Music taught me what no professor could
“We learned more from a 3-minute record baby than we ever did in school” - Springsteen
When sitting down to write this piece — the last piece I will write as a Daily Arts writer — I stared at a blank screen for a while. I didn’t want to write a diary entry and I didn’t want to write a pep talk. I wanted to somehow achieve what most, if not all, arts writers strive for: Precisely translating art and the impact of art into words. Sure, we also critique and point out the highs and lows of a work, but I guarantee no one would say they write about music for the chance to publically rip apart the latest Ed Sheeran album (might occasionally be a side-perk though). I can’t speak for all of my fellow writers, but I know that I started writing about music because of its profound impact on me.
Music has been with me my entire life: from playing Bach and Mozart on piano in my early years to singing show tunes and 2000’s pop ballads in my teens; from performing to Black Eyed Peas hits during halftime at high school basketball games to dancing in small black box theatres to spoken word and Max Richter; from discovering indie rock with the Killers’s “Dustland Fairytale” to all but adopting rap as my religion after listening to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
I’m graduating in a week and, while I’m generally not very nostalgic, I can’t help but reflect on the undeniable permeance of music in my three and a half year college experience. I remember first semester freshman year, hair-tossing and witch-dancing in the first floor USB bathroom to Lorde’s “400 Lux” to get the nerves out before a Calc II exam. I remember listening to her Pure Heroine album before every exam and job interview freshman through junior year, only altering my routine senior year with the release of Melodrama. I remember sparking my first college friendship with the Achtung Baby poster I hung in my freshman dorm room and bonding with my current go-to concert buddy (and the only person besides me I want DJing at a party) after exchanging mix CDs.
Music has always been important to me, but at this university it has changed from a topic of study to a component of my emotional fabric. I have come to feel music and use it as a lens to make sense of my life experiences. I think through time in terms of my musical phases: rock, indie, alternative, rap, R&B, pop. I associate memories with what was playing in the background. I relate experiences to song lyrics. I rank nights out by the quality of the soundtrack.
This relationship seems excessive and is almost certainly obsessive, but also undeniably formative. When letting something play such a vital role in your life, it gains the power to ultimately lend a hand in shaping who you are.
The first couple months of my freshman year I fought tirelessly to contain the ever-expanding chasm between who I was and who I thought I should be. The story might approach inspiring if I could simply say “everything changed when X happened,” but no such revelatory moment exists — this disparity is still something I grapple with. In fact this disparity is so present that I’ve come to define confidence as it’s dissolution. In other words, I see confidence as the convergence of who I am and who I think I should be. Perfect convergence would mean perfect confidence, and while I don’t believe this exists, I do believe that for me the gap has been steadily shrinking the past few years. While much of this can be attributed to my incredible family and friends, the growing influence of music in my life has undoubtedly contributed.
I find the stark originality of musical artists captivating. The most noteworthy artists carve their own niche rather than transforming themselves into a reflection of someone that’s already successful in the field. They draw influence from other artists and take cues from the world around them, but ultimately there is inherent value in being unique.
That’s a concept that’s often unrecognizable in our education system, including college. I can’t speak for all major programs, but in engineering at least, merit is found in good grades and impressive jobs. Individuality and creativity are generally of little importance.
Confidence, in the scope of my previous definition, can be furthered in two ways: make your current self into your most desirable self, or recognize that the person you already are is most desirable. Without a respect for individuality, the latter doesn’t exist, and students are faced with the often destructive task of obtaining an unobtainable standard.
Time and time again I tried to do that. I tried to get perfect grades, lineup the perfect job, look the perfect image. It was exhausting and never satisfying. It was the only approach I knew of, until I started taking guidance from musical artists.
I listened to Lorde. I listened to Kendrick Lamar. I listened to Rihanna. The list goes on and on. Before I heard music, but I began to listen. I let these artists affect me and infiltrate my life. I let their unapologetic aura and intense self-awareness inspire my own. I found the worth of originality and used that to pull the person I thought I should be closer to the person I currently am.
And here I am today: a Computer Science major with an Art History minor, who wears a lot of black and loves to argue. I write and keep up to date with the news and read random Wikipedia pages for fun. I get average grades. I’m not conventionally beautiful. I’ve gotten rejected from far more companies than I’ve received offers from.
And while there still exists a small desire to alter certain characteristics, that desire is eclipsed by the realization that perfecting one facet of my life would mean sacrificing another — a sacrifice I’m unwilling to make. My professors taught me to get good grades, but music taught me to revel in the divine imperfection of originality. And as I step out into the daunting “real world,” I’ll look back on college and thank Dr. Kanye West and Dr. Fiona Apple right along with my academic professors.