Alumni Quotes

The Music Major at Grinnell College: What current majors and recent alumni have to say

“My brain was made to do mathematics. But I do music theory instead because it is more fun for me, … and because the results of academic study [in music] can have an instantly tangible impact on the emotional appreciation of music. I do music theory because it offers all the satisfaction of research, plus the enjoyment of art. Then why, you might ask, did I choose to go to a small liberal arts college with an even smaller music department? Even more than I love music, and music theory, I love learning, and Grinnell provided me with a community that eats, drinks, and sleeps learning.”

Michael Blankenship ’10 Ph.D. candidate, Music Theory, Eastman School of Music

“In part, I chose to major in music because so many adults have told me how sad they were to have stopped singing or playing as they entered adulthood. Declaring a music major seemed an act of defiance, a refusal to let go of the substance that has shaped so much of who I am today. I am a music major because I want the things I’m studying now to continue transforming my life, no matter what direction it takes.”

Cailey Arensman ’15

”As a future physician, I use the knowledge and skills I leaned as a music major every day. Experience gained from groups like Collegium Musicum and Chamber Ensembles help me provide compassionate care to patients who need someone who can not only listen, but respond and interact with compassion. Grinnell’s music major has given me greater perspective on what it means to be a musician and a human being.”

Max Stephenson ’10 Medical Student, University of California-Davis Medical School

“I never . . . intended to be a music major: I chose a liberal arts college intending to major in some kind of social science and go to law school …. I knew as well that I wanted to continue … piano lessons… .

”I cannot precisely pinpoint when the separation between the two — my musical life, and my academic one — began to disintegrate, but by the end of my first year of college, … my immersion in studying the piano became [simply] the perspective, the keyhole, from which I glimpsed a much broader world opening up before me — an academic world that lived by the rules of logic and argument that I enjoyed in other classes. In writing papers for musicology classes I found that the dual side of my own nature was uniquely engaged by the dual nature of the subject. Music is rational; it has syntax and form that is not unlike that of language. … The drive to better understand it, through both logical argument and interpretation at the piano, has given clarity and definition to my understanding of my own nature and aspirations.”

Allie Kieffer ’08 Ph.D. candidate, Musicology, Yale University

“I became a music major because I find music to be something that influences every aspect of our daily lives. It's a powerful art, and way of expression that allows us to say things either too vague or too precise for words. Ultimately I'd love to be working in the field in some capacity, and studying music is a great way to begin.”

Dan Ehrlich ’13

“The same intellectual core that brought me to musicology will carry me to law school and, I think, to the bar. It’s the same drive to understand, to explain, to convince, and to fight. Only the details are different, and even those are not so different. … I realized that in legal practice I could employ … the [research] skills I had developed as a [musicologist], for the direct and immediate support of other people.”

Christian Conkle ‘07 M.A. Musicology, Univ of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law student, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

“I came to Grinnell not to choose a career but to engage knowledge and learning in their own right. When it came time to pick a major I simply decided I loved music and wanted to learn as much as I could about it. The faculty are all incredible and are willing to let us choose our own path. Our small (even for Grinnell) classes create an environment where each student is both challenged and rewarded by their work.”

Erik Jarvis ’12 Composer

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