Music students at Grebel study in all faculties at the University of Waterloo.
Courses take a complementary approach to education and allow students to fulfill their dreams of Music and another area of study that they are passionate about. Students often discover that Music courses and ensembles are a grounding feature of their university experience, acting as an outlet for creativity and energy.
Current students and their musical experiences
Versatility of Application and Expression - Lila H.
Joint, Combinatorics & Optimization Honours Co-op, Computer Science Honours
Music is better together, and Lila adores violin for this very reason. She began playing the instrument in her city's Youth Orchestra throughout secondary school, and by the end of her high school years she taught both the violin and piano to fellow students. When Lila enrolled at the University of Waterloo for Computer Science and Combinatorics & Optimization double-major, she was happy to learn that Conrad Grebel University College offered a variety of ensembles for her to participate in for credit.
Since enrolling at UWaterloo 4 years ago, Lila has played violin and viola in the orchestra@uwaterloo and instrumental chamber ensembles at Grebel. This was Lila’s first time playing chamber music—before her interests were more aligned with orchestral and solo violin works, but the chamber ensemble at Grebel introduced her to a new world of song. “I’ve found chamber to be especially fun, since I got to meet new people who share this common interest in music and work closely on exciting pieces with them,” Lila said. “The small group size makes it easier to plan around everyone’s schedule, hear each person’s opinions, and go more in depth on pieces.” Music will always hold a place in Lila’s heart. After graduation, she hopes to participate in community ensembles and continue to play music with her friends.
As a Math and Computer Science double-major, Lila has a very heavy workload. Music is far too important for her to let get buried under her code and proofs, so she makes sure that when she plans her schedule for each term to keep her ensembles in mind and plan around them. “Playing music is a great way to take a break from my courses and other commitments, which are all focused on math and computer science,” Lila explained. “Taking some time each week to shift my focus to a different field that’s also meaningful to me, helps me de-stress and become more well-rounded.” Music can be an effective way to improve one’s mental health.
During her countless hours spent programming and practicing her musical craft, Lila discovered a strong connection between computer science and music. “In both disciplines, a foundational skillset can be applied in numerous ways to produce a myriad of results,” she began. “For example, in western classical music, you learn instrumental technique and music theory, and then you can use what you learned in performances that vary broadly in sound and expressions. On the other hand, in programming, the same languages, frameworks, and principles underlie many of the software products and CS research advancements that we use and see in different areas. I think this versatility of application and expression is a great feature of both subjects.” Lila believes that having good foundations on a subject makes it much easier to use as a tool for expression, and she is passionate about helping people develop these skills. Since high school, she has taught and tutored both music and math/CS, which she finds to be a very rewarding experience.
Grebel’s welcoming environment helped Lila make the most of her musical passion. It gave her a place to find peace, de-stress, expand upon her skills, and make long-lasting bonds.
Mental Break from Stressful Assignments and Interview Preparations - Zhuoyun L.
Biomedical Engineering Honours Co-op
There is freedom in music. “I remember back in January 2020 when COVID-19 just started to spread,” Zhuoyun began. “I was afraid, lonely, confused, and at times I felt utterly helpless. I was on co-op, and would practice my cello every day after work. It was like I could no longer feel all the mixed emotions when focusing on the techniques and dynamics of a certain piece—I felt free. Music gives me a way to escape.”
Zhuoyun was first introduced to the cello when she was young, and as she got older, she discovered a knack for mathematics and engineering. In 2014, she left her home in China to live in Toronto, and when it came time to apply for university, she found that Biomedical Engineering at the University of Waterloo appealed to her interests. Due to co-op and having family in another country, Zhuoyun spent a lot of time moving from place to place. And because of this, she found it difficult to find a music group where she could continue to perform on her cello. “I was quite excited when I found out there was an orchestra here at UWaterloo,” Zhuoyun said. “It offered me a chance to keep playing, while bringing together a great group of like-minded people.” Since enrolling at Waterloo, Zhuoyun has played cello in the in-person orchestra@uwaterloo, and now the Integrated Online Instrumental Music Ensemble.
