Before moving to Vanderbilt, the biggest fear I had was that I wouldn’t find “my people.” During the application process, this is something my mom always reminded to look for. She wanted me to go to a school where I would not only receive a great education but find people who I connected with. I tried to keep this in mind when touring Vanderbilt, but the only time I visited campus was for my audition weekend and I had other things on my mind (not failing my theory test to name one). This left me wondering all summer if I would find people who I truly connected with here. However, after over a month, I’ve found my people and it happened faster than I could’ve ever imagined. This is all thanks to the “Blair Bubble.”
This “bubble” refers to how students in Blair tend to primarily socialize with other music students. Blair, having only about 60 first-year students, innately helps it’s new students form tight-knit bonds quickly. Also, the separation of instruments (voice, strings, brass, etc.) create an additional, even smaller, group of close friends. Not only do we have classes with generally the same people each day, but our common love for music, similar backgrounds in high school (music competitions, summer festivals, etc.) and shared experience being in Blair allow for us to connect in a way students on main campus may not find as quickly or easily. New Arts & Science students, for example, have roughly 1,000 first-year students to get to know when looking to make friends in an academic setting. In addition to this, students host Blair-only parties that allow for us to bond even more outside the classroom.
The other facet of these friendships made in Blair, however, is the nature of competition. All of us are competitive. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. Attending a music school reinforces this because, unlike certain non-music classes where everyone who meets the given standard may receive an A, there is often only one soloist, one lead in the opera, one first chair performer at any given time. And usually, your competition for these spots are your closest friends, creating a challenge which students in music schools must overcome in order to keep their relationships free of any animosity.
In high school, I was used to the petty behind-your-back comments coming from people who didn’t get the solo or role they wanted. But here, that hasn’t been the case. Last week, for example, we had auditions for solos in choir. All four of the first-year voice major girls tried out for a solo, two trying out for a solo in Hayden’s “Benedictus” and the other two trying out for a solo in Michael Barrett’s “Ndikhokhele Bawo.” We’ve all grown to be very close over the past month, but this was the first time we were faced with any form of competition between one another. I honestly didn’t know how, or if, the group dynamic would shift after this, but I did expect there to be some tension, at least at first. To my surprise, there wasn’t. Instead of letting jealousy get in the way of our friendship, we took the more difficult path, choosing to remain supportive of one another’s success even if it’s at the expense of our own.
This is what makes Blair such a special place. Not only is it one of the best undergraduate-only music schools in the country, but it creates an environment which allows its students to form incredibly strong relationships, free of toxic competition. I am so incredibly grateful for the group of people I have surrounding me in this school and can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring us all.