Personal Essays

The One True Thing I Know After Thirty Years

SDSU Drumline
SDSU Drumline-I have no idea what year this is

Disclaimer: I just want to make clear, from the beginning, that in no way do I fault or want to discredit SDSU as a fantastic collegiate option for students in music or in other studies. There is and has been an incredible amount of talent in the faculty and  the amazing people  I attended  school with (including my husband) are amazing because of the music department at SDSU. I had amazing teachers and friends in Brookings. The struggles described below I had in my scholastic studies and relationships are purely of my own doing and search to find a place where I felt I could “fit in.” 

Ten year ago today, I was performing the percussion book in the South Dakota State University Production of “Chicago.”

Today I turn THIRTY. Every year I get older, life removes me further from the fall I turned twenty. The fall I decided to leave SDSU.

Ten years ago.

We can learn so much from ourselves if we are willing to dissect a snapshot of our life. So, on my thirtieth birthday, I decided to go back in time. To see what I could learn. Back to when I turned twenty years old.

I had just finished my freshman year of college. At the time, I was attending South Dakota State University double majoring in Music Education and Spanish. I had all As in my classes (with a few Bs in my generals that I just didn’t care enough about), taught preschool religious ed at the Catholic Church, just won scholarship money at Miss South Dakota and was trying my best to make friends (despite my consistent social awkwardness and misunderstanding of people my age). Life was okay, not fantastic, but alright.

June 2004….dancing away at Miss SD
June 2004….dancing away at Miss SD

But the fall of my sophomore year didn’t start out quite so great. It’s embarrassing to even type this. By the time I started my sophomore year of college, I had lost 40% of my music scholarship. I’m not exactly sure what it was that caused this, but it made my heart ache to listen to the hype the music school had about their scholarships and be excited to be a music major after I lost so much of my scholarship without explanation. The University boasted that, for the first time, all incoming freshman music majors received music department scholarships. And friends of mine who were in their fifth year of schooling (which happens for music ed majors due to the large course load and student teaching) were able, for the first time, to continue their music scholarships into their fifth year; something that schools only promise for four years (in general-which is totally lame, because those scholarships should extend for five years since it’s practically impossible to complete a degree in music ed in less than four). It appeared, to me at the time, that I was the only one who LOST money that year. (Again this is my perspective, I don’t know what the actual circumstances were and if any others lost scholarship money. I was too embarrassed to ask my music major friends).

If I lost my scholarship money, I am sure I did not perform to the expectations of the scholarship distributor (I made this word up, I don’t know how the scholarship thing works exactly). And if I couldn’t keep my money after one year…what on earth was I doing as a music major?

Playing with some great SDSU friends and musicians in a jazz combo several years after I left
Playing with some great SDSU friends and musicians in a jazz combo several years after I left

Then we had band auditions. Apparently my audition was quite terrible and I didn’t make either of the two audition bands. But the music department didn’t want a music major to not be in an audition band, so they looked the other way and put me in the second band. Another quite embarrassing piece of information I have not shared with anyone (other than my parents). (These auditions occurred after I had already lost the majority of my scholarship).

But, although I was embarrassed that I was sucking so badly in the music department, it didn’t really bother me to not make the top band. I didn’t care about concert band. Have you ever been one of eight percussionists in a concert band? Talk about boring. I really only cared about jazz band. And I liked orchestra because of the musicals and I found the music more interesting (though sometimes a percussionist in orchestra has to rest for about 254 measures before playing a single note). So, I tried to just keep practicing and  put my sucking behind me.

Out to eat with longtime friend Kelly in the fall of 2004
Out to eat with longtime friend Kelly in the fall of 2004

Soon it was October 2004. I was about to turn twenty.

I had promised myself and my parents I would audition for Berklee during my sophomore year at college (after I had had a few more years of practicing jazz under my belt). But how could I? I felt so low.  I couldn’t even make an audition band at my current college. I couldn’t even maintain my scholarship for one year. But, as I had nothing left to lose, I signed up for the Berklee World Scholarship Tour. It would, at least, give me something to look forward to. I chose Chicago as my audition city and made sure the date worked around my college schedule.

