Finding the Right Note: Making Music in Berkeley

Is there a place for making music in college? Or is it just a fun hobby that eventually fades away with time? Growing up, I always felt that music was destined to be in my future. My parents raised me to play piano, sing, and write music. When I was applying to college, I was conflicted as to what kind of major I should choose: something practical, analytical, and career based, like a social science? Or something more niche that I was passionate about? Ultimately, I came into Berkeley intending to be a political science major, but still determined to continue my interest in music.

Once I started my first semester at Cal, I had difficulty seeing where performance fit in my busy schedule, which was centered around school and professional development. During orientation week, I was able to listen to the musical creations of one of Berkeley’s popular clubs, Songwriting at Berkeley, which brings together musicians of all backgrounds in the common interest of songwriting. Unfortunately, the club met on Wednesday nights which conflicted with my other commitments.

Luckily, there were more opportunities for my passion to take form than I had initially expected. From my many years in local show choirs, my next pursuit was joining the UC Women’s Chorale, an all-women choral group performing at various Berkeley events that is part of the UC Choral Ensembles. My first two semesters in this group really opened my eyes to the sheer number of performing groups and musical offerings happening on campus every year.

This fall, I decided to switch from choral style singing to I’d never tried before: a capella singing. With the craze that the Pitch Perfect movie series created in the 2010s, instrument-less singing became a hot topic on college campuses, but the oldest groups date back to the 1870s. Here at Berkeley there are over 15 a capella groups, and I was fortunate enough to join the California Golden Overtones, Berkeley’s all-women group known for its diverse genres and strong female themes.

To my surprise, music is critical to Berkeley’s culture, and you probably couldn’t find such a diverse scene anywhere else. Our campus is actually home to an incredible open-air amphitheater called the Hearst Greek Theater, which has housed performers like Tom Petty, Ed Sheeran, Sara Bareilles, and many more. I actually had the opportunity to hear Hozier and Lana del Rey play in fall 2019, which were awe inspiring and affordable opportunities. Additionally, Rasputin and Amoeba Records are two music stores located on historic Telegraph Avenue accessible for students to browse modern and classic records.

At the beginning of my sophomore year this year, I decided to make the leap and pursue a double major in Music. Despite the challenges of school during a pandemic, I’m happy that I made the choice to study something that isn’t in the traditional college path, but is still something I love. Music abounds at Berkeley, you just need to know where to look for it. I encourage you to see what role music plays in your life, and follow your musical passions, both great and small.