Life as a Biomedical Engineering co-op student is very busy for Zhuoyun, but she has come up with a variety of strategies to ensure time for ensembles and proper mental health. “I dedicate timeslots to practice and attend rehearsals, and make sure there are no conflicts with classes, meetings, or work,” she said. “And now that everything is online, it is a good idea to make the most out of the small chunks of time between zoom-linked classes. Practicing my cello in these pockets of time serves as a great way to take a mental break from stressful assignments and interview preparations.”
With her analytical mindset, Zhuoyun has a complex perspective on the connection between music and engineering. “I think humans perceive and respond emotionally to beauty in the same way, regardless of what the subject is,” Zhuoyun began. “Essentially, the joy one feels when marveling at the elegance of a mathematical proof is the same as when they hear Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7.” Zhuoyun also sees a more practical and ‘hands-on’ approach to relate the two subjects. “Engineering applications can be seen in a lot of music-related occasions. For instance, the design of a concert hall with good acoustics would involve a careful selection of materials, structures, and consideration of the shape which helps to determine the reverberation time.”
In addition to freedom, music provides a comforting community for Zhuoyun. In her program, she has classes with all the same people, but the orchestra@uwaterloo helped her meet people from outside her cohort. “We would chat during rehearsals, learn more about each other, and eventually become good friends,” she said with a smile.
With the move to virtual classes, COVID has made it very difficult to feel that same sense of community as before, especially through the practice of music. But despite the circumstances, Grebel music directors have put their hearts into keeping the community together and their music playing. “I’m so grateful for all the effort that the professors and music directors put in to get the online rehearsal running,” Zhuoyun said. “They are so dedicated and enthusiastic about making good music. Now I feel like we are not missing out on anything due to COVID.” Through all the stress of the pandemic, the Music Department has provided a comfortable and fun way for Zhuoyun to keep in touch with her friends and freedom.
Creating Balance - Justin S.
Mechanical Engineering, Honours Co-op, Music Minor
Justin is a second year student majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Before attending the University of Waterloo, he performed in the Canadian String Orchestra and the Ontario Strings Association of Youth Orchestra. These ensemble groups gave Justin a strong sense of belonging, and he wanted to pursue similar opportunities in university. When the first opportunity arose, Justin joined the orchestra@uwaterloo and signed up for as many Music courses as he could at Conrad Grebel University College. Now, he has a minor in Music and participates in the winter 2021 online ensemble.
During his time studying music and engineering, Justin found that the two subjects “both bring ideas to life with the potential to reach so many people. The capacity to impact lives on a large scale is very special.”
As a Mechanical Engineering student, Justin has a very heavy course load, but an important thing he realized was that he still had time to do activities aside from schoolwork. “I found that treating ensembles as a fixed part of my weekly schedule was a way to help me do this,” Justin said. “Looking forward to ensemble helps me stay motivated and productive throughout the week.” Another strategy Justin uses to stay organized, on top of his work, and mentally healthy is by keeping all his assignment due dates in a schedule planner. “This helps me visualize my availability and works as a healthy reminder that I do have time for leisure. Simply planning ahead of time and seeking help when necessary makes things a lot more manageable.” It is crucial to keep work balanced with stress-relieving activities like music.
The online setting has made it far more difficult to run music-related events and activities, but Justin credits the Music Department for doing an excellent job in making things work. In fact, his favourite part of his Grebel experience so far has been the online chamber ensemble. “This term I have been assigned to two trio groups where we play a variety of music from different eras,” Justin explained. “I have learned so much and gained a strong interest for chamber music from working closely with other talented musicians. I am hoping to be a part of more chamber ensembles and music-related opportunities in the future.”
Deepening a Relationship with Music - Sara B.
Arts Honours: Music with an Intensive Music Specialization
Freedom, family, happiness—music means all this and more to Sarah. She was drawn to Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo because she wished to surround herself with music and embrace her passion wholeheartedly. Not only did the Honours Music program do just that, but Grebel offered a variety of ensembles and musical leadership opportunities for Sarah to take advantage of. Throughout her degree, she participated in the Chamber Choir, led as the student ambassador to the 2018 Grebel Sings initiative, worked as an Arts ambassador for the Music Department, and as student outreach at university fairs.
