A Day in the Life of a Westminster Graduate Student

On a Sunday early in March, I, Justine Claire Aronson, got married to myself.  While I was disappointed to hear that Sue Sylvester had already hilariously covered this territory on that great bastion of musical entertainment, Glee, I still really like using this terminology to describe what happened that rainy Sunday afternoon.  No, I did not get a tattoo of myself (as I’m told Jane Lynch’s character did), but I did complete one of the cornerstones of a master’s degree in voice performance and pedagogy – the graduate voice recital.

There are numerous reasons I’ve taken to calling my recital my wedding to myself.  Like a wedding, there was a fancy dress involved.  Like a wedding, there were invitations to be printed, musicians to be hired, hair and makeup to be done, friends and family to invite, and a well-deserved champagne reception after the whole thing was over.   And just like a wedding, I had something tangible to which to attach my neuroses and all-around craziness for a good couple of months.

A wedding is a major milestone in life, and the graduate voice recital is a major milestone in the life of a Westminster Choir College graduate student.  In May, I will receive a degree in vocal performance and pedagogy, with an emphasis in performance.  I will have spent two years of my life working toward that one piece of paper.  My graduate recital, along with my graduate orals (a terrifying process where three of your teachers ask you questions about everything you’ve ever learned in school), are the proof that yes, I am indeed a master.  Of music, that is.

Justine Aronson at her graduate recital

Recitals are about an hour long, with an intermission.  The music is typically entirely memorized, and a good deal of it is in another language.  At Westminster, singers are not required to sing in any specific language or in any specific style.  So while recitals usually consist of classical music performed with one singer and one pianist, a performer can choose to collaborate with instrumentalists (I did one piece with a teeny-tiny instrument called a piccolo trumpet), sing in ensembles with their friends, or branch out and perform different styles.   At the graduate level, students usually pick their recital repertoire themselves, with the guidance of a teacher.   Recitals sometimes have a theme, and usually (at Westminster, at least), they have a title.

A marriage takes knowing your partner from the inside out, and recitals require that same intensity of musical awareness.  If the pieces are in another language (I did pieces in German by the composers Franz Schubert and J.S. Bach), you must know what every single word means.  If they’re in English, you must know who wrote the poetry, when, why, and what it all means – to you, to the composer, to your audience.  As a performance emphasis major, I turned in an approximately 20-page paper covering these topics and more.

In case you couldn’t tell, recitals are a major undertaking.  I had a lot of anxiety drams.  But just like every elaborate wedding begets a celebratory and relaxing honeymoon, post-recital life is filled with afternoon margaritas, lazy days by the pool, and daily massages…sigh.  If only.   As a Westminster student, it’s always on to the next project, the next performance, the next self-reflective musical experience.  But you know what?  I’d do another recital in a heartbeat.

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