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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Life as a UC Davis musician


How students “face the music” despite busy schedules, large workloads

Most students have enough on their plates with classes. Adding extracurriculars on top of that can stretch people thin, but it pushes them to develop time management skills and a strong work ethic. Students involved in campus-affiliated music groups take these steps in stride — specifically, with a musical beat.

UC Davis has a multitude of options for those seeking to get involved in local music and even for those wanting to be appreciative listeners. From ensembles such as jazz band to university chorus or marching band, there is sure to be a spot that fills each musical need.

For Caleb Chen, a second-year anthropology major, his group of choice is jazz band, and his instrument is guitar. His commitment requires a mandatory two-hour rehearsal once a week, plus practicing on his own. Chen balances this time commitment with his other responsibilities by coordinating his schedule beforehand.

I try to find gaps in my schedule and try and strategize what to do so that I can be the most efficient with my time. For example, I’ll try to use breaks in between classes in order to study at the library,” Chen said.

Interestingly enough, the activity that takes away from his time to study also serves as a method of relief when studying gets to be too much.

“I also try to get practicing done when I am mentally exhausted from school work, as it allows me to take a break from academic material while still being productive,” Chen said. “I enjoy playing music significantly, so I can also look forward to it as a reward at the end of a studying session.”

Like Chen, drummer Josh Zucker, a second-year atmospheric science major, has to balance out jazz band commitments on top of marching band duties.

My schedule is pretty busy with both groups. Jazz band is only on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m., so [there’s] not too much time,” Zucker said. “Marching band takes a lot of time, especially in football season and right before Picnic Day, at least 10 hours a week during those times.”

For him, spending time with friends is sacrificed in order to maintain his school work.

“It’s hard to balance. I have to stay up late many nights working on [homework] and studying, taking time away from hanging out with people if necessary,” Zucker said. “But it’s still manageable.”

Vocalist and cellist Austin Kyan, a second-year biological sciences major, faces challenges in terms of both the number of music groups he belongs, as well as his large course load.

Kyan is taking 23 units in addition to his involvement with symphony orchestra, video game orchestra and two chamber music groups. Despite this, Kyan puts a positive spin on his engagements and the time they consume.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I balance my commitments with school. I just spend very little time for myself. For example, I used to spend at least two hours a day playing video games or reading, but I haven’t done either of those things since summer,” Kyan said. “But then again, the more time I have to myself, the more I slack off on my schoolwork, so this is another way of keeping myself on task and always working.”

For all three of these players though, the struggle is worth it. For Zucker and Chen, playing music at UC Davis has positively impacted their social lives as well as helped them develop as musicians.

Being part of the campus band has been great and has introduced me to new, like-minded individuals who are committed to playing together with one another,” Chen said. “There’s also not as many people as you would have in a lecture hall for a class, so you can really get to know the people who you’re playing with. Jazz band has also been tremendously helpful in helping me to discover new music and incorporate different ideas and expand my musical vision.”

Moreover, Zucker enjoys being able to represent his school.

“I feel proud to be an example for the school in marching band at gigs and football games. Nothing but good things,” Zucker said.

For many musicians, the motivation to continue can be found in remembering their humble beginnings. For Zucker, his drumming curiosity was sparked by the video game Rock Band. Chen, on the other hand, switched to guitar after realizing his dislike for the piano in sixth grade.

“I would say that I didn’t really take [playing guitar] seriously until junior year of high school, but ever since starting guitar, I’d started listening to a lot of classic rock and blues, my main influences being Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pink Floyd, among others,” Chen said. “Music really spoke to me because it felt incredibly relatable. Many artists’ personalities aligned with mine — I am naturally a pretty shy person, and I found many of my guitar influences to be the same way. For them, music was a way to speak, and I quickly found that to be true of myself as well.”

Just as important as keeping in mind what these musicians love about their instrument, they must also remember the inspirations that fuel their playing.

“I really love the variety of sounds I can make with my cello, exploring the different ways the notes sound when I play something differently,” Kyan said. “For example, the cello can play low notes to solidify the rhythm of the piece or play high notes like a solo violin.”

Being involved in any UC Davis music ensemble requires a lot of dedication. For these musicians, it seems that the talent they foster, the connections they develop and their ability to represent their college campus make the sacrifices fade to background noise. The sound of the music they play drowns out their worries, and they make sure their climb through college is one with a good soundtrack.


Written by: Cecilia Morales — arts@theaggie.org


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