Some pretty awesome SDSU peeps
Some pretty awesome SDSU peeps

Then I received an email from Berklee. Students auditioning on mallet instruments needed to audition in Boston at the college. My audition date was changed to a Saturday in December. The Saturday of winter graduation at SDSU. The Saturday two days before my percussion jury. I freaked out.

My parents and I discussed it. Fortunately, they were all for me moving things around and making the audition at Berklee work. If it wasn’t for my parents support, I would never have had the guts to go to the audition. Then I asked them what I was suppose to do about SDSU? I would be missing a concert (though really, you don’t need eight percussionists to play Pomp and Circumstance, it was a requirement of the class to be present). My scholarship already depleted, my reputation hanging out in no-man’s land….if I didn’t get a big enough scholarship to switch schools would I just completely lose any chance I had at SDSU? Would the school be mad at me for even auditioning elsewhere?

I decided to try and save face. I would not tell my professors that I was auditioning at Berklee (I told my few friends and asked them to keep it quiet). I would just let the school know I had to miss the winter graduation because of a family conflict. Obviously, this couldn’t possibly be a problem, could it?

Awww…such great friendships made in the land of cows! And one of my favorite trips EVER.
Awww…Camber. My dear SDSU compatriot that also moved to the East Coast.

Yes. It was a HUGE problem.

I would lose everything at SDSU if I missed the winter graduation. I was told I could not be in the concert band if I missed winter graduation. I was told my scholarship would be cancelled because it was dependent on being in one of the concert bands. I was told it was irresponsible to leave so close to finals for what I was calling a “family conflict.” My relationships with my professors were completely broken after this news. I was proving to everyone that I didn’t deserve the part of the scholarship that I still had left.

I remember trying to hold back sobs as I visited Dr. Taylor in his office one day. I was told I had to move to ComUniversity Band (the non-audition band where music majors often played secondary instruments) as missing graduation meant I was out of the concert band. (This has always been ironic to me because apparently, I was suppose to be in this ensemble anyway-due to my poor audition at the beginning of the school year.) But Dr. Taylor’s rehearsals conflicted with the orchestra’s rehearsals and performances of the musical Chicago and I didn’t know what to do. If I didn’t join the ComUniversity band I would lose the entirety of my music scholarship for the school year and have to reapply and audition for a scholarship for the following year. I had my doubts that I would ever receive a music scholarship again. But I couldn’t back out on my commitment to the orchestra.

Oh Dr. Taylor. Dr. Alan Taylor. What a kind man. I absolutely adore him. In his soft Australian accent, he told me there was a solution and not to worry. He would love to have me in his band, but he thought the music school should allow orchestra to count as my large ensemble credit for my scholarship. So he agreed to speak with the scholarship people about this matter on my behalf.

It didn’t work. I kept my commitment to the orchestra and the musical. I lost the remainder of my music scholarship.

The man, the myth the legend…Mark. A friend Tyler and I both had, he became ordained to marry us.
The man, the myth the legend…Mark. A friend Tyler and I both had at SDSU, he became ordained to marry us.

Ten years ago today, I was sitting in the Donor Auditorium, playing the percussion book in Chicago instead of keeping my music scholarship at SDSU.  I was preparing for my audition at Berklee, and I was feeling like there was no turning back. I HAD to get a scholarship to Berklee because there was nothing left for me at State.

I was an absolute mess.

Ten years ago was just two months before I met my now husband. Ten years ago was just two months before I received word that I received a 1/2 tuition scholarship to Berklee College of Music and decided to transfer. On this date ten years ago, I didn’t realize that I was on the precipice of a completely different life. On this date ten years ago, I had no idea if I made the right decision.

Hey there Boston friends!
Hey there Boston friends!

Life is amazing. You never know what is waiting around the corner. I wish I could tell my October 24, 2004-self these things. But maybe….just maybe…it’s more important that my October 24, 2014-self hears these things. Because you never know what kind of precipice you are standing on until the moment has gone by.

And that is what thirty years of life has taught me. There is always something waiting around the corner.

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