In mid-August of 2009, this organ-scholar-to-be received an email similar to the ones students across the United States are receiving all this week: a letter of acceptance into an undergraduate program. Not being terribly certain that my A-level exam results would pass Cambridge’s admissions muster, I was relieved and overjoyed. So overjoyed that I had to call the admissions office at King’s College, Cambridge and inform them that a bout of excitement at my laptop had led me to not to accept my offer from the finest university in the world, and an organ scholarship at the Mecca of sacred music. Yours truly not only accidentally hit the “reject” button on the UCAS website, but also the “confirm rejection” button on the next page. We’ve all had dipshit moments, right? But I’m pretty sure this one takes the cake. (You’re welcome to feel pretty good about yourself, by the way.)
I suppose it’s fitting that this weekend of all weekends, that the sending of acceptance letters by conservatories in the United States should coincide with a very special weekend back in Cambridge. Tomorrow my classmates and I, whether in person or in absentia, will be receiving our Master of Arts degrees (the “Cambridge MA,” in slang terms) in recognition of the successful survival of the real world since our bachelor’s graduation in May 2013. The Cambridge MA is a rather funny qualification – it’s not a Master’s degree at all, but an archaic symbol that sets you apart from others who received their bachelor’s. (Oxford and Dublin have it too, bless their hearts). You get some benefits out of it: you can dine on High Table at your old college from time to time (just like Snape and Quirrel in Harry Potter), you can check books out of the University Library (one of the largest in the world) and even vote in the University elections. The requirements to receive it are funny too: first, you actually have to have gotten your bachelor’s at Cambridge, but also supposedly you can’t have gotten divorced, been to prison, or generally exhibited “unchristian” character. (Needless to say, considering my own lifestyle and that of my classmates that these character requirements are no longer enforced!) So what does it all amount to? In reality, it’s just some extra letters behind your name: M.A. Hons (Cantab). I’ll be receiving mine in absentia this week. I won’t lie – I’m kind of sad that I won’t be able to march with my friends from the Chapel to the Senate House, and join my classmates in reaffirming all of our Cambridgey-Cambridgeness in light of three years past and the ways in which we’ve changed and yet remained the same (depending on how you look at it).
Once again, it feels as if I’ve inadvertently hit “reject” on a truly wonderful experience that I would have loved to share with some of my oldest friends. That said, today I made a decision to start a new chapter in my life this fall, one that both hearkens back and represents some forward movement. Today, I was offered a place in Oberlin Conservatory to pursue an Artist Diploma. I’ll be living in New York and Oberlin both, burning up air miles and hours in airports. But ultimately I’ll be returning to my other most formative Alma Mater to grow as a musician and person, surrounded by faculty and staff who I regard as family.
While Juilliard has been a wonderful environment, it has made me recognize the extent to which the best educations I received were in England’s fens and Ohio’s cornfields. This weekend was also the final deadline to register for the graduation ceremony at Juilliard. I won’t be taking part. I didn’t miss the deadline in the least. I chose to sit it out. Juilliard’s invaluable life lessons and musical lessons aren’t really quantifiable in any ceremony or piece of paper. Such is the intensity of the education there and the insistence on addressing matters of individual artistry at every turn. It’s not a place to be nostalgic about (I mean, have you seen how ugly the building is?). It’s a place to get down to business and leave.
This week, I feel like a Juilliard student, a Cambridge alum and returning Obie. These three institutions have molded me and made me who I am. How fitting is it that this week should remind me of such?
Wesley David Parker Ramsay