Behind the Scenes: Mustang Music Majors ♫


Throwback to week four, Monday afternoon. ‘Twas the second round of stories for senior practicum and our group was totally stumped trying to come up with a new topic.

Luckily, another journalism student needed to use one of the Mac computers in the room to work on her project for another class. While overhearing our conversation with the Professor as we were trying to come up with ideas, she suggested, “well, what about music majors?” All it took was one look at each other from Maddie, Katie, Caitlin and I to run with it.

Music majors haven’t really been covered much in the news at Cal Poly. Besides the fact that they perform in shows at the PAC and that we have a really good school band, we concluded there’s not much known about them.  

How do you get in? What’s the curriculum like? What do music majors do after graduation? These are questions we asked ourselves. Our story angle: What’s like to be a music major?

Action Plan

By Wednesday, our group solidified our plans – we wanted to interview at least two music majors and the Chair of the Department. I was tasked with the PR role and hopped on it.

Caitlin decided to go with a spotlight piece on a music student for her broadcast video.

“This was the first time I did a formal video project; I learned a lot about how to set up the camera and the subject, as well as arrange a time to get good b-roll. It was fun to talk to the students and see what their plans and experiences are like. I also got to sit in and shoot video of one of the symphony rehearsals.” – Caitlin Clausen


Katie’s story focused on the academic experience of the major. For Maddie’s piece, we had trouble deciding between the theme “success stories” or “a day in the life of a music major.” She ended up going with the topic “sounds of the music department,” and recorded different people in practice rooms to gather her audio.


“My sister is a music major at NYU, so I was really excited when we chose to cover the music department at Cal Poly because I always wonder what music majors actually do in school. After hearing about all the work and time these students put in, I have a new respect for the major and department. Being able to capture some of the “sounds” of the music department for my ThingLink was a great experience and really shows what someone can hear walking down the halls of the music department.” – Maddie Reid

Our first official interview was with Brandon Webb, a senior with an emphasis in percussion. Next, we interviewed Kelly O’Shea, whose concentration is in voice and Dr. Terrence Spiller, the Chair of the Music Department. He explained the nitty gritty of the music academia for Katie’s print piece.  

“One thing that tends to set music apart is there is almost a conjoining of basic musical skills and the academic studies. Musicianship skills really develop the ability to understand music as you hear it. In the theory classes, the students learn how to read, write and analyze music in all sorts of different forms. There’s a building process across the major. We’re a distinctive program. If a student comes here, they will get an excellent academic preparation and basically you can pursue anything you want music-related. Everytime we get a program review, we get raves about it. ” – W. Terrence Spiller, Department Chair

Ending Note

Everything came together quickly for Katie’s article. By Wednesday (10/26), Caitlin and Maddie had most of their footage, but wanted to record Brandon playing his percussion. We decided to schedule with him again, but he ended up getting sick and had to push it back. Luckily, music majors practice relentlessly, so we were able to film him the next day.

New Appreciation

“Needless to say, our group left each interview in awe. The music majors at Cal Poly are some of the most hardworking people on this campus, often having twelve hour days of school. From class, ensemble, seeing and performing in shows, practice, private lessons and rehearsal (all of which are requirements), the word “dedication” seems like an understatement.” – Dani Orlandi

“I really enjoyed writing about the music major. I learned so much about a major that I think is disregarded at Cal Poly. People at this school think the hardest majors are engineering and architecture, but I have such a newfound respect for music majors. They put so much time and energy into something that doesn’t guarantee them a well paying job out of college. Talking to these students… my jaw dropped hearing about everything they have to do.” – Katie Stark


~ Dani Orlandi