Before deciding to fully pursue music, Sarah started out in acting and stage fighting. She always enjoyed performing in front of others, sharing her wide range of talents with excited audiences. In Sarah’s final year of high school, one of her long-term castmates bet that Sarah would not be able to join her choir. Sarah took this as a challenge, auditioned successfully, and soon found herself in a new world of possibilities. “I found out really quickly that I loved choir as a performance method far more than anything I had done before,” Sarah said, “and am immensely thankful for my younger, more spontaneous self for trying new things.” From that moment, Sarah knew that she wanted to pursue music—to continue to sing and perform.
Sarah benefitted from the expansive Music course options offered by Grebel. “I came to the realization that there is nothing else I would rather be doing than fully immersing myself in the academic challenge that Music provides, so I have done my best to completely fill my schedule with everything there is to offer.” As a result of her hard work and determination, Sarah achieved an Intensive Music specialization—a plan-level that requires a high Music major average and successful completion of four additional Music courses at the 300-level or above.
In the future, Sarah plans on going into a performance career—“either choral or solo, it does not really matter as long as I am singing,” she said. She found that spending extra time in music classes to attain the Intensive Music specialization helped her form a better conceptualization of her potential career. “Elective courses like Art Song or Opera have really helped me figure out what repertoire I am most interested in while broadening my horizons for music I hadn’t quite considered!”
With the supportive Music Department faculty and staff, numerous course options, and the valuable Intensive Music specialization, Grebel has helped make Sarah’s dream of pursuing music as a career become a true possibility. Along the way, she has made many friends, and added that “Grebel makes going to school feel like home.”
Scholarship Support opens Opportunities - Ashley J.
Joint, Honours Biomedical Science and Honours Music
Music means everything to Ashley. “Everything. I don’t know how I could live without it. I just HAVE to sing. Music lets me express anything and everything.” As enthusiastic as Ashley is about music, it isn’t her only passion. She “loves” the challenge of science and chemistry, and “could not live without music” in her life, so she decided to pursue both her interests. At first, the thought of a Music minor crossed her mind, but Ashley realized that she wanted no limit on the Music classes she could take. So despite the intense schedule, Ashley was excited to pursue a joint Music and Medicinal Chemistry major.
When applying to universities, Ashley decided to audition for the Rudolf and Hedwig Rempel Music Scholarship given by Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo. The entrance scholarship gives two $2000 awards for four years to successful first year applicants enrolled in Music at Grebel. Ashley thought it was a longshot, since she had only just started singing seriously later in her life, but with her gifted voice and talent for song, she succeeded in her goal. “The Music faculty saw something in me,” Ashley said. “It gave me much needed reassurance that this was something I could do.” The scholarship, along with all the praise she had heard about the Music program at Grebel, made her decision easy. Since joining the Grebel community, Ashley has sung in the University Choir, sing-alongs, and joined the music Living-Learning community.
Ashley is currently on a co-op work term at a pharmacy. So far, she has enjoyed the experience to the point where she is considering a Pharmacy graduate program, and at the same time, her voice professor recently explained to her the benefits of a Music graduate program. Regardless of her eventual decision, Ashley is enthusiastic about both subjects, and plans to never stop singing and finding ways to keep her chemistry skills sharp.
It is normal for first year university students to feel anxious about making friends in a different environment than they are used to. Ashley was shy and nervous about leaving her comfort zone, afraid of being unable to find students to connect with. But then, after her scholarship audition and during her residence tours, Ashley found the answer at Grebel. “I might sound like a broken record, but the COMMUNITY is the best part about Grebel. In the tour alone, I met so many wonderful people who left a lasting impact and I knew it would be the best spot for me.” The community events and dinner table traditions helped combat her shyness, and “made [her] feel a lot better about making such a big transition into university.”
Another big draw for Ashley was the music Living-Learning community, a place where Grebel students in the music faculty bond over events, learn from upper-years and about themselves. “I got to connect with students who were just as interested in music as I was!”
Finding Harmony with Music and Language- Tessa
Honours Arts French, with Music minor
Tessa is a second year Arts student specializing in French Teaching with a Music minor. She enjoys learning languages and her dream is to become a French immersion teacher. At the same time music has always been an integral part of her life, which she hopes to incorporate into her teaching. At Conrad Grebel University College she seized the opportunity to take part in various University of Waterloo Music courses, Voice Studio, Chamber Choir—both in-person and virtually—and is currently a member of the Chapel Choir.
