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Why My Education in the Conservatory of Music Needs the Liberal Arts

Posted by Nicholas Muzik

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Three years ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table, discussing college options with my parents. The previous year, I had decided that I wanted to study music composition, but I did not know how I wanted to obtain that degree. I was looking at two schools: Wheaton College and a state school about an hour and a half away from home. Both educations would challenge me as a composer. In different ways, both educations would confront me in my spiritual walk. Both educations would compel my complete dedication to music.

However, the biggest difference between the two was that Wheaton College would require me to complete a liberal arts education on top of a music education, while the state school would solely focus on music courses. At the time, I was pretty sold on going to the state school. Not only did attending a state school seem more affordable, but the liberal arts education did not seem worth the “extra” work. I thought that it would be easier to not have to take classes like philosophy or history “get in the way of my music education.” I thought that those courses would hinder my ability to focus on my own music composition. In short, I wanted a trade-school education in music.

At the time, I did not realize the extraordinary value of a liberal arts education to encourage holistic development. In the process of receiving a liberal arts education and a rigorous music education, I have noticed that almost every general education course uniquely challenges me as a musician, while challenging me as a Christian. Often, I am tested in a way and to an extent that I would not have confronted without the liberal arts. For instance, taking a course like Wellness 101 has helped me better understand how to care for my body and maintain my health, a frequent issue for many musicians. Being required to take a history class helped me understand the broader context, cultures, and people groups behind the early music history class that I took the previous semester (Medieval/Renaissance Music History). Many of the cultural aspects that I previously saw through the lens of music history were then expanded on and studied with a wider scope. For example, while the music history course demonstrated the development of music styles and homophony through the Troubadours (French musicians whose lyrics focused primarily on themes of courtly love and chivalry), my history course covered the cultural context of the French courts at that time. Because of the general history course, I was able to appreciate and create a cultural picture that was much greater than the perspective from a single artistic discipline. As a Music Composition major, I am required to take two philosophy courses: Philosophy 101 and Philosophy of the Arts. Philosophy 101 helped me learn how to dig into initially confusing and dense texts. Philosophy of the Arts took those skills that I had learned and applied them to a subject that is uniquely connected to the world I am entering. I was able to study the philosophy of aesthetics, creativity, beauty, taste, emotion etc., while addressing composition-related questions about “high” and “low” art, “good” and “bad” art, and the role of an artist in a society. I ultimately wrote my final paper on the relationship between God’s act of creation and humanity’s creativity, especially relating to music composition. Not only have the liberal arts influenced me to become a better musician and composer, but they have helped encouraged holistic development.

Another thing that I did not realize three years ago was how well the liberal arts would to prepare me for job possibilities beyond my major. Employers are often very attracted to students who have received a liberal arts education. They know these students will be able to connect and synthesize ideas more quickly and effectively than students who are taught to specialize. Equipped with the skills of a diverse education, these students will do well in the workplace, offering innovative creative thinking and problem-solving skills to almost any challenge their field throws at them.

Lastly, a liberal arts education offers flexibility when exiting education. The extra hours and classes give students the ability to work outside of the field that they selected at the beginning of college. The liberal arts ensure that no college class will be a waste for one’s education. For myself, if I did not end up wanting to commit myself to a career in music, then I would have the credibility of a rigorous education beyond music.

Presently, I am a sophomore by year, junior by credit, and on a track to graduate a semester early from the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition. Though I am confident that I want to immerse myself in the field of music for most of my life, I am incredibly grateful for the countless hours that I have put into non-conservatory classes, pursuing holistic development and applying myself to the pursuit of academic and musical excellence.

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Topics: Conservatory of Music