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The most insightful, relevant advice I have ever been given was the suggestion that ultimately shaped my career goals-to pursue a major in music theory and composition.
During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I continued my involvement with the University of Michigan's piano preparatory program and was studying piano with a doctoral candidate in performance, Alan Huckleberry. At our first or second piano lesson together, I mentioned that I was also interested in composition. A few weeks later, after working through my traditional repertory, I played a recently completed piano piece for him. He asked me more about my compositional background, and he finally suggested, "You should major in theory or composition. You really have the mind for it, and not many people can both play and compose."
Throughout that summer and the following school year, I thoughtfully considered pursuing Alan's advice and focusing on composition instead of performance. My new teacher, Kelley Benson, who also happened to be the coordinator of the preparatory program, embraced my new college plans and introduced me to Andre Myers, a doctoral candidate in composition who was searching for composition students. Ms. Benson also tutored me in theory and encouraged me to pursue an independent study course in theory at my high school.
This extensive preparation has paid off handsomely. Just this past summer, I placed out of two semesters of core music theory classes, allowing me to begin taking the upper-level classes required for the Bachelor of Music degree. Additionally, I have flourished in these upper-level courses, even without the extra practice of the second-year theory classes. The music theory department at Michigan is also rather small, with much fewer students than the piano department, so I have worked more closely with my professors, preparing me even more for graduate school. In addition, since these professors are all very well known in the field, I may end up working with them as a colleague after receiving my terminal degree. Though that thought is rather unnerving at this point, I am extremely excited to potentially work with such friendly, knowledgeable, and talented people.
I seriously doubt that I would have even taken any extra theory classes if not for Alan's advice to pursue it as a major. Thus, I credit him for guiding me on this course. Though Alan went on to earn his doctorate and move out of state, we still keep in touch. I haven't actually informed him of his direct influence on my current studies, but I will someday. I know he will be proud.
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