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The art of students pursuing music and dance in college

By Nora Lam

While many students are going to college in order to receive a higher education, some are planning on doing that along with participating in the performing arts. Jooeun Lim and Kevin Chen, who will both be attending UC Berkeley, are both planning to play music in college, and Fiona Murphy, Katie O’Connor and Isabel Saxty are planning to dance in college in some form.

Kevin Chen
Photo Courtesy of Nora Lam

Kevin Chen: Chen has been playing the clarinet for nine years, flute for five years and alto sax for two years. In his clarinet traini ng, he learned one half classical and one half jazz at the same time, planting the seed for his passion for jazz. During much of Chen’s high school career, he has shown his passion for music through numerous music-related activities.

“I’m doing it for love of expression. I loved my lessons [as a child] because I wanted to be able to express myself through music,” said Chen.

Chen played clarinet and flute for the symphonic band his freshman year and from his sophomore year and up, he played alto sax for the jazz band while still playing with the symphonic band occasionally. He was also part of the pit bands for “Urinetown” and “All Shook Up.” Chen also plays jazz at small venues with “The Rosebush Quintet,” composed of him, Jordan Butler, Madison Wilcox, Erik Vanwinkle and Olivia Carrington.

In the fall, Chen plans to audition for the Berkeley Jazz Ensembles, which is a club because Cal does not have an official jazz school of music band. Since it is a club, it is run by students with eight professional musicians teaching rehearsals, which are twice a week for two hours.

Kevin Chen
Photo courtesy of Kevin Chen

“I’m looking forward to meeting my professional jazz instructor and experimenting with different takes on jazz standards,” said Chen.

Another thing Chen is excited for is the difference in competency between high school and college musicians.

“I feel like in a college setting, people have more musical fluency, so rehearsals and performances will be more firmly rooted in exploration rather than training,” said Chen. “Even though jazz is free, there are still a lot of rules you need to abide by to conform to the jazz idiom.”

Chen plans to continue playing jazz even after college as a serious hobby on a professional level.

“There’s this kind of ethereal power they have. It changes the atmosphere. That’s what really got me trying to pursue music,” said Chen. “That’s what I’m looking for. I want to be able to change my audience’s atmosphere whether it’s a family setting, a casual setting or a concert setting. I don’t care.”

For Chen, participating in music wasn’t just another extracurricular activity to put on his college application like some musicians.

“The power of music is to not only express but to change your own state of mind,” said Chen.

Jooeun Lim
Photo courtesy of Nora Lam

Jooeun Lim: Lim, who primarily plays the flute and has been playing it for eight years, has also been playing the piano for five years and the piccolo for two years. Throughout her adolescence, she has participated in numerous music-related activities. She was in the Lincoln Marching Band, Oakland Youth Orchestra for one year, Berkeley Youth Orchestra for one year, UC Berkeley Summer Symphony in 2012, and Chamber Music Summer Program at the San Francisco Conservatory

in 2012. She has also been the principal flute in the AHS Symphonic Band all four years of her high school career, and she is in the AHS Chamber Music Club and has been president of the club for two years.

It is obvious that music has been an integral part of her life and will continue to be for the next four years of her life. Lim wants to double major in music and computer science or major in computer science while minoring in music. She also wants to join the university symphony.

Some of the members of the university symphony were members of the UC Berkeley Summer Symphony that Lim attended in 2012, and they fueled her enthusiasm for music.

Jooeun Lim
Photo courtesy of Jooeun Lim

In order to join the university symphony, Lim will have to go through a competitive audition.

“I really hope I get in,” said Lim. “It was so fun playing with older musicians, and they were so good. It really inspired me.”

However, the competitiveness of the university symphony can also be put into a positive light. The competition makes sure that everyone who does qualify loves music just as much as the other.

“Just because it’s so hard to get in, everyone has the same amount of passion for music. The musicianship level is so much more. It’s a lot more serious,” said Lim.

Although participating in university music will be a lot more cut-throat compared to high school level music, it doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. The opportunities to perform and play more music with a full orchestra are enough cause for excitement for Lim because a full orchestra is not a luxury that Alameda High has since the symphonic band lacks strings.

