By Serena Lin ‘25
“You cannot count the beats. You must simply feel the music.”
As someone who is very numbers-based and methodical, this was quite a challenge.
There was something stressful about not being able to protocol-ize a music note. As I stumbled through the first semester of my beginner’s clarinet lessons, I originally expected just to “get through it” for the arts requirement, as I consider myself to be musically average, at best. (All Pomona students can take free music lessons, and they can help you meet one of the breadth of study requirements.)
But as Gary Bovyer, my clarinet professor, patiently coached me, I slowly rediscovered the joy of music. Having gone through formal music education for most of my life (6+ years of piano, 5+ years of clarinet), I had lost touch with the artistry of music, under the pressure of perfection, regiments, and strict measurements. After all, how could something as rhythmic as music have any “feeling” involved?
Professor Bovyer has taught me that music is more than numbers, metrics & rigid beats. I remembered that he had once commented that, “Piano is not merely a dynamic, it’s a state of mind. You must instill peace in your audience… how do you want them to feel?” Although seemingly abstract, I realized that looking beyond the surface and seeking empathy was a key aspect that I was overlooking in my musical journey. Slowly, my relationship with music shifted from being a competitive, cold, and measured experience to a mode of storytelling & self-expression.
Since then, I’ve decided that I will most likely continue playing clarinet for all of my time at Pomona. Listening to my professor’s musings on philosophy and the meaning of life & its connection to music is quite a liberal arts experience—nothing is too obscure to connect.
In addition, this musical journey has led me to discover the importance of being intentionally unintentional. Sometimes, being “unproductive” can make you more productive. Despite being a neuroscience major on the pre-business track, being at a small college that focuses on developing well-rounded students encourages me to try new things that aren’t directly related to my future “career.” Allowing my mind to play with a different headspace (rather than crunching numbers or writing essays) actually has made me more focused when I return to those tasks. Sometimes, inspiration strikes when you aren’t looking for it!