Meet Our Majors

Meet some of our music majors.

Prahlaad Das ’23

Hometown: Austin, TX
Majors: music, politics

What was your motivation to major in music?

When I arrived at Oxy, I thought I might be anything from a math or physics major to a politics major. I was already making music on the side but had not thought seriously about studying it. However, I soon found myself spending most of my nights making music with the community I found on campus. Through this, I met some upperclassmen who were music majors. I was inspired by their work, as well as how welcoming and willing to collaborate they were. I decided I wanted to formally become a part of the community, so I joined the major. 

What is the “vibe” of the music department?

I would say the music department is uniquely collaborative, at least in my experience. Everyone in music brings a slightly different set of expertise, from the instruments they play to the music they listen to. As a result, for every weakness you have, chances are there will be another student who is strong in that area and will be willing to collaborate. In my classes outside the music department, unless an assignment is specifically a group project, I can't ask a friend to, for example, write a paragraph of a paper for me. In my creative music classes, as long as my work is my own, professors encourage me to ask friends to play instruments or provide vocals as I need. It's a uniquely collaborative art form, and in my experience, the department reflects that. 

[Music] is a uniquely collaborative art form, and in my experience, the department reflects that.

Can you describe your working relationships with music professors?

The professors in the music department have been some of the most helpful and supportive at Oxy. During the pandemic, I fell behind in my theory class, which I was taking online. When this happened, my adviser was in communication with the course professor, and they worked with me to catch up on the work I'd missed and make sure I learned everything I needed. More recently, I asked my adviser about opportunities outside of the classroom in the musical world, and he put me in contact with an alum who started his own record label. Through this connection, I've gotten the chance to start working with the label and connect with a large network of talented people eager to help me succeed. 

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I am still unsure about my path post-graduation, but I think the liberal arts approach has left a lot of doors open for me. I feel confident not only in my musical abilities but also my writing and critical thinking skills. This has left me open to exploring paths on the management side of the music industry, and I’m even considering law school. If I'd been asked my first year what I wanted to do after Oxy, I would have definitely said I wanted to be a music producer. Although I still want to make and release music, being a music major has, ironically, made me realize there are so many other paths to take.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in Music?

Don't delay taking the theory courses! First off, some are only offered in the fall, while others are only offered in spring, so if you skip taking one for a semester you'll be delayed a year. Second, theory will help in just about every other music class you take. I wasn't surprised to use theory in my composition and production classes, but I've also found myself using it in history classes. Last year, I wrote a paper on “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane, and found myself using the theory I had learned to conduct an analysis of the famous chord progression found in the song. This helped me gather evidence in support of my thesis.


Alana Duvall ’23

Hometown: Little Rock, AR
Major: music; minor: computer science

What was your motivation to major in music?

Music has always been an integral part of my life. I’ve played piano since I was a child, and I began writing and arranging my own music in high school. There was never a specific moment of clarity in which I knew that I would major in music, but more of a gradual realization that it was what I needed to do.

What do you find most compelling about studying music?

Music has multiple applications and uses beyond composition, performance and production. It pairs well with other subjects. One could study psychology, computer science, math, a language—the study of music can enhance other disciplines and still be a substantial subject on its own. It is both academically and artistically enriching.

The liberal arts approach has provided me with knowledge of a little bit of everything, so I feel as though I have more freedom in what I choose to do with my future.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I have so many ideas of what I could do post-Oxy. I could work in the field of film scoring; I could pursue a career in songwriting; or I could choose something completely different, utilizing my recording, production and composition skills to supplement whatever I decide. The liberal arts approach has provided me with knowledge of a little bit of everything, so I feel as though I have more freedom in what I choose to do with my future.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in music?

If you love it, do it. I have found this major to be fulfilling, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Make sure to knock out music theory requirements early!

What is the “vibe” of the music department?

I have found it to be a chill, supportive environment. The faculty are often happy to help you with anything. Among the students, you will find people with different backgrounds and aspirations, each with their own intentions of fitting music into their lives. It's great to be part of a community with so many distinct personalities, all with similar goals and a shared appreciation for music.


