Being a student can feel like an all-encompassing task that jostles other pursuits to the sidelines. When a big exam is coming up, practicing the piccolo or painting a portrait may seem like nothing more than a distraction.
But honouring your creative side is an important element of self-care, and even with a jam-packed school schedule, it can be done. One of my favourite musicians, Dave Longstreth from Dirty Projectors, started making music while studying at Yale!
There are plenty of talented musicians studying right here on campus. They’re in your French class, they’re studying next to you at IKB, or they’re playing on your intramural soccer team. Finding a balance between creative and academic pursuits may be difficult, but with passion and dedication, it can be done!
I spoke with 5 of these campus musicians to discover just how they do it.
Ben is a 3rd year Psychology major and Philosophy minor. In his spare time, he releases sparse and haunting piano music under the name Silas. He has an impressive vocal range and a knack for orchestration.
According to Ben, dedicating time to music and school is possible. “I find that, generally, I take my breaks from the books to play the piano, so it balances quite nicely for the most part,” he says.
At the same time, he acknowledges that it can be tough to record new projects while studying: “As far as the actual recording stuff goes, I don’t do a lot of that when I’m in school—it’s mostly during holidays, or during a lull.”
When asked to recommend a musician that everyone should check out, Ben replies, “There is one local musician I’m completely in love with, by the name of Kjel. I’m a diehard fan of him.”
Keep your ears open for new music coming from Silas soon!
Robby is a 3rd year major in Linguistics, and soon to be minor in Applied Music Tech. A skillful bassist and guitar player, Robby records and releases music under his own name.
Robby admits that it can be hard to balance music with schoolwork: “I took last term off to figure things out and work in audio and post-production.”
Now that he’s back on campus with a job at the Chan Centre, Robby has found a way to bring his music and career aspirations together. “I want to edit audio and dialogue because I like listening to things,” he says, “so I don’t feel like I’m slacking off when I listen to music.”
If you’re thinking of picking up an instrument, Robby recommends the guitar. “There’s something about the guitar,” he notes. “It can be picked up and moved places, and you can play it around a campfire.”
Coco is in 4th year and is studying Global Resource Systems with a focus in animal welfare. She also plays the guitar and sings.
She picked up the guitar at the age of 12, and started singing at 16. “Since then,” she says, “it’s mostly been just me playing around with singing and guitar.”
Like many other artists, she has struggled to find a balance between academics and creative pursuits. She notes that “there's so much expectation and pressure on us to achieve in school that music is put on the backburner.” Still, she remains driven to make musc, and plans to write and record in the near future.
At the end of our conversation, she recommended that everyone check out the music of Alice Phoebe Lou. “She’s so cool and has a really interesting style. She’s a singer-songwriter and her lyrics are really insightful,” Coco praised.
Adel is a 1st year student of both Science and Commerce. He plays the piano, makes beats, raps in French, and releases the results under the name A2L. Recently, he picked up the bass.
He admits that it can be hard to make music while studying, especially during exam season. “It’s tough mentally because I don’t know what to choose. I know I should study but sometimes I have an idea and I feel like if I don’t do it now I’ll forget about it, or it won’t be as spontaneous.”
Still, he finds a way to make it work and can often be seen playing the piano at Place Vanier.
If you’re wanting to get into music but think you’re too old, Adel advises otherwise:
“I think it really helped that I started [playing music] when I was 16. It was out of passion and not just my parents saying, ‘Hey, you have to learn music.’ It was really something that came from me.”
While he enjoys making music, his dream is to become a filmmaker. But above all, he says, “It’s really just a matter of doing art and enjoying myself.”
Sharang is a 2nd year student in Mining Engineering. He also plays guitar and sings in the local band, the Mudmen.
His musical background is incredibly broad. As he describes, “I was taught piano when I was 10, violin as well. Lots of Indian classical music also, because my mother was an Indian classical singer.”
After arriving at UBC, he formed the group Mudmen with several other students. “We’re all very international,” he explains, and so the group channels this diversity into their music. They play covers of classic rock songs, while incorporating traditional instruments from India and the Middle East. Lately, they’ve tried some rapping as well.
As all these musicians demonstrate, despite some challenges, balancing their passion for music with academics can be achieved. It’s possible to follow your creative whims while managing a busy course load, and you can do it, too!
But remember, it’s not about perfection. You don’t have to be able to sing like Taylor Swift or rap like Drake to have fun and express yourself.