DU music students take center stage


Lamont Music School students rehearsing for "Lamont Opera Scenes".

Lamont Music School students rehearsing for “Lamont Opera Scenes”.

Walk into Joy Burns Plaza at Denver University’s Newman Center, and you will most likely find the lobby to be scattered with  music students; Some taking a quick break to chat with friends before heading to the next rehearsal, and many, speed walking to their next class, toting cases that hold trumpets and saxophones, among other instruments. With dreams of composing modern opera, and possibly scores for Pixar movies, following in the footsteps of Michael Giacchino, 22 year-old John Jones, a junior at DU, battles the grueling time and schedule demands that most music students at the Lamont School of Music have become accustom to.

“If you really want a career in music, you’re busy all the time,” said Jones who, along with his normal school schedule and required ensembles, is apart of two ensembles outside of Lamont. “Most people are taking 16-18 credits, on top of required ensembles, you’re also taking multiple academic classes, personal lessons with your advisor, usually one hour a week for majors, and a lot of repertory classes. Our courses are fairly packed for the time that we’re here.”

Performance improvement and perfection is the main objective of the vast majority of music students at Lamont. Academic classwork is supplementary to a lot of Lamont students. They pass their classes, but their main focus is honing their musical talents.

Kelsey Popvich, a junior at DU who is on a concurrent degree plan concentrated in vocal performance and geography, with a minor in business, agrees, “Students aren’t going to music school to learn music theory, they’re going to school to become a better vocalist or a better violinist or something.”

Initially, Kelsey was pursuing music as a hobby, taking a few voice classes in middle school, but after receiving a call and scholarship from the head of the voice department at DU, she decided to give it a try and changed her degree request to a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance.

“I started getting some roles in the operas. I had a really good role my sophomore year. I played a “pants” role, which means I played a boy, in the production of “Foust”. It was really fun, and that made me think: ‘You know, I had a good enough time with this, I could see myself doing this as a career’. Even though it was not my initial passion, I was starting to get enough of a sense of achievement from it and things like that, that I decided to stick with the B.M.”

Playing for fun or for cash?

The opportunity to study music in college is not rare, however, in today’s economy, several musicians have become wary when it comes to devoting their college funds to study in a field that is not always promising.

The entrance to the Newman Center and Lamont Music School

The Joy Burns lobby entrance to the Newman Center and Lamont Music School.

Diana Keegan is a 23 year-old jazz piano player, who is planning to transfer to Lamont School of Music in the spring of 2013. Having never attended a music school, Diana has been playing the piano since the second grade, and has finally decided to improve her skills in an academic setting. “There are no jobs. Not for musicians. If you want to bring in a steady paycheck, you have to have some kind of background or resume in music. I was told three months ago, that if I wanted a fulfilling career playing the piano, I needed a degree in music performance.”

Diana worked part-time at the nursing home in her hometown of Deadwood, South Dakota, playing accompaniment piano on Karaoke Friday’s and giving lessons to the residents, when she decided that it was time to take her music more seriously. “I’m 23. There’s no age limit on life, but I would like to accomplish a few things before I’m 40. I think that Lamont is my best chance at doing anything with my music.

The next factor

The dream of being successful in the music industry is shared by millions. Everyone wants to be the next big thing. With the many reality based singing competitions on television today, such as American Idol and the Xfactor, the dreams of becoming a music superstar seem a lot more feasible than spending the four or more years that music students sacrifice while in pursuit of similar aspirations.

“I used to sing for state fairs, and people would always tell me I should be on American Idol. I think I’ve only watched one complete season“, said Kelsey, who considered auditioning for the reality competition television show. “I have a really good friend, she’s an opera singer, and she auditioned for American Idol. She actually made it through to right before you audition on camera, but then she got cut. I just think it’s about so many other things besides the voice. In my personal opinion, I think it skews people’s perspective on what singing is like and what being a successful performer is like.”

Similar to Kelsey, John thinks that shows like the Xfactor and the Voice have given many great singers a chance to shine, but at that same time, they degrade singers. “The first two weeks you have all of these horrible people who think they can sing. One of the worst people I ever saw claimed to be a voice teacher. I think they serve the exact purpose that they are set to serve, which is to find a pop singer. I would never do it, simply because it wouldn’t get me where I want to go.”

The time and effort spent pursuing a music degree are among many other obstacles that student musicians must learn to conquer in order to become successful in the music business. The industry stretches wide, with several different positions waiting to be filled by the skilled and talented individuals you may, if time permits, or may not see on campus at the Lamont School of Music.

One Response to DU music students take center stage

  • Kersten Jaeger
    Kersten Jaeger says:

    I think you’re article is a really interesting topic, because the music school always seems really removed from the rest of campus (physically and socially). You have a solid amount of interviews and quotes that really help back up your story, and I really appreciate all of the personality you include for the people. I like that you addressed the success of the music students, because I have heard from people that they think music is one of those majors that you will probably have a hard time getting a job from.

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