Students claim they don’t have enough time to keep up music in college. Music Department Chairman James Holleman said he would disagree.
Twenty-one years ago when he was first hired, only five percent of Hillsdale students participated in the music program. Now, more than 30 percent of students are involved in the music department.
“When they hired me to be in charge, they basically said ‘Fix it and don’t let anything get in your way,’” Holleman said. “We wanted music coming out of every pore of this campus.”
The music faculty initiated a program that would attract a wider range of students. They gave full access of the music department to all students, regardless of their majors and minors. The key, Holleman said, was scheduling and time commitment.
“We created the dynamic of our department purposefully, ” Holleman said. “We, as the music faculty, have to protect the allocation of time of students. We pay attention to the strenuous academics of the students and we have to respect that. So when they are in our building, we set high standards, we work hard, and then we have to let go of these students, and not have them eat, sleep, and breathe music.”
Yet the strenuous academics have not inhibited students from participating. More than 70 percent of the students participating in music are not music majors or minors, including some of Hillsdale’s most accomplished musicians today.
Sophomore Ellie Fishlock, a violinist for 14 years, continues to play the instrument, even though her major is exercise science. Raised by parents who are professional musicians, she noted that she could not imagine her life in college without music.
“I would have a lot less joy if I didn’t have it in my life,” she said. “It’s because I love it so much that I don’t want to do it as a career.”
Junior Matthew Clark, who has played trombone for 12 years, said he agreed.
“I don’t want to turn my relaxing hobby into an academic requirement,” Clark said. “It would become a stress-causer rather than a stress-reliever.”
This has not stopped him from taking 21 credits in order to participate as pep band leader, as well as trombonist in orchestra, trombone ensemble, and brass ensemble.
As an accounting major, he is grateful for the friends he’s made through music participation, who are outside his typical social circles.
“It’s allowed me to pursue other friendships,” Clark said. “It puts into perspective the different backgrounds that people come from if there’s a shared aspect of music in there. If I hadn’t continued music, I never would have joined Phi Mu Alpha.”
Junior Hannah Stumpf, principal oboist in the orchestra, chose not to minor in light of her heavy academic schedule. However, music has contributed invaluable lessons that her biochemistry major never could.
“I would like to think of myself as a well rounded person,” Stumpf said. “As someone who is in STEM, music really balances that. Music uses all parts of your brain so no matter what else you do, music will play a role in developing your mind. It provides a way to escape from the exactness of science because it’s more creative.”
In addition to developing the mind, students have found music to foster teamwork, develop time management skills, and improve performance skills, whether in or out of the classroom.
Year after year, Hillsdale students have raised a high bar in their caliber of music performance. Teacher of Music Stacey Jones noted that several non-major participants are fulfilling top roles in ensembles and are star musicians within the department.
“We offer scholarships to everyone, regardless of whether or not they major or minor,” Jones said. “As a result of this, we receive very serious participants.”
Fishlock is not surprised by the students who walk the halls of Howard.
“People who are dedicated enough to their personal growth to come to Hillsdale will have been dedicated in other areas of their lives,” she said. “You need a lot of dedication to play an instrument at a high level.”
Senior Clara Fishlock, sister to Ellie and a winner of the 2018 concerto competition, said she once dreamed of attending music school. When she chose Hillsdale, she was surprised by the vast opportunities she thought she wouldn’t have. From having the freedom to play a wide range of repertoire to attending all different types of concerts, Clara said that she underestimated her possibilities. Though Clara had a strenuous musical background, she said that Hillsdale changed her outlook on music.
“Hillsdale has taught me to just step back, and enjoy music a bit more,” she said. “My flute teacher has really pushed me but also allowed me to enjoy music in a way that I didn’t in high school. It’s more about the enjoyment that I get out of it and the enjoyment that the audience gets out of it.”
A French and history double major, Clara said she cannot help but integrate her love of language with her love of music.
“I think music is the most powerful way to connect with people because it’s universal,” Clara said. “I like languages too, and I really enjoy all of those ways of connecting with people who you might not connect with otherwise.”
Not only has music served as a relaxing hobby for students, but Hillsdale faculty have not failed to push students to be excellent in their passions.
Junior Stephen Richmann, 12-year pianist and economics major, commented on his instruction under Piano Instructor Katherine Rick.
“Dr. Rick has been transformative for me,” Richmann said. “Not only is she one of my best friends on Hillsdale’s faculty, she took my skills coming out of high school and just transformed me.”
Senior Gill West, philosophy and math major, never intended to study music in college. When he was offered a scholarship from Hillsdale to play drums for the jazz ensemble, he walked into a brand new world. He said that now, it’s hard for him to imagine his life without jazz.
“Participating in music has forced me to look into different types of music,” West said. “I didn’t listen to jazz in high school. I didn’t play any jazz until I came here. In the musical sense, it’s taught me a whole new area of music.”
For Ellie, music is not just about her own enjoyment. Rather, she sees it as an opportunity to offer a gift to her fellow students. She said that often she feels that fellow students come simply to support their friends performing.
“But from our aspect it’s ‘Please come hear us so we can share this beautiful thing with you,’” she said.
A great misconception, according to Stumpf, is the belief that students should solely focus on their major or minor.
“That’s not how life is,” Stumpf said. “When you graduate college, you don’t just have your job. Some people might have that, but I can’t imagine that’s fulfilling. Music can stay with you for the rest of your life.”
For Holleman, ones’ music involvement ought to extend beyond the collegiate level. College, after all, is just a part of life, Holleman said.
“Our students are going to be community leaders, on school boards, on church boards, on local politics, on national politics,” Holleman said. “If we show them how music can fit in their lives, in society, and in service to the community, then they will make decisions that show music is important in communities. We are showing how music can function in society and in the community without it being a profession.”
For Richmann, it’s even more simple than that.
“If something brings you joy, it’s almost always a worthwhile thing to do.”