School of music students raise concerns for mental health

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Nine courses, rehearsals and ensemble practice make Jack one stressed out student. Or at least that is the thoughts of many school of music students who are feeling the crunch of one of the most demanding majors on DePauw’s campus.

Last week four sophomore members of the school of music presented a letter to the Dean of the School of Music, Mark McCoy and faculty detailing concerns from themselves and other students about the mental health of school of music students, talking specifically about the stressed out nature of the program.

“Us and some of our peers saw the overall environment and student mental health in the school of music as being relatively poor,” said sophomore Allan Whitehead.

The original document was an open letter to the faculty and Dean McCoy detailing some student concerns, but the idea has changed to include more student voices.

“It changed over to holding forums; we felt that the original letter that we wrote just didn't have enough opinions from other students.” said Whitehead.

The schedule for school of music students are packed.

“Up until the end of sophomore year, each student is enrolled in about 9 classes a semester,” said Abigail Martin, a sophomore in the school of music.

School of music students also have an hour long “recital hour” once a week where they are encouraged to play for one another and work shop. They are also required to attend 12 concerts each semester.

“Other than that, there are also lessons on your primary and secondary instrument, at least one ensemble, several music courses, and usually a class in the college of liberal arts,” said Martin.

The transition to a college level music program can also be a source of stress.

“One of the most stressful things about music for many students, especially in the first and second year, is that the activity which was once an extracurricular and a release becomes the main academic thing you are doing,” said Martin. “What was a stress-relief becomes a source of stress.”

Sophomore Sarah Blobaum, one of the students who contributed to the open letter believes a lot of the stress comes from the packed schedule alone.

“I know friends who had depression or anxiety before coming to college and have seen it resurface in themselves in the school of music,” said Blobaum.

The students presented the letter because “it was finally time for someone to step up and take the initiative,” said Whitehead.

Students haven’t felt a difference in the attitude towards mental health.

“Three years ago we started examining a process to address this,” said McCoy. Some of the ways that the school of music has been addressing the problems has been through a partnership with counselors in the DePauw Wellness Center, bringing councilors into recital hour at the start of the academic year so students knew the resources available.

When mental health declines, so does physical health, which can cause major problems for a musician.

“Our lively hood is our bodies and that needs to be respected.” said sophomore Ciara McManus.

McCoy said that the school of music is working to address mental as well as physical issues in students. Hearing loss, carpal tunnel and other such problems are common in musicians and McCoy said that they have been and are working to bring more medical professionals to come to DePauw to work with school of music students.

“A music student on any campus in America will feel this,” said McCoy who stated that music programs are second only to medicine in retention rate. “Music is an incredibly challenging field,” he said.

The issue of mental health may not be exclusive to the Music School.

“I don’t think it’s a school of music problem,” said DePauw School of Music alumni, class of 2015 Jennifer Peacock, “People put it on themselves, and I did it when I was in school.”

Peacock is now a freelance pianist living in New York City and said that the stress of DePauw could be expected anywhere.

“Any school of music that is worth anything is going to be just as demanding if not more demanding,” she said.

Peacock said that she gave up some opportunities to focus fully on her time in the school of music and said some people don’t necessarily know how to compromise.

Peacock said, “if I wanted to be a liberal arts student and have those opportunities I would have been a liberal arts student.”