My journey to Westminster Choir College began in 2009, if you can believe that. It’s been a long road — so long that I still can’t quite believe that I’m here, and that classes start this week. I think it’s only fair that anyone who reads this blog first knows all that came before. Only then will they understand what it means to finally, actually, be here.
Many people who want to get a Master’s degree do well in their undergraduate degrees, apply for graduate work, and go right to it. Some teach or work in their fields for a few years in between. Then there are some of us who have to blaze their own path, even though it feels like we’re just sitting around at a crossroad while everyone else goes whizzing by.
In the summer of 2009, I attended the California American Choral Directors’ Association Summer Conference at ECCO. CA-ACDA always puts together a wonderful few days of reading sessions, interest sessions, and talks. I like to go every year. That year’s headliner was Dr. Rodney Eichenberger, and on the last morning of the conference I conducted in a masterclass with him in front of everyone in attendance.
(I still remember the piece: a setting of “Ave Maria,” the first published work by my friend Kevin Memley. I chose it partly because I had sung it and knew it quite well, and partly because I wanted everyone in the conference to hear it and do it with their choirs. I also remember that Dr. Eichenberger didn’t change much about my conducting. He said he liked it. But he asked me to breathe lower and conduct lower. I still do that, too.)
After the masterclass was our final meal together as a conference. I sat down at a table at random with my lunch and introduced myself to the others already seated. One of them was Dr. Amanda Quist, director of choral activities at San Jose State University. I didn’t know it then, but it was a fateful meeting. Dr. Quist complimented my conducting in the masterclass, and then asked about my graduate school plans. She encouraged me to keep in contact with her and audition at SJSU. She looked right in my eyes and said, “I get it. You’re young, you’re a woman, but you’re also a conductor. I see it.” I knew then that I had to pursue a Master’s degree.
Summer and Fall 2009, I put together an application. Conducting MM applications are awfully complicated, requiring video of oneself directing and actually teaching a group of singers. I submitted my applications to Westminster Choir College and SJSU in November 2009.
In the early months of 2010, I learned that I had been rejected by WCC but invited to SJSU for an audition. The joy of the latter lessened the sting of the former. I drove up to San Jose in March for the audition. I conducted Brahms and Lauridsen and felt that the audition had gone quite well. A few weeks later I got good news — acceptance!
In April, Dr. Quist called me with big news. She had been offered and had accepted a position teaching at Westminster Choir College.
Of course I was happy for her. But it left me with only a few options. I could go ahead and do my MM at SJSU with someone else, or I could apply to WCC again the following year. She had also asked the faculty at WCC if it was possible to bring me with her, but the response was that it just wasn’t possible.
After meeting with the interim faculty who was to be taking Dr. Quist’s place while they searched for a new, permanent person to fill the position, I decided to wait and apply to Westminster again.
So it’s the summer of 2010, and Matt and I are planning on getting married the following summer. He’d been thinking about graduate school, too, so we chose to apply to several schools near each other, clustered in both Southern California and the Princeton area. We planned to pursue our advanced degrees simultaneously.
I was again rejected from the WCC Conducting MM program, but this time was asked to consider the Sacred Music MM with an emphasis in Conducting. Turns out the programs are almost identical. As far as I could tell, the Sacred Music program has classes like “History of Sacred Music” and “Liturgy and Worship Planning,” and the Conducting program has more podium time. “It sounds perfect for you,” Matt said. “Maybe even more perfect than what you had planned.” (Doesn’t that just sound like God working?)
We were well into spring and just a couple months away from our wedding when we were faced with a difficult decision. Matt had only been accepted into one school: Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles County. And I had only been accepted at Westminster. Should we both go to graduate school? Should we postpone the wedding? Should one of us defer, and take turns?
It took us a few difficult weeks of pro/con lists, prayers, and tears. We chose to get married and move to Claremont. By some miracle, I was allowed to defer my enrollment for two years.
11 June 2011 was the best wedding that ever could have been. A perfect day entirely.
Two months later we moved to Southern California and settled into CGU housing. It was a difficult way to begin a life together, making tough decisions and moving away from our hometowns. Matt’s Ph.D. program was supposed to be three years of coursework plus a thesis, but he practically killed himself taking extra classes each semester and over the summer so he would finish the coursework in two years. It seemed impossible, but he did it. By the grace of God, my husband is here with me.
There were so many blessings and things to be thankful for during our two years in Claremont. We found a church within a few months with a great women’s ministry, through which I met forever-friends. Those Thursday mornings became a mainstay to my spiritual and mental health. We became connected with The Telemachus Society and did some acting. Sprouts Farmers Market became my favourite place to shop. So many things to be thankful for, even though it was my very own Midian Valley. God made a way for us.
I’ve learned more about patience and waiting on the Lord in these last few years than ever before. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. Every time something came up that kept me from going to graduate school, I felt Him saying, “Not just yet. Wait,” by which I understood that when it finally did happen, it would be well worth it. I also was reminded of my semester abroad to England with my friend Krista. There were so many obstacles! But nothing ever made it impossible for us to go — just more hoops to jump through, more reasons to make us want to quit waiting. But we stuck it out and were blessed.
I expect that to happen again.