Sydney Martinez ’23

Hometown: Claremont, CA
Major: music (music theory & analysis)

What was your motivation to major in music? Was there a specific inspirational moment?

The moment that stands out to me the most was going to the music program mixer during my first semester and feeling absolutely welcomed by every person I spoke with. It gave me the confidence to enroll in music courses that semester and study the subject that I was super passionate about.

Can you describe your working relationships with music professors?

Every music course I have taken at Oxy has been outstanding! The professors are so knowledgeable and truly care for their students. I have developed strong relationships with my professors to where I feel comfortable coming to them for any questions or advice, even outside of class.

Did you study abroad? 

I am currently studying abroad in Milan for the semester. I am taking two music courses during my time here along with an internship at a music+tech start up. So far, studying abroad has already taught me so much about my major and I have gained new skills that I wouldn't have learned elsewhere. By studying abroad I am able to take classes that count for my major that are not offered at Occidental while simultaneously learning real-world skills that are essential for my future musical career.

Studying abroad has already taught me so much about my major and I have gained new skills that I wouldn't have learned elsewhere.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I would like to work in a variety of industries that put music at the forefront. During my time at Oxy, I have been taking music+tech and audio engineering courses that have been preparing me for a future in programming and composition. However, through marketing courses and internships, I have grown to love the music business and would love to work at a record label or in the industry. Studying at a liberal arts college like Occidental has allowed me to explore different sides of the spectrum and has prepared me with the knowledge and skills needed to adapt in various career paths.

What is the “vibe” of the music department?

The “vibe” is pure friendship and fun. Everyone is extremely kind and supportive of one another, we build each other up rather than make anything a competition. We love to share what projects we’re working on and recommend music that we like to each other!


Ava Chenok ’22

Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Major: music (classical & operatic vocal performance); minor: politics

What was your motivation to major in music?

I was originally planning to major in politics and minor in music, since growing up 10 minutes outside Washington, D.C. fostered my interest in the political sphere. The music department really drew me toward it through the support it offers students. In my first year at Oxy, music faculty such as Professors Desiree LaVertu and David Kasunic provided immense encouragement and showed a desire to be involved in my success. My voice teacher, Karen Hogle-Brown, was also an important aspect in my choosing a music major, as she helped grow my voice to astounding heights and taught me foundational technique, even just in the first semester. By the end of my first year I knew I wanted to be a music major.

Can you describe your senior comps project?

For my senior comps, I connected with renowned composer Osvaldo Golijov to talk about his life as a Romanian Jewish composer who was born in Argentina and subsequently moved to Israel and then the United States. Through the lens of how his political history feeds into his music, I will be analyzing the way that music made by those in the Jewish diaspora behaves as activism. By creating art and music, you are purposefully fighting against the oppressive forces that diasporically separate the Jewish community.

[In the major] there are a fair amount of classes and work that is rigorous but fulfilling if you have commitment. The faculty are there to enrich your experience.

What do you find most compelling about studying music?

Music is made of so many different elements. In the music major you are required to approach many of these and investigate them for yourself: theory, composition, practice, production, etc. I have come to love investigating the similarities and differences within these facets and seeing how they reflect back onto my focus of choice: vocal performance. Because of this, I have expanded so much not just as a performer, but as an overall musician with a creative voice to contribute.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I have long been interested in pursuing classical music abroad. I had been planning to study in Vienna my junior year; unfortunately, the pandemic blocked those ambitions. My interest in moving to Europe specifically was certainly bolstered by classes I took at Oxy, and not just in the music department. My work with Professor Frank of the art history department expanded my thoughts on European art and architecture, and my classes in politics and Diplomacy & World Affairs inspired me to delve into the activism of that region. I am so excited to use these passions for social, academic and career goals abroad, hopefully pursuing operatic graduate school in Italy or Germany, but also interacting with the world around me and making connections from my liberal arts background.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in music?

Start early! A regret I have is not being confident in my convictions and passion for music, and getting a later start on the track. There are a fair amount of classes and work that is rigorous but fulfilling if you have commitment. The faculty are there to enrich your experience, not just inside the classroom. Making those early connections will be vital to not just your success but your enjoyment of and gratification from music.

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