A Day in the Life
The thing about being a Juilliard student is that the more time you think you have, the less time you end up using. The days here can be long, taxing, and extremely mind-numbing, so it’s important to manage your time properly, and keep your wits about you. The length of a day varies for each student, but there’s one common denominator: we all work hard and we’re all passionate about what we do. My name is Jasim Perales, and I’m a freshman undergraduate Jazz Studies major with an emphasis in trombone. Here’s what I did on my first Tuesday of classes at Juilliard—a busy day with back-to-back classes and rehearsals that left little time for dawdling or trivial pursuits.
I like to wake up at least an hour before classes in order to properly prepare myself for the day, so I stumble down the ladder of my top bunk and head for the shower. After a hearty breakfast, I traverse through the matrix of the Irene Diamond building, wait what seems like three hours for the elevator, and limp my way into…
Jazz Piano II (for non-pianists), where I get an introduction to the class and sight-read a simple tune.
I Speedy Gonzales to Jazz Improvisation, one of the highlights of my day. Since it can be quite difficult to find time to organize opportunities to play with other people in a non-school-ordained setting, this class lets me connect with other musicians and craft a musical moment. It leaves me excited and hungry to learn more approaches to improvisation and reminds me how much I love playing with other musicians who bring a wide variety of perspectives and musical experiences to the table. I leave feeling inspired and uplifted, with a renewed sense of my musical identity and a thorough appreciation for the information left to us by the masters of this craft.
Of course all that gets torn down by the trials and tribulations of Ear Training. I understand it’s a necessity; however, I maintain that its undying usefulness might still be the death of me.
One thing I really appreciate about Juilliard is its emphasis on widening my musical palette. I listen to as many genres of music as I find tolerable (country music is the toughest), but my knowledge of early jazz was limited before I arrived. We were all put in combos when we arrived, and mine is specializing in the music of the great trumpet master Booker Little, who redefined the boundaries of jazz music with his dissonant horn lines and cutting-edge hard bop vocabulary. My combo consists mostly of upperclassmen, so it feels way out of my league, and my insecurity is apparent in my playing at this hour’s rehearsal. But I brazen through and try to stay afloat amidst all the superior musicianship in the room. Meanwhile, I’m becoming enamored of the dissonant sounds of Booker Little’s compositions. They’re all faintly reminiscent of the work of the virtuoso bassist Charles Mingus, whom I adore with a fierce passion. Though I know in my heart that I don’t quite understand the inner workings of Little’s music yet, I gain the appreciation plus the drive to absorb every record that I can get my hands on and accelerate my understanding so I can be on par with these upperclassmen who always seem to have it together. It’s not easy but it’s a challenge I most certainly welcome with open arms.
I’m filling in for a friend in his mostly-upperclassmen combo, so—more constructive intimidation. But it also turns out to be very fun getting to play with yet another wonderful band for an hour and a half. This group specializes in the music of the great trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, whom I admire but also know very little about. Since I’m not a regular member of this ensemble, I won’t have any guided instruction through Dizzy’s work, but since I’m a hungry jazz musician, I’ll guide myself through his vast and diverse musical landscape. That’s what learning is all about.
Though this day has been long and tiring, I feel like I’ve gained a lot of purpose, drive, and a general sense of where I belong in this complex and passion-fueled school. It’s also been the first day that truly prepared me for the stakes I face as well as the fun I could potentially have if I devote myself to the music and make an effort to confront that which I don’t (yet) understand. This day has also made me much more excited for the road ahead and learning more about what Juilliard has to offer and how I can take advantage of the plentiful resources crowding these halls being catapulted toward us every conceivable second. This school truly is a special place if you want it to be. And though it can seem draining, staying afloat and absorbing everything you’re given to the fullest extent can make the whole shebang worth it.
First-year trombonist Jasim Perales holds a Jerome L. Greene Fellowship