By: Shuie Berger  | 

Stop and Listen to the Music

“The job or the experience?”

“The future or the moment?”

Yoni Mayer’s article “A College Course of Action” poses an important question about how we view our own experience in college. Mayer discusses the importance of realizing where we are and thus treating this stage in our lives as more than just a stepping stone. Are we here to simply get our degrees, or is it possible to gain something greater from this experience? I, like many others, have struggled with this question since I entered university. 

Our society has shifted its focus slightly more towards becoming a finance-oriented workforce. In 2017, the Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB), after being the smaller school for thirty years, overtook Yeshiva College (YC) as the largest school on campus.

The enrollment numbers at our comparatively small university are consistent with the national trends. This marked shift in our educational system is not directly a consequence of the students’ own decisions. As our society values money and education more and more, the key to success has become quick schooling coupled with a degree in the financial world. However, it is not just the business world that incentivizes this approach to a college education. As computers become more and more central to our lives, the need for programmers and software engineers has only gotten stronger. Students with a degree in Computer Science can find six-figure jobs around many corners, while a six-figure job for someone with a degree in the arts is significantly harder to find. There are many more reasons for this apparent change in education pathways, but they cannot fit in this article and merit a much longer discussion of socioeconomic trends and educational priorities.

So the question for incoming students becomes: what is the path to choose? Do you spend three years in school and find your way into the financial world, bringing in a healthy income almost immediately, or do you spend those three years getting a degree in the arts, a path that all but guarantees more schooling will be needed to make a living?

When I started YU, I was prepared for a rigorous pre-med track, filled with difficult science classes and complicated math classes. I tried to take the common path, checking off boxes to make it to the next step. As I struggled to fit each requirement into my schedule, preparing to sign up for classes was not simply a task of filling the time, but also making sure each class fulfilled as many requirements as possible, to not have to take any extraneous classes that did not help me. A three-year college experience is now the norm for pre-med students at YU, and staying for a seventh semester is becoming less common. 

However, just one semester in, I was blessed with an opportunity that changed my college experience in ways I could not have imagined. In my second semester, Spring 2020, I signed up for a class called “Early Modern Theories of Music,” taught by Professor Daniel Beliavsky. I had heard of Professor Beliavsky from a few friends who took his honors course in the fall. They told me that he was very nice but a very strict essay grader. Wary of the warnings, I decided to take the class anyway, mostly because it fulfilled a CORE requirement and a Writing Intensive requirement. In the first class, Professor Beliavsky sat us in a semicircle around the room and we all went around saying our names. This was not an uncommon occurrence, but what followed was something I had never seen.

Professor Beliavsky looked around and told us that we were going to have a hard time in this class unless we were familiar with basic musical terms and music fundamentals. He relayed that it wouldn't be impossible, but it would be much harder if we don't have that background. Quizzically, I looked around and saw that others had the same face. Was he actively discouraging students from taking the class? (Wasn’t that just a science thing?) I had believed that in the humanities, teachers would only encourage students to take their classes. After all, dwindling numbers would suggest that they need more students to sign up.

Professor Beliavsky went on to say that he was teaching Music Fundamentals, the introductory class, and that we should look into that first. I was curious, so I asked him about it after class, and he told me to observe the Fundamentals class that night. It is safe to say that I was hooked. I joined the class, which only had about six students, and we had a blast. No tests, not a lot of work and a very relaxing course. We learned the nomenclature and other basic elements of music. COVID hit in the middle of the semester, and we were forced online, but it was still fun. By often plugging his other music classes, Professor Beliavsky did a great job convincing us to continue the music track, and a few of us signed up for Diatonic Harmony and Counterpoint 1, now known as “Music Theory 1.” The subsequent two semesters were filled with laughter and learning, and Professor Beliavsky fostered a wonderful learning environment and an easygoing atmosphere. 

Towards the end of the spring semester last year, Professor Beliavsky informed us that the music major will be shutting down at Wilf, due to the extremely low numbers. Only one person graduated in 2021 with a music major, and there were none this past year. Professor Beliavsky urged me to submit the major declaration form in case I wanted to finish the major, and the school would have to honor it. If I didn't wish to finish the major, I could always drop it. I decided to try to do both pre-med and music, and it is safe to say that I made the right choice.

I don’t plan on doing much with the major, as I am no musician. But the experience of learning something that interests me is one I will cherish forever. Music has always been central to my life, and although I don’t play an instrument, I learned the theory, history and philosophy of music, culminating in an appreciation for it that I would never have thought I could have. 

I am not asking you all to become music majors—you can’t even find the major on the form anyway. However, I implore you to take advantage of the humanities classes you can. I know that many people would not take humanities classes if they didn’t have to fulfill CORE requirements. So, before you finish your class schedule, I want you to look at the music classes and other classes in the arts that are being offered. Many of them are taught by excellent professors who are highly underrated because they don't have a lot of students. A music minor took me less than 4 semesters; there are not very many credits to take. You could do whatever you wanted to do and still minor in something. As someone who is pre-med, I have no solid requirement to major in anything specific, so I  chose to major in music. This allowed me to take full advantage of YU’s assets, some of which, unfortunately, are ignored. Like many other professors in the arts, Professor Beliavsky is a gem, and I urge you to try taking just one of his laid-back classes, like Music Fundamentals. If a path in music isn’t for you, any of the arts offer similar avenues for growth while not giving up your dreams for success. 

I am not begging you to change your life plan to try this out. All I ask is to consider what you need to complete your major, and what you can do with the extra time you have. I found out that I can still reach my ultimate destination even with a music major. I know not every occupation allows a deviation from the path, but if you can, try to think about Yoni’s question. Everyone around is moving too fast to hear the music. Can you be the one to stop and listen?


Photo Caption: Man standing in a blurred crowd

Photo Credit: Pixabay