By Valérie Filloux

Dear Incoming ‘Cats (and Prospective ‘Cats, too!),

I still can’t believe that it has already been more than four years since I first stepped foot on this spectacular campus. Being a student at Bienen gave me such joy, opportunities for growth, amazing life lessons, and the best practice room views I have ever seen! I learned so much during my time at NU, and I want to share a little bit of wisdom that might help you during your Northwestern journey: 

You’ll probably overload your schedule.

With so many amazing classes, passionate clubs, and super cool productions offered at NU, it’s hard not to sign up for every single opportunity. I had the pleasure of being involved in the Ballroom Latin and Swing Team, the Renaissance Singers, Northwestern Opera Theater, Opera Projects for University Singers, and the Chapin Humanities residential college. I studied in two different schools as a dual-degree student (and pursued a whole different major that I decided to change), participated in colleagues’ recitals, and more! Your first year is the perfect time to figure out your ideal workload, so experiment with how much you participate in. You can always drop a class or another commitment. You will have time to fit in everything you want to do throughout your time here, so don’t worry about doing everything all at once.

Have fun!

For those who have read some of my articles before (see A Californian’s Guide to Surviving Winter at Bienen and Tips for a Stress-Free Recording Process) you might have noticed that I put this reminder in almost all of my advice-related pieces. It’s that important! As much as it can be tempting to spend hours in the practice room, make sure to hang out with friends and make fun plans as well. Some of my favorite college memories are going to the Christkindlmarket downtown, The Second City, BomboBar for donuts and gelato, Chicago Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Music of the Baroque, and Fox in a Box. I treasure memories of playing Guitar Hero at midnight with my dorm community, sitting in the Bienen School lobby and chatting with friends, and grabbing dinner with a friend in downtown Evanston. These will be the memories that you hold on to.

You deserve to be here.

I remember being so overwhelmed with the abilities of my classmates that I started to wonder if I really could measure up to their successes. However, I soon learned that they were feeling the exact same way. This is YOUR journey, and you have already proven yourself through your hard work during the application process! That being said, you didn’t come to college because you already know everything; you came here to learn. The goal of your education and musical training is to become the best possible version of yourself. Carry yourself with confidence, and feel assured that everyone at Bienen is on your side and wants you to succeed. If you're feeling frustrated with your progress, talk to your teacher. Also, go listen to Jordan Sparks’s “One Step at a Time.” I’m not kidding. 

Here are my final, rapid-fire pieces of advice:

  • Do not run up your dorm’s stairs when it’s snowing, as you will fall on your face. 
  • Say hello to your professors and go to their office hours; they want to get to know you and will be honored if you show interest in their work. 
  • Make your own performance opportunities: commission a composition major to write a piece for you, perform a one-person show, or put on an extra recital! 
  • Schedule your lessons early on in the quarter so that you get a good lesson time. 
  • If you are struggling, ask your teachers for help, and schedule a time to meet with them. 
  • Soak in the views from Bienen and around campus. 
  • Support your peers.

I will miss this amazing place immensely, and I hope you fall in love with Bienen as much as I did.

Best wishes!
Valérie Filloux, Northwestern Class of ‘21

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