For Penn State students looking to carve out a career in the arts, college can be stressful, demanding and overwhelming. This is the case for all students at Penn State, but some students in the arts say they have a completely different workload that causes their mental health to require special attention.
“When I was deciding what major I was going to pursue, I really did not think my life would be complete without music,” Ariel McCoy said. “I decided to pursue a career in music, even knowing the difficulties that would come with it.”
Josamarie Stalcar went through a similar process while choosing to pursue music.
“In high school, the band room was always a safe place for me to grow, learn, and be myself,” Stalcar (sophomore- music education) said. “Music has given me the opportunity to become the person I am today and has helped me to get through every struggle in my life, no matter how big or small.”
McCoy (sophomore-music performance and music education) said she thinks people who are not music majors do not fully understand how difficult the major can be.
“We are similar to athletes. We have minimal time to study for schoolwork as most of our time is dedicated to perfecting, practicing, and performing our ‘sport,’” Tara Hoellein , a graduate music student who has been in school for music for eight years, said.
Before even beginning music school, the audition process was stressful, according to McCoy.
“We first had to be selected by a panel through an audition process, which filtered hundreds of people into the select few that became my class,” McCoy said.
The coursework for music majors is also quite different from the standard Penn State curriculum.
“Our schedules are tailored specifically to what semester and year we’re in, which does not really give us much wiggle room when it comes to scheduling,” McCoy said. “My schedule, for example, I’m taking 11 classes, and nine of them are music focused. What is also a surprising number is that I am receiving 21 credits for 11 classes. This is because many of my classes are only worth 1 credit, even if they meet two to four hours a week.”
Stalcar is taking 22 credits this semester that are distributed into 13 classes. She is also a member of the Blue Band.
“There are times where I show people my schedule and the first thing they say is ‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’ People always say that the music major is the ‘fun major,’ but they don’t acknowledge how stressful it can truly be,” Stalcar said.
Moreover, students balance many other responsibilities aside from classes. Hoellein describes her typical days as being devoted mostly to school, but she still works a part time job and is a member of music ensembles.
“Musicians not only have many music classes and homework, but in addition there is personal practicing, practicing for the orchestra you're in, and any additional groups you may be a part of. There is also the fact that most of us work while going to school,” Hoellein (graduate- professional performance) said. “Sacrifice is a big part of being a musician because you give up a lot of personal time to dedicate to your instrument.”
McCoy described her typical weekday as “absolutely wild.” She typically sleeps for six hours a night, then heads to class for approximately five hours and practices her instrument for about four hours. She is still involved in other extracurricular activities and clubs that also take up a portion of her day.
“I am nonstop, and the day can go by so quickly, or drag on for what feels like forever,” McCoy said.
Like McCoy, Hoellein said she struggles to find time to sleep. She said she prefers eight hours of sleep, but only gets five hours on many nights due to her schedule and responsibilities.
With a schedule so demanding, McCoy said practicing self-care is essential.
“There are a lot of little things I have to do throughout the day that keeps me going, even if it seems like a normal, automatic thing to do for others,” McCoy said. “Eating is honestly the number one thing that can be easily forgotten, and one of the best things that I can do for myself to recover and reenergize in the day.”
McCoy also said she likes to exercise and listen to music to de-stress.
“Making sure I eat healthy is the most important thing for me right now,” Stalcar said. “I find myself eating unhealthy foods to get myself through the day when I get too busy, so it’s important that I prep snacks and food that’ll give me energy and keep me healthy.”
Hoellein believes in exercise, yoga, and a good diet to maintain sanity and health during busy semesters.
Since much of her life revolves around music, McCoy thinks maintaining good mental health while practicing in essential.
“Even in the practice room I have to practice self-care. If I walk into my practice session not mentally prepared, it is just a waste of time,” McCoy said. “I considered practicing to be therapeutic at times, because it is just me and my instrument, and I can use that time for whatever I need to do in order to become better and achieve my goals, even if my goals are small that day like looking at one page of music or improving my practice techniques.”
These students are in their demanding major because they are passionate about it, and they said they could not imagine themselves doing anything different.
“While I love what I do for this major, I can’t deny that it is causing me to burnout. The stress from the amount of classes and classwork, the critiquing on your performances, and the need to be perfect in performance starts to weigh on you,” Stalcar said. “Being a performer is incredibly difficult because there is absolutely no room for error.”
But, McCoy said learning self-care and time management is essential to success as a music student.
“Perseverance and time management is very important, because burnout is the hardest thing to go through for any student really, and there is no time to stop and recover, and it happens often as a music student,” McCoy said. “It is like pacing yourself when you're trying to not just complete, but win a marathon.”