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3 Things I Learned at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music

Posted by Becca Rice

No matter what your instrument is, as a music major, you assume lots of your time will be spent in the practice room. For most, this is akin to a dentist’s visit: necessary, but rather unpleasant. In cut-throat conservatory of music environments, this time feels like it will make or break your career. Now throw in a liberal arts degree with general education requirements and some may wonder why anyone would choose music as a major. But living in a Christian environment changes everything. Here are three concepts I have learned at the Wheaton College Conservatory of music that can teach you to cherish practicing.

1. Know your hard work is of value

A typical portrait of Wheaton labels it as the “Harvard of Christian Schools.” Students are held to high academic standards and engage in profound intellectual discourse on a regular basis. This draws a great number of those who wish to explore their Christian life in a scholarly manner. So why would this school bother to spend time and energy on music? Why would a “smart” college even have a conservatory when public school districts eliminate music programs in favor of advanced placement courses? The answer is in the question. A smart college knows that music has importance. It gives words to that which cannot be spoken. It allows us to be creative just as our Lord is creative. It forms bonds between people. It makes us work hard. Wheaton knows that striving for excellence in a theology course means just as much as striving for excellence in music. Does God care if I play a tricky sixteenth note passage in tune? Yes! And through the instruction of our teachers and professors, we are reminded that our efforts make God smile upon us. He knows how much we labor for His glory and values it. So as you diligently drill and perfect your craft, you are engaging in an activity that pleases your Creator.

2. Know you have importance in God’s Kingdom

Some may argue that Christians need to pursue vocations in subjects like theology or ministry. After all, isn’t that how we can best serve God in our lives? But those ideas are quickly quelled in the conservatory environment here. God calls us each to be different lights using the strengths that He gave to us from birth. And Christians from all fields can work to spread the Gospel. Musicians have a significant role to play in furthering God’s Kingdom as well. Christians know the impact music can have on bringing us closer to God, so naturally musicians can aid with that process. We’re almost like mechanics: we know how music works and can help the rest of the community use it most effectively in our travels to Christ. Whether it’s through leading, instructing, performing, or simply singing alongside, Christian musicians can help foster a worshipful experience. So by taking care to enhance your musical capabilities, you as a musician play a critical part in advancing God’s Kingdom.

It might seem strange then, that Wheaton does not offer a church music degree. The next logical step would be that all performers must use their musical gifts in explicitly Christian, worship music. However, in a world created by one God, isn’t all music church music? Can’t all our music praise the Lord? Therefore, our role does not only belong in the Christian community, but to the outside world. And through the diligence of practice (in overtly Christian pieces or classical etudes), we can penetrate a wide variety of rich musical realms, bringing God’s Truth through our song.

3. Know that you are loved

Often times we place our sense of worth on our accomplishments. How well did I perform today? Did I make any mistakes? Oh, that person got the solo: he’s worth knowing. At Wheaton, I have always felt as if I meant more than all of that. My teacher genuinely asks about my well-being. Professors want to know about my life. Colleagues are excited to get to know me. I am more than my instrument: I am a person. This only serves to remind me of the unconditional love from our Father. Yes, God delights in our music making, but He also delights in us. He wants to spend time with us, not because we have anything special to offer, but because we are His children. This concept aids in my practicing. When I step in that room, I have nothing to prove and no way to make God love me more. How empty, how fruitless would my endeavors be without this knowledge. How unsatisfying a life. Yes, practice can be scary and yes, studying music takes dedication. But no matter what, my Father in heaven will continue to pour out His mercy and grace on my life simply because I am His own.

So maybe it doesn’t seem so unpleasant after all. Maybe practicing can be joyful as well as productive. And maybe eventually, you can learn to love the dentist too. 

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