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Grad Issue: Answering the call to study music

For the final weeks of fall 2016, some students are preparing for a month-long break between terms while others are saying goodbye to UNM for the final time.

Students from all walks of life will be graduating with a hard-earned degree this December — some with more than one.

Christian Newman, a fine arts student, will be graduating with two master’s degrees after finals week: one in piano performance and one in music composition.

“I’m getting a master’s in piano performance, (which is) really exciting after having started so late in life. It took a lot of patience and meeting a lot of great teachers,” Newman said. “And for the composition degree, I’ve actually just been composing. I didn’t have a (bachelor’s) degree in it.”

Newman said he started his music career with the drums when he was 9 years old, but he found it difficult to say exactly when he got into music. He picked up playing piano just before he turned 22, and then decided to pursue an education in music.

Newman said he didn’t know what inspired him to get into music. It wasn’t so much an inspiration as it was a natural aptitude he had for music as a child, he said. Newman also credited the way music tends to connect powerfully as part of what drew him in.

“I was pulled for a while between visual arts (and music). I was really good as a painter and some other things. I don’t know what happened,” he said. “It just seemed like (making art) came easily compared to music, and something about that compelled me to pursue music more. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to take the first path that presents itself.”

While he originally only worked toward the piano performance degree, Newman said an opportunity eventually presented itself and allowed him to tack music composition onto his academic program as well.

“My teacher went on sabbatical, and while he was gone I convinced the composition department faculty, who vetted me pretty thoroughly, that I was really serious and that I would be dedicated without having that background.”

Newman said he wasn’t expecting or planning to get into music composition for his education, but rather just wanted to focus on the tasks that came with learning music at a high level. It was that desire to learn beyond his instrument that led him to the opportunity for the second degree and where he is now.

Newman said he has been teaching music composition and performance at UNM since adding the second major, which has helped him grow as a musician and a student.

“It’s kind of been coming to a realization of ‘what is there to do that would be rewarding?’” he said.

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Newman said he recently realized that the answer to that question, for him, is teaching and studying music, which is likely what he will do while he explores his options for pursuing a doctorate.

“I had a funny sort of moment. I was wrapping up all of my classes ... and there was one little statement I said to one student and then I shook their hand,” Newman said. “It was a really strange thing because it was almost the exact same thing my teacher said to me at that level in that same class, and then he shook my hand ... It was a weird ‘the torch has been passed’ sort of feeling.”

Skylar Griego is a former culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @TDLBooks.


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