What's In a (Music) Major?
It's instinct to categorize our lives, to make things easier to understand by putting them into neat little boxes and storing them away until we need them.
Especially when it comes to ourselves.
The first thing you learn in junior high is the meaning of the word "clique." You're either in one or you aren't. You're either dying to be in this one or thankful you're not in that one. And you categorize them to make sense of the terrifying jungle that is school-it's a survival strategy.
And it doesn't stop in college, in fact, once you get to college, you are categorized by an even more terrifying classification: your major.
Undecided is definitely an option when you go to college, and it's usually a safe one if you don't know what you want to do with the rest of your life. But every college student has to answer the same question at least five times a day, "what's your major?" And you see the expectation in people's eyes, the interest in your path to the future, and you just know you can't disappoint them. "Undecided", as calming as it is for you, just isn't enough for them.
But for me, I have to come armed whenever I'm meeting old friends or relatives, I have to be prepared when the question is, inevitably, asked. Because my major, as I have found, is usually received with blank stares, surprised looks, and even more questions.
You see, I'm a vocal performance major with a concentration in classical voice, and we're rare. There are only about 20 of us in my graduating class, and we have to stick together to compete with the masses, the other thousands of law students and business majors. And half the time most people don't quite understand what I mean by 'vocal performance'; I've had people wonder if I'm in some kind of speech major or something of that sort.
And that's why I come prepared, because I have to then launch into an explanation of what exactly vocal means (singing), and I usually just say "I'm a singer." Of course, when singer pops into people's heads, the first thing they think of are pop stars and lead singers of bands and they assume I'm on my way to becoming something akin to Britney Spears…which I assure you, I am definitely not. Which is why I get even more shocked looks when I answer the question, "What do you plan to, uh…do with that?", with "I want to be an opera singer."
There's a particularly funny facebook group called "Yes I'm a Vocal Performance Major, NO I can't sing something for you NOW." It's another common response that we vocal performance majors get when asked what our majors are, once the confusion fades away, and that is the ever annoying "can you sing something for me?!?"
NO. I can't. There are about a handful of reasons why I can't, and another handful of why I don't want to, but people don't understand. They seem to think we're human radios or something, that we can just be turned on and off at a whim…but the voice is a MUSCLE. It needs warming up to be able to sing, just like a sprinter can't run without stretching first.
But of course, there's no time to explain all this, so we politely decline amidst the disappointed looks on people's faces (I myself am a particularly reluctant performer, it takes me up to 30 minutes to be coaxed into singing).
On campus, we definitely stand out, but we are not cast out by the rest of the college society (we don't all wear black or smoke hand rolled cigarettes….but we do sporadically burst into song and freak out at minute changes in weather, stressing about how it will affect our voices.) And that is why we are easily spotted on campus, and why I label us as a strange major. For while most other college students are on their way to the library to study and flip through scholarly articles, we are more likely to be found copying sheet music or holed up in a practice room. And when we aren't there, we're found in groups of varying sizes discussing the merits of certain composers (at least, the classical people are) or how to prevent vocal dehydration.
There are plenty of "strange" majors out there, things that you wouldn't have thought about applying to major in when you went to college, but it doesn't mean we don't exist or that we aren't working as hard as the rest of the pack. And don't be afraid to be our friends! We may be forced into clique like groups to survive, but we want to be a part of the community just as much as the next student. And it's not hard to find us: just follow the usually loud and very resonant singing, usually in four-part harmonies.
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