by Stephanie Gagnon, Class of 2012
I had the coolest job last summer.
Most people tend to give me a funny look when I tell them that. “You liked doing work?” they’ll say incredulously, one eyebrow cocked so high it almost rises off their face. Then they’ll complain about the long hours and low wages they got the summer before with an air of “I’ll never do that again.”
But after two summers of working at the Real School, I can still say that and be 100% serious. Here’s why:
I owe my life to music. It sounds a bit dramatic, yes, but it’s true. There is no way that I could ever be where I am right now without the influence of music. From piano lessons at five years old, to oboe lessons right up to my high school graduation, the one thing that was entirely constant throughout my life at home was the study of music.
Once I left home to attend university, I stopped taking lessons and had trouble finding a group on campus to play with regularly. It was as though a huge part of me was lost. Sure, I was still a musician, but I no longer had a reason to practice each week, or someone to coach me through a new song, or to give an expert opinion on my compositions. Where I had been known in my high school as a Musician, I found that here, I had to create my own identity without the aid of music. I was lost.
Finally, I found a choir of wonderful people and began to sing with them weekly. Little by little, I began to add in more and more musical groups to my schedule, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally formed an informal rock band with a group of my friends and began to feel fulfilled.
Last summer, the summer after my first year, I returned to Massachusetts and worked for a month at the Real School of Music in Burlington, MA. It was a relief to be back in a familiar music environment, and most of all, to be playing music six hours each day. I never realized just how much I would miss the constant presence of music in my life, but I really only felt right once I was back in an environment where walking around with a ¾-size guitar trying to play “Call Me Maybe” was considered normal.
The greatest thing about working at RealJams last summer, though, was how much I learned. I shouldn’t be surprised – teachers always say the greatest thing about their job is learning from their students – but I guess it’s not really something I expected. The students taught me about creativity and boldness, the importance of hard work even in the face of failure. They showed me that sometimes, all it takes is a few chords and with enough persistence, even the most inexperienced group can make the next RealJams hit.
The creativity and ambition of the students I worked with inspired me, not only in music but in other areas of my life. In June 2013, after two and a half years of writing and editing, I finally finished and published my first novella,Crescent. It was a massive effort, that involved staying up until the early hours of the morning and a few minor breakdowns when certain files wouldn’t load, but finally everything came together, and I was able to hold my very own novel in my hand (You can too! Crescent is for sale on Amazon here).
Despite the length of the process, it was done in the same way as writing a song. I started with an idea, then created a first draft, then continuously added more and more elements while refining the manuscript until it was finished. Then I had to create all of the non-story elements, including the cover. Finally, after two years, six months, and twenty-three days, the book was published, and a piece of art had been created, just as the students had so often created a piece of music.
Music and novel-writing may not seem to fit together easily, but I’ve found that the skills I learned while studying music actually apply almost everywhere else in my life. It’s the idea that – more than just “practice makes perfect” – “perfect practice makes perfect.” It’s trying again and again until you succeed. It’s the discipline required to sit down and go over one small passage until it’s perfect, and then moving on and going over the next tiny passage until that one is perfect, and on and on until you can finally string them all together and work on the whole piece. Studying music requires the dedication to a single task that may last months but will return a finished product that you can be truly proud of – the kind of skill that will be required in almost every other area of life.
I had the coolest job last summer.
Stephanie Gagnon is a second-year junior at McGill University in Montreal. She studied at the Real School of Music for four years, on piano with Bill Doss and on voice with Tim Bongiovanni, and joined three ensembles on keyboard and voice. After graduating from Westford Academy, she spent two summers working as an intern for RealJams Academy.