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Music students tune into their futures

Photo: Jessica Wuensch

Students at Fairmont like Colton Jones have received music scholarships for singing and more.

By Cole Cavanah, Staff Writer

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With a Music Department of more than 600 students, Fairmont’s music programs tend to send kids into careers in music, but it can be very challenging. Despite the hardships of getting into music colleges, there is hope.

What it takes to get in

Many colleges offer programs for people who want to study and eventually teach music, but often musicians who want to perform professionally seek out music conservatories or schools that specialize in music. These include more selective schools like the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Julliard Conservatory and Berklee College of Music.

With almost all music schools, an audition is an essential component of the application. Senior Colton Jones had auditions at several musically-known schools to get into their choir programs.

“I have had three auditions,” Jones said. “All of them were for admissions. You sing, you demonstrate your musical skills and your ability to read music,” he said.

Jones said the audition process makes applying to a music school more stressful. Getting auditions can be tough, but the travel time and expenses to get to them is also a factor to consider.

“It was stressful to travel so far just for an audition,” Jones said. “I traveled to Belmontin Tennessee and University of California in Los Angeles,” he said. “It costs a lot of money, and you’re spending all of this money just for the auditions, even if there is no guarantee to get in the school.”

How to pay for it

Jones recently was accepted into Berklee College of Music (where he had one of his toughest auditions), but now he is occupied with raising enough scholarship money to be able to attend the Boston, Mass., college.

“Berklee costs about $60,000 a year, but they only give out seven full rides,” he said. “Their full rides are called ‘Presidential Scholarships’ and are given out to financially needy students. Five of the scholarships go to students who live in the United States, and two of the scholarships go to international students.”

But with the vast number of applicants, it’s important to look to other sources of funding and not just full-ride scholarships.

Senior Tim Keltner partakes in multiple musical groups, but he chose band for his future. “I was just recently accepted into Morehead State,” he said. “I received some scholarships, but not a full ride,” he said. Keltner says he’s still working to find scholarships to attend the Kentucky college.

Getting a music scholarship may not be the most reliable way to pay for college, so it is always good to have a backup plan. Choir teacher Brody McDonald received a full ride, but it wasn’t for music.

“I went to Bowling Green State University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in choral conducting. I did not receive any music scholarships for my undergrad. I was on a full academic ride as a National Merit Finalist. For my graduate work, I was fully funded with an assistantship,” said McDonald.

McDonald says he works with students trying to get into college, so he feels the music scholarship process goes well.

“Music scholarships are out there, and they aren’t hard to get if you are prepared and proactive. The best thing any FHS student can do if they are considering music education is to talk to their ensemble director for guidance,” said McDonald. “There are scholarships from the universities themselves, but there are also smaller scholarships from local sources, such as the Madonna Wine Goss Scholarship, Dayton Music Club, etc. Some are performance-based and some are need-based. As far as how much they help…any amount of money helps.”

Orchestra teacher Richard Wright also has some insight on the keys to getting a scholarship. “Any scholarship requires some work. I think it depends on the instruments you play, the school you are attending and the needs of the school,” he said.

How to get looked at by colleges

Colleges look for musical ability, but it’s also good to be skilled in more than one area of music. Keltner, for example, is a trombone player inFairmont’s Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band 1 and Pit Orchestra for the musical. He is also bass voice in the a cappella group, Fusion.

McDonald may be a choir teacher, but he knows how important it is to play instruments as well. “I play piano functionally, which is to say I can play some vocal parts or chord along as needed. I don’t really play it as a soloist, nor could I accompany a choir. I play a little drum set,” he said.

Colleges also look at people who partake in musical extracurriculars.

“Participating in extracurriculars can help. Anything that can get you extra practice is a good idea,” Wright said.

Have a plan for the future

Though not everyone knows what they want to do their first year of college, it helps to have some idea.

Jones knows exactly what he wants to do after his college. “I want to major in music performance and music business. After college, I would like to tour with a band and work with a recording label,” he said. “The best part was just seeing how much I have grown as a musician from just preparing for all of this.”

Keltner also has big plans for after college.

“I would really love to perform for a great orchestra,” he said. “There’s nothing I want to do more.”

Tips for teachers, from teachers

For other music majors, music education may be the preferred path. McDonald has been teaching for 13 years, so he has some tips for students hoping to become music teachers.

“Hang in there. The first two or three years are rough, but it gets a lot better. The hardest part of my job is dealing with students who regularly give less than 100 percent of their best selves. It is easy to teach a student who is bringing his best self to the class. When I can tell that students are working under their potential, it’s very frustrating. I can teach people what they need to get better. I can’t teach desire or work ethic as easily,” he said.

Wright has some insight on how to plan a future in orchestra.

“There are countless good colleges and universities that will prepare you very well for a career in music. Some are a little more prestigious like Julliard and Eastman School of Music, but even they aren’t a guarantee of a good job. If you’re looking to land a job with a professional orchestra, those jobs are few and far between. I think it really depends on exactly what you want to do, whether it is performing, teaching or other areas of the music world.”

Doing what you love

An important factor to having a successful career is to enjoy what you are doing. McDonald showed his true love for his job by turning down another career that paid more.

“I had the chance to jump ship and become a computer technician earning twice what I was making as a teacher. I couldn’t do it because I love music and teaching so much,” he said.

Wright may have had other career plans, but he believes he made the right career choice.

“I wanted to play in a rock band or move to Nashville and play somewhere. That was my hope. I decided one day that it would be difficult to attempt that and have a family, which I wanted to do, so I changed my path. I play a lot still, but teaching is my focus and truly my love now.  I feel fortunate to have been able to teach.  I am grateful every day for it.”

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The school newsmagazine of Kettering Fairmont High School.
Music students tune into their futures