Tessa found that music and French have an intertwined relationship. In her French classes, she learned about different aspects of French culture, including music. In her music classes, students discussed French composers, and in her voice lessons, Tessa has been coached on how to sing in the French language. This helped Tessa understand how to apply the connections between her programs into her future goals.
After graduation, Tessa hopes to teach various subjects in an elementary French immersion school. Specifically, she hopes to teach the subject of music so she can combine and share her knowledge of the two subjects she is most passionate about. She said, “even if I’m not a designated music teacher, I plan to use music in the classroom. I think that singing and listening to songs in French is a great way to learn the language.”
Music means a lot to Tessa. It helps her socially, mentally, and academically. “For me, music has been a way to connect and form friendships with many different people. It is also a way for me to express myself, and playing instruments or singing helps me to de-stress. Learning about music has also been a great way for me to learn about cultures different from my own.”
Living at Grebel has given Tessa far more than she ever imagined: a family and home, countless opportunities to learn and grow, and experiences to last a lifetime. Her favourite part is how the University College is centered on community. “Professors make a real effort to get to know their students, and through Grebel courses, living in residence, and associating with Grebel, I have had the opportunity to connect with a lot of people!”
Complimenting Disciplines - Rachel C.
Honours Arts Legal Studies, with Music minor
Rachel is a third year Arts student majoring in Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo. As a result of her childhood musical experiences, she was drawn to minor in Music offered at Conrad Grebel University College. Rachel began taking music lessons at a young age, starting with the piano and branching out into the flute and voice later on. Since coming to UWaterloo, she has been a member of the Chamber Choir and is currently part of the Chapel Choir. As time goes on, she plans to continue singing in choirs and possibly pursue a path in teaching music.
While legal studies and music may seem to be very different programs, Rachel discovered a way to relate her two greatest passions. “The connection I see between law and music is discipline. In music you need to be able to discipline yourself to learn your craft, and law is very much the same; you must discipline yourself to learn how to look at cases, certain details, and associated laws.”
For Rachel, music is her greatest stress reliever. It eases her mind and helps her mentally prepare for challenges, “especially during exam season!”
Grebel is known for its small and close-knit community. Rachel relishes this about the College. The supportive environment has given her the opportunity to easily meet and get to know dozens of people with similar interests, many of whom have become an important part of her life and continue to support her moving forward.
Interdisciplinary Option - Amanda
Joint, Honours Biomedical Science and Honours Music
Currently in her second year, Amanda is proving that you don’t have to be in the arts faculty to pursue your love of music. Amanda is an Honours Biomedical Science student with joint Honours in Music, and is heavily involved in the ICE ensembles where she plays violin. She grew up adoring the music of Natalie McMaster and Leahy’s, and it was after attending a Natalie McMaster concert that Amanda knew she wanted to play the violin. She received one that Christmas. Amanda was heavily involved in music in high school and is glad to continue her musical passion into university, as a member of the Instrumental Chamber Ensemble (ICE).
"ICE ensembles are influenced by your decisions and what you want to play. You can choose your own music, and rehearse with your group members on your own terms, which is great if you have a busy schedule like I do,” Amanda said. “Each term the groups are different, giving you opportunities to play with different people and different instruments."
Ensembles aren’t just about the music. They are also a great place to connect. “They’re very fun, and all of the people that you meet are great people who likely have the same interests as you. It’s a great way to make friends,” reflected Amanda
You can often find Amanda tucked away on one of many cozy chairs in Grebel’s atrium, one of her favourite study spaces on campus. Apart from the comfy lounge area, Amanda also loves the community at Grebel.
“…Grebel professors will take the time to learn your name, ask you if you are okay, listen and support you if you need to talk, and encourage you to do better.” Amanda enjoys being an interdisciplinary student; it allows her to learn many different subjects and experience a variety of opportunities. She jokes that the music department is like her break from the intensity of her science classes. Amanda continues to keep many doors open as she continues her interdisciplinary degree!
Creating Music is a Joyful Experience - Selah W.
