Music enchants both the musician and the audience, captivating them with every lilt of the next note. The beat of an instrument can carry far beyond the confines of the classroom, stretching to every aspect of life. Students in the Music department at UC Berkeley feel this enchantment and this power, and many seek to incorporate music into their futures after college. At a recent Berkeley Connect Music event, Music alums spoke about their experiences post-graduation. Each one is on a very different career path, but for all, music continues to play a central role in their lives.
Jonathan Turner’s journey didn’t lead directly to college. Playing music led him to a career as a luthier, building guitars in San Francisco. Ultimately he decided to return to school—first San Francisco City College and then UC Berkeley, where he is now pursuing a PhD in Music. He has found that the people he built relationships with through his schooling have continued to serve him as mentors. Music supports Turner not only financially, but academically, sustaining him as an educator.
Turner’s advice was to connect with similarly-interested students and faculty at the undergraduate level. “Connecting with people during undergraduate helped me do everything I’ve done at the graduate level,” he continued. He lauded the music department as being full of people who are interested and invested in helping students and setting them up for success in the future. He encouraged students to develop the mindset: “There are support systems here to help me and complete interesting projects.”
Nathan Bickart graduated as an environmental science major with a music minor in 2013. He says, “Berkeley encouraged me to be the most authentic version of myself.” In university, he could be as weird as he wanted and was constantly pushed to better himself. But even more enlightening, he found that “as an artist, being confident in yourself as an artist is the most important thing,”
Since graduation, Bickart has worked as a program manager at Urban Tilth, an organization focused on food justice and community agriculture. He started a program focusing on green-collar job force training for young people in Richmond. However, he still continues his musical pursuits as a pianist in a trio. Bickart described his work in food justice and music as “a good balance of doing stuff I want to do while also playing piano.” Bickart mentioned that most musicians he knows don’t devote themselves solely to their own music; they do corporate and wedding gigs, teach, and sometimes do something completely unrelated. Bickart acknowledged the difficulties of being an artist. “It can be challenging to be a musician in this day and age,” he admitted, especially in areas like the Bay Area where living costs are very high. People have to engage in creative ways of structuring their time while also making music they care about deeply, which, Bickart notes, “isn’t always the same music that’s marketable.”
Kristin Ho graduated in 2018 as a computer science and music double major. As a software engineer at Google, Kristin finds that music still supports her in innovative ways. Music and computer science have more similarities than one would expect: they both carry “the desire to always be breaking the boundary,” stretching limits and creating something new. Kristin rebutted stereotypes of software engineers; within her team, every member has quirks, and many of her coworkers are musicians. This helped her connect and bond with them, as “being a musician is kind of like being in a cult; you look at another person and know where you both derive meaning from.” Ho is grateful that as a software engineer, she can be flexible with her music, not being pressured to constantly create, and instead do it for fun. She elaborated that music can help support yourself emotionally, and also brings an immersive community. Even now, Kristin is surrounded by like-minded musical community members.
Ho spoke to the importance of networking as well. She wishes she had attended more of her professors’ office hours. She advised current students to do that now, since “once you start working, it’s much harder,” because once you’re out of college, your world becomes a little smaller. People who were part of your undergraduate education become part of your community, you’re banded together by your shared experiences as the world evolves around you. Ho also advised students to make the most of the immense freedom of youth. Ho went on a two-month solo journey through Europe, an experience she described as transformative.
It’s okay to not know what you’ll do with your life in the future. Turner soothed students, saying “nobody knows what they’re doing with their lives at 22”–or really ever. The education Berkeley gives teaches you “how to ask the right questions and how to navigate that for yourself.” If music is your passion, whether you pursue it as a career, a side gig, or simply a personal pastime, it will continue beating within you, adding to the richness of your life.
Written by Melody Niv, Communications Assistant