By Ryan Dearon
During my undergraduate studies, I wanted to delve into all of my interests in a meaningful way. That desire led me to pursue a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music as part of a five-year program. Now, as a current Bienen graduate student and Music Admission graduate assistant, I receive many questions about Northwestern’s dual degree and double major programs from prospective students. Keeping in mind that every student’s path is different, I reached out to students who know about these programs first-hand—recent graduate Johannah Carmona ’22 and current students Yasmeen Altaji and Ted Deddens—and asked them some common questions I receive about the dual degree/double major programs.
Carmona: I was a double major in the Bienen School of Music studying viola performance and arts administration. The arts administration major is actually an ad-hoc music major, meaning that I created it myself. One of the main reasons I chose to come to Northwestern was to have the opportunity to study arts administration while still studying music performance at a conservatory level. As a high school senior, I was unsure if a career in performance would be the career path for me, so I wanted an education that was well rounded.
Altaji: I’m pursuing a BS in journalism in the Medill School of Journalism and a BM in voice and opera performance in Bienen. Music has always been a part of my life, but as I began exploring my passion for journalism, I valued a degree path that would allow me to pursue studies in both without compromising either.
Deddens: I’m pursuing a BM in piano performance and music education, and a BA in theatre in the School of Communication. I entered my first year at Northwestern as a piano major and added the choral track of music education that winter, then added the theatre major during my third year. Both of these additional majors were ones I knew I would enjoy, and I felt that they would make me more marketable and increase my options for employment.
Carmona: Have you seen the old Disney show Hannah Montana starring Miley Cyrus? Being a double major with music performance is like that: the “best of both worlds.” For me, the best part about being a double major at Northwestern was that I got to have a “classic” college student life, but I also lived out my dreams of performing on stage and taking lessons with my musical heroes.
Altaji: Over the course of my pursuit of two degrees, I have had opportunities to write for outlets like WNUR and interview local rising artists as well as review and photograph concerts at some of Chicago’s landmark music halls and here in Bienen’s performance venues. The most rewarding point of that process has been applying elements from my music coursework directly into my writing in a way that supports the content and translates into something meaningful for audiences with varying musical backgrounds.
Deddens: I think my favorite experience has been connecting with the communities within each program. Each area is filled with its own unique group of amazing people, and it’s incredible that I can be a part of these communities.
Deddens: Good time management is super important. Having multiple majors/degrees can be a lot of work. I would also say that being adaptable is important, as you will often need to switch focuses.
Altaji: Keeping an organized schedule throughout the quarter can be helpful, especially during midterm weeks when exams and deadlines from core classes across schools overlap.
Carmona: In addition to the essentials, such as time management skills and living a balanced lifestyle, one of the most important skills I learned to practice is self-compassion. Being too harsh on yourself for not being a “perfect student” is not only unproductive, but it also takes away the happiness and health you need to complete that to-do list.
Altaji: Navigating schedules in which classes often overlap and finding and making time to recharge and disconnect from my busy routine.
Deddens: Sometimes I feel like it can be challenging to focus on pursuing one path at a time when you are in two distinct programs. Again, I think this largely comes down to time management and adaptability.
Carmona: That last push to finish the quarter strong can be difficult. Being a double major can sometimes mean having two weeks of juries, papers, group projects, and exams near the end of the quarter, because Bienen’s final exams are held the week before non-Bienen final exams.
Deddens: Absolutely. While I’m still somewhat undecided about my long-term career goals, all my areas of study will play major roles in any potential path I take. Regardless of the path I choose, I foresee myself using all the different experiences I’ve had during my time at Northwestern.
Altaji: Definitely. Regardless of my specialization as a journalist, my musical background will always play a role in my understanding of art, culture, and the human voice. Journalism and music are both storytelling media; the foundation they share in honoring the origin and truth of a story shapes the way someone working in either industry—or both—will achieve that common goal.
Carmona: I most definitely see the two areas I studied overlapping in the future given that both of my majors were through Bienen. There are many transferable skills between the fields of arts administration and performance. Even if I am planning to pursue what on the surface looks like a career as a violist, I am happy to bring along what I have learned from studying arts administration to support me on my journey.
Ryan Dearon is a second-year voice and opera master’s student.