berklee, it took her a while to find that passion for playing music again.
“I would always say ‘yes’ if someone asked me to play, but I mean it was pretty recently, like within the last probably six months or so, that I started taking lessons again and actively seeking playing opportunities,” she said.
Now, in addition to being a full-time student, Borden is involved with Keene’s Lion’s Club.
“I’m playing clarinet and flute and bass clarinet in the Lion’s Club musical at The Colonial,” she said. She’s in rehearsal every night for up to four hours, preparing for the group’s performance over the weekend.
But at school, music is not her main focus. “I’m a nutrition major now,” she said. She laughed at trying to come up with ways that the two are similar.
“That’s something I’d have to think on,” she said.
Borden said she picked nutrition because she found it interesting.
“I was a cook for a bit and considered culinary, but ended up more interested in the health aspect,” she explained.
Borden does see herself using skills she acquired as a musician helping with her current studies.
“My problem solving skills are very on point and I feel like I can kind of look at things in a different way. As a musician, I’m very analytical. I just want to sit there and study and know what’s going on,” she said.
One student who also understands sitting and studying well is KSC first-year Rebecca Putnam, who is majoring in nursing with a minor in music.
“It’s a very different form of expression, but music is very rewarding. No one can ever take that away from you,” she said.
Putnam admitted she would be afraid to be a music major.
“You have to put yourself out there, so being a nursing major, I can take my own time with it. It can be my escape,” she said.
She said playing music will always be something of interest to her, but she knows that she will need to invest her time in the hobby.
She said, “If you want it, you have to put the time in. If you love playing music, you can do it, but you should never give up.”
KSC music professor Jim Chesebrough said that perseverance is just one of the many skills acquired through playing music.
He also said it encourages people to be punctual, outgoing and motivated.
“Unlike the other majors, you never had a day off. You have to practice every day,” he said.
He said that even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean someone will get a job.
“There aren’t that many jobs and for the ones there are, many people apply. For example, hundreds of people apply to be in a symphony orchestra. It’s nearly impossible to get in,” he said.
Chesebrough said there’s teaching, but the pay isn’t always good and it’s a tough job.
“It’s not uncommon that people find other (non-music) jobs,” he said.
“But musicians make music because that’s what they want to do. They don’t have to make a living of it, but they can’t give it up, otherwise something is missing.”
Here at Keene State, nearly 100 students are studying some form of music according to KSC Chair of the Music Department and Professor Heather Gilligan.
“This incoming class had around 30 interested,” she said.
One of these 100 students is KSC junior Jacob Huggins, who said he knows that the chances are risky, but he refuses to give up on his dream of performing with some of the world’s greatest musicians.
Huggins said he knows this means he can’t just graduate from college and cross his piano-slender fingers, hoping it will work out.
“I think a lot of musicians make the mistake in thinking undergraduate education is the end of the line. This is just a stepping stone,” he said.
“If you want to make a living, you have got to go to grad school or at least get your masters. Today, a bachelor’s degree is the new high school degree.”
He acknowledged that undergraduate school is beneficial, however, he said it makes a student realize who they really are and what they are willing to sacrifice.
“It gives you a taste of what it’s going to be like, of what it’s going to be like to be playing for four to six hours a day. If it doesn’t work out, at least you now know,” he said.
Huggins said that for him, playing music gives him reason for living. He’s one who does practice up to six hours a day.
Huggins explained, “It’s intense, but that’s the life I want to live. You need to want it like oxygen.”
Dorothy England can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org