Melodies of MSU How MSU’s students and faculty embrace music as a community

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MSU’s College of Music is a hidden gem on campus. It’s listed in Niche’s top 50 music schools in America and offers many different bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree options. It even offers non-degree programs, including a minor in music and a performance diploma. The College of Music however offers far more than just degrees — it creates a unique community on campus by offering inclusive sessions and workshops called Listening and Healing that are enjoyed by students who are involved with the college. These events are the basis for a supportive environment in which students, faculty and staff participate in, to initiate a unanimous responsibility that embraces students’ similarities while celebrating their differences.

Casey Sherwood and Connor Bulka are freshmen who benefit from the community aspect of the College of Music. Sherwood studies vocal performance with dreams of singing for international opera companies and beginning a nonprofit that brings the benefits of learning and performing music to children, who do not have the opportunities in their daily lives to do so. Bulka is studying music performance, and his instrument is a tuba. He plans on either performing in a professional orchestra or becoming a music professor for small groups of students.

The pair are part of a tight-knit community that is created by the College of Music. “It’s two buildings; you’re with the same people all day. You get really close, really fast,” said Sherwood, thinking of how she was instantly able to make friends when she came to campus in the fall. “The voice department all comes together on Thursday afternoons and has recital hours, so you get to see the entire vocal department perform and see what they’ve been working on. You’re there to support each other and aspire to be better together.”

Bulka has found his community by making personal connections with music majors outside of the college, especially in university-required courses. “Since our schedules are so similar, I’ll be going to my Africa Studies class and see someone from my music class, and I can go over and spark up a conversation,” said Bulka.

Sherwood and Bulka are also huge advocates for non-music majors participating in music on campus. “There are choirs here that you don’t need to be a music major to be in. All you have to do is audition!” Sherwood explains. This is a perfect opportunity for students who have a passion for music performance but decided not to study music in college. “Some professors even do individual lessons,” Bulka adds. The College of Music offers countless performances that are free to students and anyone who enjoys watching and listening to live music. “On Fridays, the College of Music puts on concerts in the lobby of Landon Hall,” Sherwood mentions while listing off countless musical events that are free to Spartan students. “Music enhances life in the right ways.”

The College of Music aims to share its community spirit with the rest of MSU by making it easy for students who are not music majors to get involved in all the fun; music is a universal language, and everyone has some sort of experience with music. While music can provide a personal experience, it’s also a factor in creating a fiercely inclusive community. Concerts, open mic nights and karaoke at Crunchy’s all contribute to the community aspect. There are also plenty of courses that non-music majors can enroll in and get their fix of music education.

Professor Joseph Steinhardt, Ph.D., is a perfect example of how music courses can become inclusive and reach even non-music majors. He teaches in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences under the department of advertising and public relations. He may be a professor now, but back in 2003 he started Don Giovanni Records while in college. The record label started while Steinhardt was in a band at Boston University, and he moved the label to New Brunswick after graduation. Don Giovanni typically focuses on bands local to the New York and New Jersey scene and has a formidable reputation for backing female and LGBT artists. Now that Steinhardt is a professor, he shares his wealth of knowledge in the music industry with his students. In his Independent Music Culture and Society course, students from any major can spend a semester learning about the operations of an independent record label by gaining hands-on experience in the manufacturing, distribution, press and marketing functions of a label. The goal of the course is to prepare students who are interested in working in music-related fields for any sort of job they could possibly apply for. Through this course, Steinhardt came up with the idea to create a minor in indie music production.

“The idea of this class is that you don’t have to be a musician or a music major to work in the music industry,” Steinhardt said. “The culture side fosters community and it fosters political change. It has a significant impact on culture. Music can’t just be a product; it’s more important than that.”

While Steinhardt cannot promise that this minor will show up in MSU’s degree navigator any time soon, he is excited to continue to work with the college of Communication Arts and Sciences to make it happen.

The MSU Community Music School is located on Hagadorn road, right across from campus. It was founded in 1993 with the goal of providing everyone in the community with an access to music education. They are inclusive of everyone, regardless of age, ability or income. The music school offers private lessons, group classes and ensembles, summer camps and music therapy. Jamie DeMott, director of the music school, is an MSU alumna who has always had a passion for music. DeMott graduated from MSU in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in music education and pursued her master’s degree in arts and youth development in 2009. As director, she “oversee[s] all programs, all faculty — basically the operations of the Community Music School as a whole. Every day is different.”

The range of services, sessions and courses that the MSU Community Music School offers to members of the community is expansive. “We offer music education and music therapy from birth through senior adults,” DeMott said. “It truly runs the gamut. We have had students as young as just days old.” One of the most special aspects of the school is the use of music therapy to help children and adults. The courses aim to use “the therapeutic use of music to address anything from closed brain injuries to autism.” The sessions are taught by MSU music students, professional musicians and music educators who each bring unique methods and style to each class. The school also functions as the lab for MSU music students, giving students hands-on experience as music educators.

Music is a force that has the incredible ability to create community and culture. It brings people together every day and serves a critical role in students’ lives at MSU. From music majors and professors to students studying an array of different topics, music is one thing that connects them all.