Peace and Conflict Studies, with Music Minor
“I love music. Creating music is a joyful experience for me, but it is also a meaningful connection point in my life,” shared Selah Woelk. She is a second-year student at Conrad Grebel University College and the University of Waterloo majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies with a minor in Music. Selah finds a sense of community in creating music with others and is part of various music groups such as the Grebel musical and UW choirs and ensembles. “The act of making music with my friends is one of my very favourite things to do,” said Selah. Studying music and living at Conrad Grebel has provided wonderful opportunities for both!”
Along with being a creative student, Selah is a peer leader in the Music Living-Learning Community. “I have really enjoyed being a peer leader,” expressed Selah. “It has provided me a chance to connect with fellow students, have good discussions about music, and collaborate with faculty and staff.” Sharing her love of music with others helped her make deeper connections and allowed her to have a valuable university experience. “The Music-Living Learning Community provides a unique opportunity for students from different faculties to connect over their shared love of music,” said Selah. “It is a wonderful environment to connect, learn, and grow together through music.”
“Studying music at Grebel has been a delightful experience,” shared Selah. “The small program and the chance to interact with professors regularly provide a community feeling at a world-class institution.” A Music degree can be combined with almost any other program at UWaterloo, and this allows for a richer and more interdisciplinary education. “Getting to study a variety of subjects makes me excited about my learning,” she said. “I can combine my studies in Music and Peace and Conflict Studies by taking a Music and Peace course, learn about styles of music around the world, or about the interaction between psychology and music.”
As Selah continues her journey in music, she has some useful advice for future students. “Audition!” she said. “Although you do not need to audition to begin studying Music in your first year at Waterloo, it allows you to be eligible for many different scholarships and provides an opportunity to meet professors and get a sense of the program.”
By Ashitha Mantrawadi
Growing as a Musician - Leah D.
Art Honours, with French Studies Minor
As a multi-instrumentalist, Leah Dau knows that music can be expressed in many ways. She is a member of the Grebel Chapel Choir and plays piano, guitar, flute, ukulele, and a few other woodwind instruments. As a third-year student at Conrad Grebel University College and the University of Waterloo, Leah is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a minor in French Studies.
During her first year at Grebel, Leah participated in the Music Living-Learning Community, where interested first-year students from all faculties gather to explore their shared enthusiasm for music. To connect with peers, Music Living-Learning Community offers jam sessions with other residents and study sessions/workshops from upper-year students. “Being part of the Music Live-learn community gave me opportunities to connect with my fellow music students outside of class,” shared Leah. “And I’m still good friends with some of the people I met there, years later.” By staying at Grebel, Leah found it easy to foster more meaningful connections as she was inspired by her peers.
“It’s interesting to see the wide range of interest in the music program,” added Leah. “I was surprised by the amount of interest from students who didn’t require music courses as part of their major.” Grebel's Music program allows students to combine their studies in Music with other majors and minors, such as Psychology, Biology, Environment, or Kinesiology. Students taking Music courses at Grebel study performance, music history, and theory while discovering the ways music relates to technology, film, gender, and global culture. The flexibility of the Music program allowed Leah to expand her knowledge in Music as well as push her limits as a musician. “I really feel like I’ve grown as a musician in my time at Grebel, and I look forward to seeing how much more I can do in my last few terms,” she shared.
As Leah continues her musical journey, she wishes to offer some advice to incoming students. “My advice for future students is to get involved, even if it’s scary,” said Leah. “Pushing my comfort zone was hard, as I’m pretty introverted, but the payoff in the last three years has been so worth the few months of nerves back in the first year.”
By Ashitha Mantrawadi
God Gave Me a Voice - Susan A.
Liberal Studies, with Church Music and Worship minor
“I love, love, love music! It feeds my soul and nourishes my spirituality in a way that doesn’t always need words,” expressed Susan Allen, a Conrad Grebel University College alumna who earned a Liberal Studies degree with a minor in Church Music and Worship from the University of Waterloo. With the goal of turning her 3-year degree into a 4-year honours degree, Susan returned to Grebel. Although the pandemic cancelled her convocation ceremony in 2020, Susan will soon graduate again and have the opportunity she deserves to cross the stage in triumph.
As an elementary school teacher for more than 30 years, Susan has always loved the classroom environment. “I always thought it would be nice to go to university, but it wasn’t really on my radar,” she said. “I had a teaching job and a family.”
