When I was in the 6th grade, I wanted to play flute because “all of my other girl friends were playing flute.” My dad, having a bachelor’s degree in tuba performance, somehow knew that I would be better at playing trumpet. So…he bribed me… “You can have a pawn shop flute, or a nice, shiny, new trumpet.” Being a 6th grader, of course the obvious answer was the shiny new trumpet.
Flash forward a few years – I had become a pretty decent trumpet player, far better than I ever thought I would or wanted to be. I had learned about this arts high school, The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the summer after my 8th grade year. I made up my mind that I would attend that school no matter what. It’s a boarding school about an hour and a half away from my home that is both a high school and a college on the same campus. Because of that, it’s a one-of-a-kind school in the entire world – which meant that you needed to be REALLY GOOD at your art to have the opportunity to go there. Funny thing about that is I absolutely hated practicing my trumpet. I just wanted to play and not have to practice because it was tedious and frustrating at times. But I knew that to get in to that prestigious school, I would have to work my butt off, so that’s what I did. The best things in life come from hard work, right?!
During my three years there, I played my trumpet probably 4-6 hours a day most days of the week. I worked my way up and ended up becoming a nationally ranked trumpet player by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I had offers to play in renowned military bands, and some of the best music conservatories in the country. But while I was attending UNCSA, I realized that music was not my only passion. In fact, I realized that I also had a passion for math. Having radically different passions – on complete opposite sides of the spectrum – seemed daunting. I was attending an arts school of all things and now suddenly I had realized I really wanted to pursue math too?! Thankfully I had amazing teachers and parents who helped me navigate that situation, which led me to the University of Tennessee where I started as a double major in trumpet performance and aerospace engineering.
I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “How did you get into engineering from trumpet?!” Or the classic mouth-drop with the associated, “Wait, you’re good at both?!” Some people are probably going to read this and jump to the conclusion that people were being sexist because I was a female performing well in two male-dominated fields. But I never thought that. I attributed their surprise to the fact that, yes, I was good at two seemingly polar opposite fields. A lot of people don’t understand or aren’t willing to get on board with people using both sides of their brain. I think this is because society has gone through this major push in the last decade or more to encourage kids, especially girls, to go into STEM-related fields. Which, don’t get me wrong, I am ALL for.
However, when we over-emphasize something, it can have negative effects. It’s like drinking too much water, or eating too many vegetables – there are always consequences for too much of a good thing. Because of the over-emphasis on JUST pursuing STEM careers, I’ve seen a huge push to completely eliminate art in schools. I experienced this when I was going through school (and it’s part of the reason I left my normal high school) – art classes are under-funded, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. People don’t go to orchestras or ballets anymore. Parents aren’t putting their kids through music classes or art classes.
It is possible to have extremely active left and right sides of your brain. It is possible to be an amazing dancer, and an extremely competent computer programmer. Did you know Albert Einstein was an avid violinist? In fact, playing music was so central to his being that it helped him think while he was working on his scientific theories.
Art and science are intertwined, so we need to stop pushing for just STEM. We need to start encouraging STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Mathematics). Without art, we have no culture. And I truly believe (even without the data coming from the many studies that exist to prove the relationship between art and science) that I would not be the engineer I am today without music, and vice versa.