Today, we’re here with a local artist from Rutgers University, baritone Rejy Drayton to talk a little bit more about the twists and turns of music school; more specifically Mason Gross School of the Arts. Whether you are an up and coming singer, or just interested in the behind the scenes of what people do to become classically trained musicians, I truly believe that Rejy perfectly discusses his experience crafting his art.
Let’s get started with you just telling us a bit more about yourself
Sure! I am a senior vocal performance major which means that I study mostly opera, but that is just for the sake of technique. The music I perform varies from genre to genre. Sometimes it’s cabaret songs, sometimes it’s art songs.
Interesting, so if you weren’t in Mason Gross, what type of music would you want to perform?
Same things that I’d probably perform anyways. It’d probably be some pop songs. Maybe some broadway show tunes (I do that a lot anyways)
What made you decide to pursue a career in music? Did anyone have influence on that decision?
Not really. It was kind of one of those self-fulfilling prophecies where your whole life, everyone’s like “You’re gonna go to music school and be so good, and I’m so excited for the music you’re gonna make in the future.” I’m just like “..I wanna be a doctor.” So after my freshman year of high school, I wanted to do musical theater, but my mom was like, “Absolutely not.” By my senior we compromised to music education. But even that quickly changed so..
So what is it you want to do as a career when you graduate?
I hate that question. There’s a couple reasons why I hate that question. I don’t like how life is structured already one of which being at 18 years old you should have an idea of what you want to do for the rest of your life. I think that’s silly because life changes so things are going to change regardless. Now that I’m graduating, it’s the time to choose what I want to do and even then, I’m still rather young so I can’t definitively say. What I will say is I will try to sing and perform, and I’ll teach private lessons. I’m trying to get my teaching certification just for a steady source of income, but that’s not the ultimate goal you know? Maybe get a job as a choral maestro and prep choirs.
Can you describe what the day-to-day life is like of being a music student?
The day in the life of a music student? I wake up and wonder why I’m still doing it.. No, I kid, I feel like it’s the life of any other student. The only difference being that we get to do more fun things in my opinion. It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s the same thing: you wake up, you go to class, you come home, and you do homework. Our homework just isn’t sitting down and doing math, or writing papers all the time. Sometimes we’re just in a practice room and that is our homework. Or just having extra rehearsals, so we don’t have as much free time as everyone else.
So talking about that free time ( I know this is true for me), do you ever feel like the workload becomes too much? How to you manage?
Oh absolutely. I think in those moments, you have to remember to breathe, take things one thing at a time, and if you’re really struggling, just talk to people. People are so afraid to admit that they’re overwhelmed. And I think that’s the nature of music schools in general. We just have this huge chip on our shoulder, and can’t admit when we don’t know what to do. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be here, and if you know nothing, then you’re in the best place to be. Talk to the dean. Talk to your academic adviser. Talk to your friends. There are people here to help you.
Do you ever experience performance anxiety? What would your advice be to people who also struggle with that?
I find that there’s two types of performance anxiety. The first being you’re afraid to perform in front of people, and then there’s the anxiety that I have where I’m afraid to perform in front of people with there’s high stakes (i.e. being graded). So aural skills and piano were a tough time for me. I would completely lose all ability to read music. It literally looked like as if I was staring at pointillism. Not kidding. My advice for the first type of anxiety is to go balls to the wall. Just do it. There comes a time when you realize you’re doing this for fun and people are out here to see you. Whether you do a good job or not, they’re still going to love you, so just do it. That’s why when I’m in performance class, I can just get up there and sing. For the second type, you can only prepare so much. Good preparation is paramount. This way it’s less thinking on your part. Just do your best. And if your best ain’t great, that’s okay. That’s why we’re here to get better.
Is there anything you like or dislike about the music industry?
Oh definitely! I think in the world of music, we all know what it’s like to do this as a profession we are (usually) kind to each other and very supportive. However, you (as a musician) are constantly politicking. You just constantly feel like you’re walking on egg shells.You can’t tell if people are being genuinely nice, or just trying to be fake nice so they don’t ruin their reputation. I feel like if you’re the most genuine, that’s what’s going to get you jobs. Do you want a friend that’s going to lie to you and say something was good when you sounded like a dumpster fire? You need people that will actually look out for you because THAT’S how you get better. It’s just always people kissing ass and sucking up so they don’t have enemies. Inevitably, you’ll still get enemies. But for the right reasons. There is always a way for people to give constructive criticism.
So I know that you’re a senior. Anything you’ll miss the most here when you graduate?
Probably just always having something to do. And always being around my friends.
As we wrap this up, is there any final words you want to leave this discussion on?
I mean we can drag this conversation forever because A: I love to talk, and B: this is like my favorite thing to talk about. One thing definitely is that it is a lot of work and the fun is to learn the music and get to perform. It’s the interpersonal relationships that get you the jobs. A friend of mine told me that the thing that gets you jobs is what happens in the bar, not in rehearsal. Because if you’re a great person within and outside the rehearsals, that’s going to get you more jobs. Because good people hire good people, and that results in great music.
Rejy was absolutely right about the politics of the music industry. Although there are many frustrating aspects, “music as an artform is inspiring. It makes us feel something. It challenges us. It uplifts us when we need it the most. Musicians are some of the most creative people on this planet.”- Gig form Maybe, we need to stop caring so much about having everyone “like” us. Just be genuine, and make good music.