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(Signpost Archives)

High schools and universities across the U.S. are emphasizing STEM learning, and schools that come up short in the budget often look to ma ke cuts to music programs. Also, arts and humanities majors often make the short list of the “Top Worst College Degrees” in various online publications.

In a modern economy where everything from advertising to stock trading relies on big data and computer coding, it is easy to see why educational institutions are increasingly emphasizing careers in science, technology, engineering and math. However, some WSU performing arts majors want to remind their peers about music’s integral role in human history and society.

Whenever somebody asks Music Education major Cara Richardson “What are you going to do with your degree?”, she gives them a big grin in return.

For as long as she can remember, she has wanted to perform music. Her parents were not musically-inclined, and they did not push her to take lessons as a child. Instead, she asked them if she could enroll in piano lessons.

“I have wanted to do music my whole life,” Richardson said. “But according to others, it’s not a ‘real career.’”

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(Kelly Watkins / Signpost Archives)

Richardson began her university education with the goal of becoming an engineer. While she discovered she hated her engineering courses, she realized she still loved mathematics; she is completing a second major in Mathematics Teaching.

Despite being close to finishing her degree in Mathematics Teaching, Richardson could not escape her desire to continue her musical career.

“I was almost done,” she said. “But music just kept calling to me. I figured that I was already in education, so I was set on also getting a Music Education degree. So literally, it is almost five years later, and I love it.”

Richardson mentally approaches mathematics and music in the same way. According to her, both disciplines require the mastery of skills.

“You cannot just have somebody explain math and music to you,” Richardson said. “They both require lots of practice. They are both symbolic. They are languages in their own right. In both, you learn how different symbols interact with each other.”

Richardson sees little difference between solving a complex mathematical problem and performing a classical piece. She believes both acts require the disciplined application of knowledge and skill. This is why she rejects the idea that a performing arts education is a waste of time and money.

“Believe it or not, there is a little bit of this attitude within the musical community, itself,” Richardson said. “It is so competitive, and few musicians make it big. It is a labor of love, but you can take the learning and discipline skills of music and apply them to other careers.”

According to Richardson, the nature of music education and instruction inherently teaches people how to deal with discomfort and how to achieve goals. She believes music also helps people learn how to more fully appreciate the beauty of life and how to acquire coping mechanisms.

She encourages music students and professionals to stay passionate about their art. She also invites others to attend the various on-campus concerts and performances. Richardson believes high school and university music programs can reach out to more students, especially minority students, by diversifying the musical curriculum to include more study of the Pop, Rock and Jazz genres.

“When you allow a human being to be creative, they become more human, more of themselves,” Richardson said. “They learn to control emotions, to discipline themselves. Plus, they have fun doing it.”

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