Then, in a community choir in 2012, Susan met Stephanie Kramer, a Voice Instructor and Studio Coordinator at Grebel. She was inspired by Stephanie to fulfill her lifelong goal of attending university. “I realized I simply had more time, so I enrolled!”
Choosing music was a natural choice. “I grew up in a Baptist church, and singing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she explained. Through her studies, Susan’s love for singing continues to be strengthened by her faith. “God gave me a voice, and when I sing, I feel his pleasure,” she shared.
Adjusting to her new lifestyle was not always easy, but Susan persevered. “At first, I wasn’t confident that I could do well,” she admitted. However, the supportive community at Grebel cheered her on and helped build self-confidence. “I made friends with all the Grebel faculty and other students. They were very encouraging, and I always found an ear to talk to if I was having difficulty,” Susan said. “Everyone is your cheerleader!”
She quickly integrated into Grebel’s student life by actively involving herself with many of the activities the Music Department offers, such as recitals, choirs, worship, and more. “Susan is involved in plenty of extracurriculars,” said Angelica Allen, the Music Ensemble and Concert Coordinator at Grebel and friend of Susan. “She is vibrant, passionate, and determined. She enriches the lives of everyone she meets in those spaces, as well as her own.”
“For Susan, it’s a labour of love,” said Mark Vuorinen, Music Chair, who has also directed Susan in choirs. Going to university, even later in life, was a personal affirmation for Susan, making her experience at Grebel especially rewarding.
Susan is encouraging of people who want to go back to school as a mature student but are hesitant to commit to a new kind of academia. “You have to be confident in yourself!” She said. Susan knew that if she was interested in something, it was perfectly okay to work at her own pace. Time was no barrier for passion and learning.
As Susan embraced Grebel’s community, her experience transformed into something even more worthwhile and heartwarming. “I’ve always felt welcomed and like I truly belonged here,” she shared. At Grebel, Susan found more than just knowledge and expertise in her field. She found lifelong friends and a community who loves music and human connection just as much as she does.
By Farah Jurdi
Growing With Grebel - Joel W.
Statistics, with Music minor
Conrad Grebel University College has felt like home to Joel Woods since he was 12 years old. Following in his sister’s footsteps, Joel attended Ontario Mennonite Music Camp (OMMC), a two-week camp at Grebel that mixes music and faith with a traditional camp experience. In just two weeks, Joel felt like he belonged at Grebel. For the next five years, Joel returned to Grebel each August for OMMC, shaping exciting summer memories, his creativity, a love for music, and eventually his post-secondary path.
“By the time I knew I wanted to study at the University of Waterloo, Grebel was an easy choice,” said Joel, who is now living at Grebel as a 4th-year Statistics student with a minor in Music. With a program tailored to his interests, Joel gets the best of both worlds. “Creativity speaks to me a lot. I find music courses to be a nice balance to my otherwise math-heavy courseload,” he shared. With music classes and practice rooms a few steps away from his dorm, Grebel gives Joel the opportunity to easily incorporate music into his daily life.
Exploring the many extra-curricular activities and leadership opportunities that Grebel had to offer, Joel became actively engaged in student life. He lived at Grebel as a resident and as a don. “I loved being a don as it allowed me to give back to the community and help make this place as welcoming for others as it has been for me,” expressed Joel. He has also served on Chapel Committee, played on intramural sports teams, performed in coffee houses and talent shows, and he also plays piano during the weekly hymn sing each Sunday. “Last year, I also had the opportunity to work on staff at Music Camp, which was a fun full-circle moment for me,” Joel added.
Along with Joel’s community involvement, he also appreciates the small details that make a big difference in bringing people closer together. “Some of Grebel's traditions go a long way toward making people feel included. The fill-the-table tradition definitely comes to mind as a way of connecting people,” Joel said. “Being able to come to a meal and know that there will be people there to talk to is nice. It is really special to be a part of a place where people know and care about you.”
For Joel, Grebel became more than just a place to live and study. “I find it so fascinating to think of how much of my current life has been shaped by my mom looking online for summer camps. A huge part of my life has been centered at Grebel ever since!” Joel shared. Throughout the years, Joel has made meaningful friendships with people he has grown to love dearly, creating fond memories and relationships that he will carry with him beyond graduation.
By Farah Jurdi