by Katie Milligan
After three years of feeling out-of-place in her music major, Emily Sulka finally found her calling within the world of music in one of the world’s most diverse music hotspots: Nashville, Tennessee.
Sulka, a senior, spent her fall semester in Nashville for a unique study opportunity with the Contemporary Music Center (CMC).
Sulka has spent her three years at Cedarville searching for a major in which she feels most comfortable. She switched three times before settling on open music studies, where her focus centers around the flute. Other talents of Sulka’s include singing and playing the piccolo, as well as dabbling in guitar and ukulele.
Ironically, Sulka discovered the Nashville program while contemplating switching her major a fourth time. After applying in February, she was accepted in March and traveled to Nashville in August for the start of the semester.
The CMC hosts a program comprised of three tracks: technology, business, and artist. Sulka was accepted as an artist and was one of 30 students who participated in the 14-week semester.
“Essentially, it’s a semester of learning the ins and outs of the music industry,” she said.
During the program, students watched and discussed movies about the music industry, wrote and critiqued their own original music, and performed once a week. The CMC’s director, Warren Pettit, worked with students to review their taped performances. Throughout the week, CMC also brought in active professionals to help their students get connected in the music industry for the future.
After 10 weeks of performances, the students went through two weeks of prep for the end-of-the-semester tour, which covers five colleges in five days. The tour traveled through Ohio and Pennsylvania, visiting colleges such as Mount Vernon Nazarene, Grove City and Messiah. The show consisted of the 13 artists performing one song each, combining to form a cohesive 60-minute concert, complete with full production lighting, sound, and LED video walls.
Though Sulka was slightly nervous for her first tour performance, she soon began to feel comfortable on stage.
“I felt in my element,” Sulka said. “I like being able to express what I want to say in my own way and connect it with people.”
Sulka said she also deeply valued the genuine support she received from her instructors. Their slogan, “No Mercy No Malice,” meant that they would be brutally honest with the students without any intended offense.
“I was given the chance to do my thing and they’d support me in whatever I choose to do,” Sulka said.
Pettit had an especially meaningful impact on Sulka. She said he set an example in Christian conduct, how to respectfully treat others, and how to integrate faith into music.
“Warren says that all music is Christian music,” Sulka said. “Because anything you write shows what you think about the world.”
Sulka said she underwent tremendous personal growth while in Nashville. Gaining valuable insight for her career, feeling support from the CMC instructors, and fostering the confidence to perform are all notable benefits of her experience.
Alathea DiGrandi, a Cedarville first year pharmacy graduate student, was able to attend the tour performance on Nov. 13 at Mount Vernon Nazarene. As a close friend of Sulka’s, DiGrandi immediately noticed a change in Sulka after watching her perform one of her original songs.
“She can be very quiet and introverted, but when she’s performing she has a very good stage presence,” DiGrandi said. “Freshman year, performance was the furthest thing from her mind, so for her to be on stage is completely a switch. She’s absolutely much more confident.”
Sulka feels that this semester abroad has been a turning point in her life. The decision to go was simple and self-motivated, and she learned many practical skills she will use in the future, both in music and in life.
“It was a place that was safe to fail, but it was a place that was safe to try things. I got a huge confidence boost, and I feel that I can be more straightforward with people, which are both huge things for me,” Sulka said.
Going forward, Sulka plans to become proficient in recording software and to teach herself more instruments in her last semester at Cedarville. To anyone considering studying away from Cedarville, particularly in Nashville, Sulka says emphatically, “Do it, do it, do it! It’s just such a good experience for someone to skyrocket their musical ability, as well as their personal growth.”
Sulka was positively impacted in innumerable ways by her experience. She built countless personal relationships with the students, staff and professionals and even intends to move back to Nashville in the near future. She maintains close contact with many of her peers, and plans to collaborate with them upon returning to Nashville.
“It was the next steps I needed for my own personal growth,” she said. “Especially just believing that I can do things and do awesome with them.”
Katie Milligan is a freshman English major. She enjoys taking Polaroid photos, eating pasta, and watching Disney movies.
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