by James E. Gabriel
I think people are starting to refer to me as their `professional student-friend'. They don't say this to my face, you understand, but I see them look at me with that `You're going-to-school-again?' look when I tell them that I am returning for my fifth and (hopefully) final academic experience. I didn't plan to be an eternal student, but it seems that I was always being led into the throes of yet another degree program. So, since I have been through so many schools, I tend to look at the scholastic experience with perhaps a different perspective from the first-time student.
I didn't initially intend to return to school. The reason is because of the job market within my profession. I am a musician and I perform on both the piano and pipe organ. People have always warned me that finding a good job in music would be difficult. I took them seriously with this warning, but I never knew what the job market was truly like until I decided to work a little bit in between schools. After being a personnel manager of a symphony orchestra and music director of a church, I realized that, although I enjoyed the jobs, I needed to re-evaluate my goals. I think the biggest problem is that I enjoy so many activities: teach, performing, working with people, writing music, organizing events...etc. So I had to evaluate what I REALLY want to do for the rest of my life. I found it interesting that when I asked my five year-old nephew what he wanted to do with his life, he would answer and then ask me the same question. The problem was that I wasn't sure! So I decided to phone a professor who I trusted to find out where the best professors of organ are located. He gave me a list of about five schools with great teachers, and a-hunting I went. Auditions followed, I was awarded a scholarship, and now I just have to pack!
I have to say that since I have been so busy, and since the program I am entering doesn't begin until October 1st, I've had little time to get nervous about it. I am, however, beginning to wonder why I've chosen a school so far way. I currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I've chosen to finish my Doctorate degree at the University of Washington in Seattle! Actually, I chose this University mainly for two reasons: first to study with a first-rate professor of Organ, and secondly, to `experience' the West Coast.
I guess one thing that is a big buzz-word for musicians (and telemarketers) is `networking'. Since I had studied in the Midwest and then the East Coast, I thought it was time to go to the West Coast and meet some more people and see what it had to offer. Seattle is an obvious choice because of the great school of music that is there, and also the sheer economic explosion that has occurred in recent years. So it was off to Seattle!
One of the great benefits that going to school on the West Coast has got to be the ROAD TRIP!! I decided that the best way to see the United States is to go on a road trip and visit and camp all the way to Seattle. It is something that I've always wanted to do, and this will be a chance that will not come around again once I start working full-time again - I know, I've been there. Since the start date of my degree program is so late, I decided to leave a month early and just see the sights and get a chance to experience the drive out ... this will be fun....
One thing I want to do when I get out to Seattle is to check out what Catholic things are going on - which should be interesting. Seattle doesn't have a strong Catholic tradition that many cities in the East and Midwest enjoy. A great benefit of having gone to Notre Dame is that there were so many Catholic activities for those who were inclined. I was very spoiled at Notre Dame, and then I moved to New York City! Even there, New York still had many Catholic activities to offer. I was lucky enough to be able to teach catechism for the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx, and even meet Mother Theresa in the process! But Seattle is a little different. I don't know anyone out there and finding some spiritual activities may prove challenging. The first thing I will do is check out the Newman center at the University. The centers are at many college throughout the United States and there is usually a priest available for daily Mass and other Catholic activities. Next is to find some sort of place to do some social service. I love to visit sick people, and I find it helps keep me focused on what is important in my life, so I try to carry this tradition on wherever I go. If there is not a program available, then I hope to found one so others can benefit as much as I have.
Now back to the nervousness question: Yes, I guess I am a little bit nervous about the move. It's a totally human thing to be apprehensive about going to a new place, with new people and no one to talk to at first. But I am not a shy person and haven't had much difficulty meeting people, so I look at it more of an opportunity rather than a crutch. I think it is very critical to our human development to go to a new place and meet new people. I have grown so much just from living in the many cities and meeting new friends, that I don't think I would ever change it, even though sometimes it proved to be difficult at first. Although I am a little nervous, I think it will pay off in the end.
I guess if I had to offer any advice to those of you returning to school it would be this: don't sell yourself short! First, get involved in many new activities, especially those which you would like to do but are tentative about. You will grow ten times more than if you never take the risk. Secondly, work your tail off in school and ask a lot of questions. It's been my experience that the reason why I didn't like a course is because I didn't try to make the subject become part of me, and ask questions. Finally, get involved in your faith. There are so many activities to get pre-occupied with once at school, but don't leave God out of the picture. Find time to pray, go to church and visit the sick and those in nursing homes - it is worth it. Now it's time to pack and be on my way --- wish me luck!