“There are so many things I’m excited for. You get to study with really good professors for music there,” said Lim.

Fiona Murphy
Photo courtesy of Nora Lam

Fiona Murphy: Murphy will attend CSU Long Beach where she will study dance. Her “plan” is to graduate with a degree in dance and then go into a professional dance company. She plans to minor in something academic just in case dancing does not work out. Murphy currently dances contemporary and ballet, and she has been dancing since she was five, which means she has been dancing for almost 13 years now.

“[I’m excited for] the different opportunities I’ll be able to have. Being taught by different people, and learning new things. I can get a job in Disneyland,” remarked Murphy.

Although college level dancing is going to be exciting, it is going to be tiring as well. High school level dancing already consumes so much of Murphy’s time and stamina, but the thought of the hard work to come does not change her enthusiasm.

“Right now I only dance four times a week [at the Alameda Ballet Academy] for two hours, but in college it’ll be every day all day,” said Murphy. “It’ll be way more intense, but I’m really excited though.”

Dancing so often would sound very mundane and tiring to many, but for Murphy, she’s simply doing what she loves.

“Ballet’s been my whole life. It’s all I do. Dancing makes me happy,” said Murphy while smiling.

Katie O'Connor
Photo courtesy of Nora Lam

Katie O’Connor: O’Connor, who will attend Oberlin College, plans on majoring in dance while double majoring. She dances ballet and modern at Dance Arts Project, and she started dancing when she was three, which means she has been dancing for 14 years now. As a dance major, O’Connor will be dancing mostly modern dance, which is no problem for her since modern is her favorite dance.

The freedoms that come with attending college apply to dance as well it seems.

“I think college dance is a lot more movement based than technique based. It’s less structured,” said O’Connor.

Katie O'Connor
Photo courtesy of Mark Andrew Wilson

Oberlin is a small private liberal arts college known for having an amazing dance program, and these factors pushed O’Connor towards choosing Oberlin for college.

“I’m going to a really small school, so a lot of people will attend the performances,” said O’Connor. “It’ll be cool to dance in front of my friends.”

Another reason why O’Connor chose Oberlin is because it’s easier to double major at Oberlin compared to UC Berkeley, although UC Berkeley does have an amazing dance program as well. If she had attended UC Berkeley, she may not have been able to major in something else and major in dance at the same time.

“It’s just a love relationship. Dance is just something I can’t not do,” remarked O’Connor.

Unlike Murphy, O’Connor is not planning on using her dance major to become a professional. She is considering teaching dance in the future, but she still is not sure yet.

Isabel Saxty
Photo courtesy Kelly Gregor

Isabel Saxty: Saxty plans on dancing in college in England in either the University of Sussex or the University of Nottingham. She has been dancing ballet for 13 years, but she also takes contemporary classes. She was also trained in hip hop and jazz at Ballet West. Saxty also currently dances as a company member with the Alameda Civic Ballet and takes classes at the Alameda Ballet Academy.

Saxty plans to dance and perform with the dance society, which participates in UK University dance competitions, of the university she hopes to attend.

“I think college level dance will end up being much more of a team ‘sport’ than it has been for me, but also more competitive,” said Saxty. “I don’t think it will be harder, because we have a very strict discipline at Alameda Ballet Academy (ABA), but it will definitely be a new environment for me to push myself in.”

The prospect of competition usually does not sound very appealing, but it’s one of the main sources of excitement for Saxty.

Isabel Saxty
Photo courtesy of Isabel Saxty

“I’m excited to have competition experience that I’ve never had before, but also just to continue dancing and performing with people who share the same passion, regardless of what they’re studying at university,” remarked Saxty.

Competition is good, but professional ballet has too much of it to appeal to Saxty. The world of professional ballet is incredibly competitive and restricting, physically and profitably, which is why Saxty does not plan on following that route.

“But, I never want to stop dancing, and it will always be a part of my life, regardless of what career path I choose to follow,” said Saxty.