Electronic Music Composition Pre-Grad Intern J'Kerian Morgan
This semester has been invaluable to me, in terms of growth. Over the past few months, the IE pre-graduate internship program has taught me more about myself as a composer and about what some of the things I might have to or have the opportunity to do in graduate school. Overall, the experience has taught me, to my surprise, that the cliche of "never give up your dreams" actually has some merit!
At the beginning of this internship, I had no idea what to expect. I had already developed somewhat of a relationship with mentor Steven Snowden, but was interested in learning more about him as both a person and an artist. His experience with graduate school was of course another thing I was largely interested in. He had applied to McGill. By the time the semester had begun, I had already submitted an application for graduate admission to the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada as an MA Music Technology student. I was not very confident in my application, but decided it was best to submit it regardless. My other school of choice was New York University, which I was much more confident in. Ironically, I never submitted the application. The appeal of McGill is its emphasis on research; the appeal of New York University was its emphasis on growing as a musician. The field of music technology is sadly split in this way: many programs give precedence to either research or electronic music composition, rather than uniting the two in a balanced way.
Steve had been informed prior to the start of the semester that I planned to apply to both schools, as I asked him to write one of my required recommendations. As the spring semester began and I expressed some of my concerns about going into Music Technology, Steve played a large role in convincing me that graduate school, as with most things, really is "what you make it." This is to say that while most universities will likely encourage one aspect of music technology over the other in terms of their website and marketing, these same universities will likely have opportunities for students to explore both sides. With this information I had mostly decided that I would not go to graduate school immediately but would get some real-world experience and try again later in the future.
Towards the middle of the semester, Steve and I both decided that we would use our time together for two things: to discuss the progress of my solo project for an independent study course and to work on the concept and music for a piece he agreed to write for Chuyun Oh, one of the choreography students in the Department of Theatre and Dance. I felt that both of these projects would help me grow as a composer; the choreographed piece would be especially helpful because of the many elements involved. I was excited not only to learn more about myself as a composer but also to learn a few other tools that I could bring into my compositions. Motion tracking, live audio manipulation, and video graphics all became a part of this project; myself, a few other students, and Russell Pinkston all contributed. With this environment, I realized that the composer in me could co-exist rather symbiotically with the researcher/ programmer in me.
It was not long after this revelation that another revelation had occurred: McGill's admission decision. Finding out that my admission application had been rejected turned out to be quite a relief, as I no longer had the pressure to rush to graduate school before I was ready (as I did with my undergraduate education). When discussing McGill's decision with Steve, I expected the usual, "Oh, just try again next year," but the advice I received instead was effectively, to my delight, "Try something else." Here I was, sitting across the table from a Ph.D candidate, and being told that graduate school was not the only option. Steve suggested that I take some time to try to get a few internships or fellowships in order to get some valuable real world experience or connections. The other point in the conversation was that while graduate school can be extremely beneficial in many ways, it, too, has its limitations.
This information reminded me that few things in life are pre-determined, and that because of this, I should not necessarily view my not getting into the one graduate school I applied to as representative of the end of an opportunity. Furthermore, practically speaking, there are few reasons for a composer to get an advanced degree if s/he does not plan on going into teaching, and even so, there are few positions available.
Now that the semester has come to an end, I can genuinely say that I accomplished my goals-even surpassed them. Working with everyone on the dance piece, entitled "I Will Not Come When You Call, was so incredibly rewarding in ways that I could not have anticipated; my knowledge of effective and creative composition has increased dramatically. Working closely with Steve has given me more subjective insight into what it means to be a composer, and how I might think about music in the future, especially because I am interested in both aspects of music technology. It is the fusion of both the music and the technology which is most interesting, and if I cannot find a graduate program that I feel would give me an opportunity to explore more of both in a way that I find fulfilling, I should fulfill my needs elsewhere.
The greatest part of this entire semester, however, was the lasting connections I have made, from Steve himself to my fellow classmates that helped with "I Will Not Come When You Call." I feel that I can contact them about any questions I may have regarding technical issues as well as just to say hello. In summary, I am very glad to have participated in this program; I don't think this semester would have been nearly as fulfilling otherwise.