Why Music

Jacqueline Cordes ’25

As synesthete, I experience colors when listening to music, which only fuels my interest in it more. It wasn’t until high school that I became obsessed with learning how to play classical piano pieces. However, I was terrible at reading music, and had to learn pieces with a program called Synthesia (not to be confused with synesthesia). As a result, coming to Pomona and diving into the structured world of music theory was initially intimidating. Additionally, I was worried that learning exactly how music worked would limit my creativity, making my compositions more conventional. Fortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Music theory and music history classes didn't put up walls around my creativity—it broke them down. The more I learned, the more I realized that understanding music theory was like adding more colors to my synesthetic palette. Classes involving everything from counterpoint to sonata form all opened my eyes. I could upgrade old compositions and add depth and dimensions I didn't know were missing. Even seemingly dry topics, such as how transposing instruments work, have proven to be useful. I couldn’t be happier with the music department, and I’m grateful for gaining a greater picture of what music can be.

As for my music reading, even though it was like deciphering a foreign language at first, now it's like a second language I'm getting more and more conversational in.

Kateryna Bolonnikova ’21

Music had casually been a major part of my life since childhood, hence up until a certain point I did not experience an urge to give up all of my other interests to pursue it professionally. It was at Pomona, however, that I was exposed to so many academic and pre-professional opportunities, that at some point it became clear to me that I couldn’t pursue all of them while doing justice to the aspiring musician inside.

When one of the summers I pursued a STEM internship and had neither the time nor space to practice my instruments and write music, I felt so bitter about my choices that some days I would commute (by public transport) from Pasadena to Claremont after hours to access the upright pianos at Pomona, often staying into the night and taking the morning train back to my job. Following that experience, with my advisor Professor Alfred Cramer’s encouragement that “a music major is not career suicide,” I made one of my best decisions so far by declaring a music major.

Far from being an easy path, music for me has not been merely about working on musicianship skills and building performance and composition portfolios – but also about practicing being a more thoughtful, mature, and aware human being. My gratitude extends to all of the Music Department faculty who have been patient and well-wishing mentors, as well as to fellow music majors who make this journey fun.

Cherise Michelle ’21 (Concentration: performance, instrument: voice)

My decision to major in music did not take a lot of thought; I have been performing on stages since I was five years old. It was on those various stages that I developed my stage presence, vocal stamina and self-confidence to perform. However, after being rejected from a musical T.V. show audition for “not singing with my own voice,” I realized that I had never seriously attempted to create my own music. Until I was 18 years old, I had become a master at performing other people’s music, instead of my own.

I knew that there was something holding me back—the ability to play an instrument or read music. Growing up, I did not have access to any instruments besides the keyboard the pianist would use at my church. During church choir rehearsals, I would watch as the choir director’s hand glided across the piano and pray for the day when I’d be able to do the same. At school, the students always learned music by ear, so at least I was able to develop my aural skills. Still, I knew that if I just learned how to play an instrument and read music, I would have the keys to the kingdom.

As a junior, mustering up the strength to practice for my 20th Century Music Course (Theory IV) every week, I look back at my past three years at Pomona with so much joy. I was such a tiny, little freshman who barely knew how to distinguish a quarter note from an eighth note. I did not even know that the piano keys have names. Now, I can accurately contribute to scholarly conversations about Bartok, sonata form or the Whole-tone scale. The best part of being a music major is that I now have the tools to compose my own music. With all the knowledge I’ve gained from the four theory courses, Electronic Music Studio and several other courses, I can assure you that I am equipped for whatever music I want to write—whether that be my gospel, soul & blues tunes or my 12-tone compositions. Thanks to the unwavering support of the music faculty here at Pomona, my confidence in my academic musical abilities has increased so much. The music department is preparing me for a life-long love and deep appreciation for music while helping become an outstanding performer.