In this series, I interview musicians currently pursuing doctoral degrees. I hope their stories will give readers insights into the joys and challenges of pursuing this degree.
I recently interviewed Yulene Velásquez. Yulene is a Venezuelan singer, music educator and choral conductor, currently pursuing her PhD in Music Education at Louisiana State University. She performed internationally as a member of the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela and worked with world renowned composers such as John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov. In 2010, she moved to the United States to earn her master’s degree in music at the University of Florida. Since 2013, Yulene has worked with Make Music NOLA, the Louisiana Academy of Performing Arts and Anna’s Place NOLA. In 2015, she founded the chamber choir Schola NOLA.
ASN: What led you to your current doctoral program?
YV: Since 2014 I had been playing with the idea of pursuing a doctorate, but the time/circumstances were not right. In 2019 I finally made the move since my situation was much more stable and I wanted to finish the degree before turning 40. Not having a doctorate was preventing me from applying to certain college jobs and I became tired of that. My mindset changed in the sense that at first I was going to pursue a DMA, but by the time I actually applied, I realized that a PhD would be most beneficial for what I personally needed.
ASN: Can you give us an overview of the program?
YV: It’s a PhD in Music Education. The core Music Ed curriculum is about 15 credits, and the rest is made out of history, theory, research classes (qualitative, quantitative), electives, and the classes for my concentration (choral conducting). In total it’s 56 credits.
I started as a part-time student because I was teaching at a university in New Orleans and I was driving an hour and a half each way to make it to LSU, so my initial timeline was much longer (7 years), but I took the classes I could every summer and also moved with my family to Baton Rouge for the third year of the degree so I am finishing with dissertation and all in three years. I think most people do between three and four years. It also helped a lot that my first year was all online due to COVID-19 (2020), so that year my pace was more as a full-time student and I took classes that were lecture based.
ASN: What were some of your favorite courses in your program?
YV: Psychology of Music, Sociology of Music, Experimental Research, Advanced Vocal Techniques (loved it).
ASN: What has been the biggest challenge during your studies?
YV: Definitely balancing my roles as a mother, wife, educator, and student. You want to do it all, and you can’t afford to fail in any of those roles. My priorities have been pretty clear though, the paper is not more important than the people.
ASN: Can you give me an elevator-pitch for your dissertation?
YV: I investigated the lived experiences of young choral singers from a community-based organization in Louisiana which has been around for 32 years. I am finding trends in participants’ responses that align to previous research, but that are also very unique to this geographical area. There is intergenerational involvement, community resiliency due to numerous natural disasters, and of course the global pandemic which affected everyone. I am focusing on the psychological aspect of choral singing and its impact on the singers’ daily lives inside and outside the ensemble. I am currently coding and identifying the emerging themes. I can say that emotional self-regulation through singing (or music-making in general) is really valuable, and so needed by people of any age, musicians or not. I am uncovering a sort of music therapy approach that is born organically within the community.
ASN: What do you like to do outside of being a student/musician? How do you unwind?
YV: Unwind…I need that. I like to travel with my family, watch movies in Brazilian Portuguese, cuddle with my son, perform with a Latin band in New Orleans, watch Venezuelan comedy, play board games, stay home, and drink good coffee.
ASN: Thanks for sharing your experiences, Yulene!
Hear a performance by Yulene with the Panorama Jazz Band: