Section: Arts

Music theses showcase creativity sans traditional formats

by Elana Spivack

An old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” For Kenyon’s senior music majors, they have much more to do than simply practice. Senior year leads up to what is arguably the most critical component of students’ academic time at Kenyon.

Most music majors propose a project at the end of their junior year, receive feedback and sit with the idea for the summer. By Oct. 1, after more refining, they submit a final proposal, then devote the rest of the year to brainstorming project ideas under the guidance of a Department of Music advisor matched based on the project’s focus. A typical project combines a musical recital, a research paper and an oral defense of the student’s chosen topic.

Stuart Giles presented his thesis on the reinterpretation of bass clarient older pieces through an hour-long lecture recital that included musical examples he performed on an array of clarinets.
Mikey Bullister created a five-song album of original electronic pop music. Though the immediate goal is simply to complete all of the requirements, Bullister said he thinks students gain more than just completion of a music degree.

“Because I’m doing it for school, I did try a lot harder. … I’d be like … ‘What really makes the difference between kids on SoundCloud making music, like me, and real producers who have committed their careers to making music? … You can obviously tell the difference,” Bullister said.

Having chosen a less-conventional music genre to study, Bullister’s lack of knowledge of the genre and electronic music production forced him to work harder; he approximated that it took around 200 hours to learn the proper production software.
Bullister’s project topic also shows how the Department of Music accommodates all sorts of theses. Rhodes Sabangan similarly gleaned a lot from his advisor.

“[Assistant Professor of Music Ross A. Feller] asked me a lot of very valuable questions that directed me specifically [to] … my goals. … He made me figure [it] out for myself in a very guiding way, not in a very strict way,” Sabangan said.
Advisors understand that students must synthesize their creativity and the information on their own, but also require guidance.

“[Problems] tend to come with the student. We really stand to advise, and the question is, are the students ready to receive that advice? … It’s a matter of how disciplined the student is,” Professor of Music Ben Locke said.
While examination of music and performance often is a significant component of the senior project, Emma Sajsa’s research had nothing to do with composition. An aspiring music educator, she has shadowed music teachers in three different elementary schools.

“I feel much more … educated about what I started to study. It’s definitely difficult to have this thing always looming over you that you’ve been working on the entire year, but to see what comes out of it … is awesome,” Sajsa said.
Bullister agrees that the sheer magnitude of the project creates challenges and fatigue.

“A lot of it was just mental anxiety,” he said.
However, once the students pass the anxiety, their strides are visible to themselves and their advisors, according to Buehrer.

“It’s rewarding for the student, but this is why I’m here. I love teaching, and I love seeing students being able to reach their goal. … This is probably the most important thing we do in our department,” Buehrer said.
Ultimately, the project allows the student to see his or her full potential, Sabangan remarked.

“It’s a re-examination of myself and the role of music in my life. How am I going to be an artist, and is that important to me?” Sabangan said.

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