Balancing music and academics: Student performer struggles to find her path


Junior reporter Hannah Ferguson performs at VocalizeU camp. Photo courtesy of VocalizeU

I was never that kid who was dragged to auditions from the time that I could speak. While many stars begin their life in the spotlight at a young age, my parents did not make that sort of push in my childhood. Even now, they are not willing to funnel the money into something that they are not sure I can succeed in. My passion for singing was evident from day one, but the idea of pursuing a career in singing did not occur to me or my family until much more recently. This love of music combined with my love of attention from others has, over the years, increased my desire to try to “make it” in the music industry.

I’ve sung in choirs, taken private voice and piano lessons, performed in showcases and at assisted-living homes, written songs, and starred in a musical. From these experiences, I am beginning to see who I could be as an artist in addition to formulating the message that I want to express to those around me through my music.

Thinking about my prospects in this field is exciting. However, I am still a high school student. Balancing schoolwork with singing is a battle and forces me to ask a serious question: “What do I really want?” This internal conflict has become a central part of my everyday life. As the time for college applications approaches for me, this topic becomes increasingly critical to my future. In a perfect universe, I would be able to do music and go to an academically rigorous institution. Realistically, this is not an option for me.

My primary goal is to one day be able to support a family, travel extensively and give my children everything that they want. If I choose music, the path to the same levels of financial success will be much more difficult. If I stick with something like politics or legal studies, I know that I will be able to be successful financially. Over my high school years, I have started to realize that I might be willing to sacrifice my passion for music for the financial safety of academics. The trouble is, this feeling changes day by day.

From these experiences, I am beginning to see who I could be as an artist in addition to formulating the message that I want to express to those around me through my music.

The question becomes how I want to reach my goals. I believe that I am extraordinarily privileged in the sense that I can feasibly begin a career in music, given that I will never really have to worry about money. I know that whatever path I choose, my parents can and will provide whatever money or resources are necessary. Despite this luxury, 20 years down the road, I do not want to look back and have to admit that I had it easy. There is something alluring in the idea of starting with nothing and building your own successes. While I want to make music, and while it would be easy for me to just rely on my parents, I also like the idea of pulling myself up from my own bootstraps, not those of my family.

The entertainment industry is daunting in its cutthroat, exclusive nature. I had heard this idea tossed around all throughout my lifetime, but I witnessed it personally when, a couple of years ago, I attended a program in Los Angeles called VocalizeU. It was founded by a vocal coach that has worked with many high profile celebrity artists, and it was meant to give a glimpse into what life is like in The industry. While I had fun and learned some new skills, the people I met there were all entirely serious about their music careers. The popstar Natasha Bedingfield’s sister was a coach, one boy got signed to a record label during the camp, an Australian boy released a single not long after returning home and a Japanese boy band from New York attended, accompanied by their individual agents and managers. It was, by definition, a competitive environment.

The entertainment industry is daunting in its cutthroat, exclusive nature.

Coming back from that intense hub of musical activity, I felt that I was even more uncertain than I had been before the trip about whether I wanted to be a part of that mad process or not. What I did know was that I still wanted to perform, so recently I have begun to surf the web for potential open mic opportunities throughout the city. I had seen some exceptional performers while I was at VocalizeU, and I wanted to draw from the positive things I had seen and use them to improve my own abilities on stage.


Now performing has become an odd race against time. Can I gain enough supporters before I grow too old for The Industry? While my parents consistently tell me that I have “plenty of time left in my life to do all of the things I want to do,” this is certainly not how I view my life. You hardly ever hear about someone being discovered at an “old” age, so as each year goes by, I have to question my commitment and my priorities.

As I think about all of this, it makes me nervous. The academic expectations that I have for myself have always been high, but achieving them compromises my music career. Being a Lowell student is demanding. Every day after school, I usually have a lot of homework to do. When I do get some free time, I just want to relax, not necessarily practice music. I realize hard work is what is needed to become a big star, but I just cannot seem to find enough time to get everything done while taking care of myself.