“Nothing else (besides music) interests me. It’s probably unhealthy, but it’s true. I don’t want to do anything else, and I don’t know if I would be able to do anything else even if I tried,” said Elliott Martens, a senior at Berkeley High School. Martens, among other BHS students, has decided to go to a music school, or a conservatory, for college.
These students’ musical careers have come a long way. Ivo Maringouin, a BHS senior, started playing the piano in fourth grade at his father’s encouragement, originally disliking it but growing to enjoy it with the aid of good teachers. Over time, this passion turned into a possible prospect in higher education. “I think that I always had an idea of doing kind of a cooler, interesting thing and music just happened to be the thing that I liked doing the most,” Maringouin said.
Marcel Jenson, another BHS senior, said that “(Music) is just the thing that’s been kind of a rock for me, for my whole life… it’s just been the center of my life for as long as I can remember.”
For Martens, their inspiration to pursue music in college was the Stanford Jazz Institute Workshop. “Learning from virtuosos, hearing them play… I loved it. If there is any experience I can do that allows me to do this all the time, I want to do it. And that’s music school,” Martens said.
Music school isn’t the only way to pursue music in college. Jenson plans to study music at a liberal arts school, but attend college there to “meet more people with different backgrounds.”
However, being a musician is commonly thought of as a lower-income job. “I think that my parents knew that I was actively picking a harder profession to be in than, like, being a doctor or lawyer,” said Maringouin. “They knew that it was going to be harder to get income.”
With this comes the idea that being a musician is a career “that’ll leave you in poverty, guaranteed,” Martens said. Moreover, the path to becoming a musician is costly. “It’s kind of an elephant in the room when someone brings it up…The elephant is that music school costs a lot of money,” said Martens.
Indeed, Juilliard, one of the most prestigious music schools in the world, has a yearly tuition of nearly $84,000, according to their website. And this estimate doesn’t even include the money it takes just to apply.
“The most important part of the application process is unique, stressful, and very expensive,” said Martens. Firstly, students submit a video of them performing assigned material. Every school has a unique list of songs they require, so “If you don’t plan things out, you’ll end up needing to practice to perfection and (record) 40 different songs or more,” Martens said. Finally, if a student passes the preliminary auditions, they then travel to every school for a live audition. “Imagine if you had to fly to every college you are applying to just to turn in your application,” Martens said. “Except it all banks on your one chance for you to play a live audition in front of the greatest players in the world.”
Furthermore, competition to get into music schools has drastically increased in recent years. “In particular, jazz is extremely competitive,” said Martens. “This is because jazz is a genre where every professional jazz musician is a virtuoso.” They added, becoming a great jazz musician takes “no luck, just plain skill.” Due to this, achieving greatness in jazz music requires deep dedication. “The current best saxophone player ever practiced 10 to 14 hours every day of his life, so you’ll have to beat that,” Martens said.
Because of this, being a musician is a difficult career. Despite this, many students said that their family and friends supported them and even inspired them to pursue this career. Jenson said that his family members “are musicians in the art business,” so he had “a really long line of support.” In addition, Martens said that most of their friends are musicians, and their mother used to be one as well, so they were “on board.”
Despite the hardships of pursuing music in college, these students have an important end goal – to become a professional musician. Martens said, “There is literally no other reason to major in music performance if you don’t want to perform music. No one is in it for the money. They’re in it for the fun.”