University of Pittsburgh

Undergraduate Students

Some Perspectives from Undergraduate Students in Music

Ben Clifton (Junior: Music and Mathematics) 

Ben Clifton at the PianoI am double majoring in Mathematics and Music with an emphasis in jazz. Pitt was a natural choice because my late father was a Philosophy professor here. Though I came to the University undecided, I soon realized that I wanted to pursue my passion for music. After taking several math classes I realized that I also have a passion for mathematics. In my mind math and music are the same exact thing. In math you use theorems and principles to start from an initial set of assumptions to prove what you want to prove. Jazz is the exact same thing. You practice musical techniques, transcribe solos, listening to various types of music, etc., and when you go to play, you take everything that you know as well as the people you are playing with and try to take the music to a different place. The fun part about jazz is that I never know where I am going to go!

My studies at Pitt have helped me tremendously in my musical development. I have studied with Frank Cunimondo for several semesters, one of the best teachers when it comes to harmony and reharmonization of jazz standards. He has changed the way I conceptualize music and is also an example of a teacher who really practices what he teaches.

I took Dr. Alton Merrell's Jazz Improv class and learned so much from the concepts that he taught, especially the importance of transcribing solos from the jazz greats like Herbie Hancock, Thelonius Monk, and Art Tatum. Through my music theory and history courses my study of classical music has also been reinvigorated.

When not taking classes, I stay busy as a performer as well. I play for the C.O.L (Center of Life) Jazz band and recently recorded an album with that group titled Voices. I have also played in various jazz groups and venues around town such as James Street, Little E's, the Backstage Bar (just to name a few) as well as local musicians such as Kenny Blake, Calvin Stemley, and Robby Edwards.

As far as the future plans, I intend to go to grad school for one year after my undergraduate career to obtain a master’s in mathematics secondary education. I hope to teach in an inner city school or possibly abroad with this degree. However, I also plan to pursue music professionally either on the side or full time depending on where life takes me. The way I see it, my education is setting me up for endless possibilities for what I can do later in life.

Cailyn Pease (Senior: Music and Biology)

Cailyn Pease plays the trumpetI was born and raised a Panther fan as my parents and many other family members had attended Pitt. I remember going to Pitt football games at Pitt Stadium and wishing that one day I could be a part of the Pitt Marching Band. When I began visiting schools, I realized that Pitt would be a perfect fit for me and that my dream of joining the Pitt Band could finally become a reality. 

I have had experience in both jazz and classical music.  My first musical training was in classical piano. However, I discovered jazz in middle school and immediately fell in love with it as well. I have since focused my musical studies on jazz and have performed on both the trumpet and piano.

Now that I am attending Pitt, I not only have access to an amazing biological science program — which I need for my future goal of one day becoming a veterinarian — but I also have the opportunity to pursue my love of music. At most of the other schools that I had visited, gaining a major in both biology and music would not have been a possibility. Also, the Marching Band has been an amazing experience and has provided me with some of my favorite memories from Pitt thus far. 

The musical studies at Pitt are truly unique. You don’t focus only on performance or teaching, but rather on developing a well-rounded musical background — exactly what I was looking for. I have taken classes in theory, music history, arranging, improvisation, sight singing, and ear training. 

Pitt also offers a number of performance groups, allowing one to experience the music for oneself rather than merely learn about the different styles on paper. Throughout my time at Pitt, I have been able to perform with the Marching Band, Concert Band, and Pitt Jazz Ensemble. I have also been able to attend concerts presented by the Heinz Chapel Choir and Symphony Orchestra, in addition to numerous others. Weekly private lessons are another amazing opportunity.  Through these, I gain one-on-one training and can focus on improving specific techniques and styles.

Eric Grata (Junior: Computer Science, Music)

Eric Grata on celloI decided to come to Pitt because it offered a great breadth of academic opportunities and a vibrant city, both of which I could explore affordably. That Pitt had a symphony orchestra was a requirement for my choice of school, and only after arriving did I discover just how many performance opportunities existed beyond that. The music department appealed to me because it seemed like it would be open to all. I also knew that I was interested in doing a double major with Computer Science, and that it was possible to do so within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The flexibility that students at Pitt have to pursue their interests is invaluable, and the freedom of working within the music department is even more so. Given its small size, the music department offers a level of intimacy that is really crucial to developing both musically and as a person, and the faculty is genuinely interested in cultivating a sense of home in the department. I have had the chance to know nearly all of my professors and their graduate students at a personal level and find many mentors along the way. If there is anything that I want to pursue musically, I can go directly to the person who knows how to guide me in the right direction; everyone is open and inclusive. In relation to my cello studies, there are many recitals throughout the semester where I can showcase the pieces I have been learning, and I have been lucky enough to have solo opportunities with the symphony orchestra. After-hours access to the practice rooms for music majors makes it so easy to take time out of my day and have an effective practice session. Additionally, there is a broad interest by fellow students and faculty members in chamber music that gives me so many opportunities to put on any kind of performance. There isn't more that I could be getting out of my experience here.

Andrew Slepman (Junior: Music and Philosophy)

Andrew SlepmanI am majoring in Music and Philosophy with my main musical interests in solo projects, rock & roll and some other newer genres. I am also pursuing music production and technology.

I visited a few schools in my senior year of high school, and Pitt seemed to offer the most complete city experience.  I didn't really have a specific college setting in mind; it just seemed like I couldn't go wrong with Pitt.

While my musical knowledge had been largely self-taught up until college, I realized I could learn so much more by utilizing college-level courses in music.  I'll never stop experimenting or playing loud, fast rock music, but now I can bring an intellectual edge to all my styles of playing.  One of my goals is to write scores for films some day — my own films, hopefully — and an education in composition and theory will be an important part of realizing that dream.

Initially, I struggled with the notion that I couldn't be a dedicated, passionate musician while also being a full-time student, but I’ve learned to appreciate this opportunity to study such a complex art at such a high level.  I’ve realized that my time at Pitt comprises a million opportunities for growth, musically and personally, rather than a series of classes set before me as obstacles after high school.  Pittsburgh is dense with musical energy, and if you have anything like the passion I have for music, Pitt can only add fuel to your fire.

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