Thursday, October 04, 2007


How do you rate your undergraduate music experience? (Non-existent for some, I realize!) Mine was pretty much a blur. When I began my Master's in Colorado, I felt unprepared for my music history courses. I couldn't remember a thing I'd learned. Same thing for theory. I was not a very good student. I did a lot of cramming, which explains the retention problem! I did very well on papers but poorly on tests. I really needed to change my approach to learning. With hard work and a new outlook, I was much more successful in my academic studies for my Master's and Doctorate.

So, what did I gain from my undergraduate degree? While I lucked out with academics (honestly, I really was a close call in one of my final classes before graduation, which may have changed the course of my entire career!), I was learning how to become a musician. I was recently asked to write a blurb for a pamphlet for the University of Calgary Wind Ensemble (their 25th anniversary year and the conductor's 20th year with the group), and I did not have a hard time coming up with some reflections. In my four years there, we professionally recorded three CDs, and I was able to play principal on all three. (Although one CD was a continuation of the recording begun the year before I'd arrived. And I got my first big English horn solo on that one.) That's a lot for one little undergrad! I was by no means a refined musician yet (as if I'm completely "refined" now...ha...I know I still have a ways to go!), but I was learning. I'd never worked so hard for one conductor. He was down-right scary at times! We all dreaded the notes he would post on the student message board. I'd recognize that fine-point pen ink anywhere. They weren't all scare tactics though. And while I was at times scared straight, my memories aren't fear-based, they're all motivation-based. Can you believe that I was not even remotely interested in playing in orchestra for the entire time of my undergrad? Wind ensemble was the place to be. I even graduated with the thought that I might go on to play in a professional wind ensemble some day. (And there are really not very many out there outside of the armed forces groups. I considered Tokyo or Dallas.)

When I started my Master's, I thought I'd continue along this line. (By the way, I'd been playing in orchestras for several years, outside of college, so I wasn't completely oblivious to this line of work! I loved it as well.) At my placement audition in my first year, I had the crazy notion to mention that I'd be more interested in playing in wind ensemble than in orchestra! Boy, was I dumb. They were happy to oblige--there were three of us grad students and several fine undergrads to place. After my first wind ensemble rehearsal, I went home in tears. It hit me then that I'd had an unusually special conductor at U of C. This new conductor also tried fear tactics, but they did not succeed in motivating me. In fact, they had the opposite effect, and at times I had no desire to play well for this person. On the bright side, I did have a wonderful oboe teacher, and I became a good student in academia. I played in orchestra in my second year.

Where am I going with this? Some events and people change us, whether we are aware of this at the time or not. I was in the right place at the right time. I know a lot of people who feel the same way about their experience at U of C. Here's what I wrote for my "2-3 sentences" in the brochure:

I have performed with many outstanding ensembles and conductors, but my four years (1996-2000) with the UCWE and Glenn Price will always hold a special place in my heart. While the group's level of musicality was of the highest caliber, for me the camaraderie amongst the ensemble in 1999 remains unequaled. Our famous WASBE year, with the discipline, motivation, and passion required for its success, helped shape me into the musician I am today.

Dr. Jillian Camwell, D.M.A.
English horn and Oboe, Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, Iowa


Karmen said...

Beautifully stated Jill.

I've sent you an email with a few more comments . . . not everything needs to be posted in a public forum ;)

Mary K Swaffield said...

I'm all teary-eyed. You sum it up nicely, Jill.