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If you have an older sibling who was particularly successful in high school, then you know the scenario: All your teachers remember how much they loved your big brother or sister, and you’ve got no choice but to follow in those idolized footsteps. For us musically inclined River Campus students, the situation can be somewhat similar, living  in the massive musical shadow cast by the Eastman School of Music.

Admittedly, the music department here on the River Campus is pretty small, but it’s fairly new and definitely still growing. But this raises some interesting questions — for a university that already encompasses one of the greatest music schools in the country, to what degree are they willing to focus on their other music program just down the road? Exactly where is the University looking to head with the River Campus music department?

Before I continue, let me provide you with my perspective on this issue. I’m a member of the UR Percussion Ensemble, one of the newer musical performance groups on campus. I don’t know the specifics of our budget, but I do know that it can be tight at times, which can be problematic considering all the bizarre and exotic instruments we’d need to buy to cover much of the percussion ensemble repertoire. Beyond the weird stuff though (which, frankly, it would be unrealistic to expect such a small program to have), we’re also lacking some central, crucial percussion instruments. The most obvious example of this is a five-octave marimba, proficiency on which is an essential trait of the well-rounded percussionist.

One of the main reasons we’ve been given as to why this is an unlikely purchase for the music department to make at the current time is that they’re unsure of where to store it — marimbas demand a temperature and moisture-controlled  environment, and the department is right to want to ensure that such expensive equipment is kept in pristine condition. But to me, this seems like more of an obstacle to overcome than a reason to deny the purchase of the instrument outright.

I don’t mean to imply that percussionists are the only musicians suffering from the River Campus music department’s apparently tightened financial belt, but the fact that we rely on the department’s  instruments considerably more than other musicians (who usually own their own instruments) does creates something of a special case. I also believe that this marimba situation serves as a microcosm of my original point, which is that the River Campus music department seems to have an identity crisis. Why does their focus seem to be on reasons not to buy this instrument, rather than finding proactive ways to make its purchase plausible? And this begs a larger question: how can the University be committed to its non-Eastman musicians without even providing them with a full set of instruments?

No matter where the department is headed in the years to come, one simple fact remains: to build something, you have to start with a foundation. If the University is truly committed to building a stronger River Campus music program, it has to start by addressing the program’s current financial needs, which means making sure that our musicians have all the instruments they need to succeed.

That being said, there are certainly paths that the River Campus music department could take to build a program that compliments what Eastman has to offer, rather than simply existing in its shadow. One powerful example of this is the potential for interdepartmental research. Because music is such an essential and integral part of the human experience, there is a place for musical research in just about every field of study represented on the River Campus  — from the Brain and Cognitive Sciences to Anthropology — and I believe there is significant room for the music department to grow in this collaborative area.

Perhaps creating a music major on the River Campus with less focus on performance could also help augment the program by opening doors for non-musicians who are passionate about studying  the subject nevertheless, maybe from a more scientific angle.

The real key, however, comes down to one ubiquitous necessity of a successful department – student interest. So students, I urge you to pick back up that  instrument you haven’t played since high school, consider taking on a music minor or cluster, or at least just make it out to some of your peers’ musical performances. Who knows? By showing your interest now, you just might end up playing a positive role in shaping the department for the River Campus musicians of the future.

Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.

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