From Musician to Journalist…and Then Back to Musician.

It’s typical to hear college students say, “I’m taking this class that I don’t even NEED.” “How is this relative to my degree?” “When will I ever use this again?”

I am one of those students. And one of those classes I took was reporting.

As a minor in public relations studies, reporting is the pre-requisite to upper level PR classes. Let me tell you, I was ticked. I enjoy writing, otherwise I wouldn’t have a blog, but reporting is a totally different animal. First, you must purchase and study the holy AP Style bible. You must, and I do mean MUST, write everything according to AP Style, or you will receive a 75 on work that probably would have gotten you a 90 in a basic English course.

It was a frustrating class, mostly because I wasn’t good at it. I would call my mom every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after class saying “I DO NOT WANT TO BE A REPORTER. I AM A MUSIC MAJOR.” I think by midterms, the whole fine arts side of campus got the idea.

As the semester went on, I put more and more effort into the class. My first investigative reporting topic, marijuana (thrilling), had me less than enthused. I knew nothing about it, I cared nothing for it, and my sources felt the same way, making for very awkward interviews. There’s that 75 I was talking about.

I had more enthusiasm for the second assignment- reporting on the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students (ACES) at UTA. Earlier that semester I considered entering ACES, took one look at the previous years’ presentation topics (some of which included words I couldn’t even pronounce), and said, “Nope!” I had the pleasure of interviewing a member of the steering committee and told her my concerns about fine arts majors being intimidated by the program. We had a great discussion about how to include more fine arts majors in the program, and I left the interview feeling GLAD that I had the opportunity to talk to her.

Okay… so maybe this class isn’t so useless. By the end of the semester, interviews were a breeze.

My final project of the course was a feature story, and I was able to choose any topic I wanted. Of course, I had to bring everything back in to the music department. I chose to do a personality profile, which is fairly difficult. You have to basically stalk your person of choice and interview 15-20 of his or her closest friends, family members, and colleagues. STRESS MUCH? Needless to say, I did a ton of research and read a lot of feature stories about Cybil Shepherd to get the gears grinding.

I chose to interview a fellow classmate of mine, Kristin Waymel. Before you read the story itself, I have to give my personal opinion of Kristin (bad journalism, sorry Professor J). Kristin and I were never exactly friends, but we did have quite a few classes together. She was always someone I admired from afar- clearly dedicated to her studies and violin. She was never afraid to ask questions, never seemed stuck up. She was always very sweet and humble, even as the concert master for the UTA Symphony Orchestra. She suffered an injury and was held back in performing, so, I figured she was the perfect person to study. Talented, motivated, and sweet concert master suffers injury- tragic! Let’s talk about it.

Kristin, being sweet as always, happily agreed to let me pick her brain. She was the first one I interviewed, and I did not walk away with the information I expected. I ended up with a beautiful story about overcoming what can be the worst obstacle in life- yourself.

Here is what an A looks like for a music major turned news reporter.

ARLINGTON – Rousing applause sweeps through the Dallas City Music Hall as Kristin Waymel, second chair for violin in the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra, takes a bow with her peers following their spring concert. Respighi’s militant and victorious “Pines of Rome” is more than the conclusion to a concert program. It is the musical synonym to the past year of her life.

Waymel, 21, is not the stereotypical college student. She prefers soothing hot teas in place of beer, prides herself on vegan cooking, and is fiercely dedicated to her academic career. As neatly put together as Waymel is on the exterior, she is constantly overcoming the nagging perfectionist in her head.

Diagnosed with an anxiety and panic disorder in 2012, Waymel now has answers for the unrelenting pressure she puts on herself to be a perfect student and violinist.

“Sophomore year was a bad year for me,” Waymel said. “I would come into orchestra rehearsals beating myself up the whole time and be so anxious about making a mistake that by the end of it, I would be in tears and would have to hide in a practice room.”

Waymel is all too familiar with psychological disorders. Her older brother has dealt with mental illness and anxiety since he was three years old. She never wallowed in self-pity. Instead, she nurtured her brother and knew what she needed to do to take care of herself.

“It’s been a long road for him, and for us,” Waymel said. “We try to find good doctors, those who care and aren’t jerks like ‘Are you good with your meds? Do you want more or less or the same?’”

In retrospect, Waymel said she has always lived with anxiety, her earliest panic episode occurring at her violin recital when she was 7 years old.

Waymel’s first performance terrified her to the point of having to be carried in to the performance hall by her mother, Becky Schafer.

“I had no idea she was stressed out about this first strings performance until after dinner,” said Schafer. “She broke down, crying and stubborn, and said, ‘I’m not going.’ I’m just as stubborn, and I said, ‘I’m sorry but you are going.’”

Following the performance, Schafer said her daughter ran to her, smiling ear to ear.

Music performance— Waymel’s strength, passion, and gateway to anxiety.

“She never wants to put anyone out or be the problem, so she just doesn’t bring it up when she’s struggling,” Schafer said. “I think she just managed to cope with it as best she could until she got to UTA.”

In 2011, she participated in the department-wide concerto competition, an honorable opportunity in which the winner performs as the soloist with the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra. During her audition, she had a memory slip and began sobbing on stage. Waymel composed herself long enough to finish the piece. She bowed politely and tripped down the stairs.

Waymel called her mother and was inconsolable. Schafer said she was completely taken aback by her daughter’s emotional state.

“She was just a wreck,” Schafer said. “Kristin would maybe shed a tear twice a year. It was so rare for her to cry. I had no idea what was going on.”

Up to this point in her life, Schafer said her daughter had been able to cope with the pressure of being a performance major and honors student. After the concerto competition, the flood gates had opened.

“I just thought I was crazy, and I’m sure everyone else did too like, ‘what is wrong with that girl,’” Waymel said, smiling.

The irony is that even with her public emotional outburst, “crazy” is not an adjective her peers or professors use to describe her. Waymel is admired department-wide as a focused, intelligent and exemplary student.

Associate musicology professor Dr. Graham Hunt has spent a lot of time mentoring Waymel since her freshman year. He saw her potential as a developing analytical musician and urged her to participate in honors studies.

“She’s meticulous in every sense of the word– almost to a fault,” Hunt said. “She gets so into things because she’s so dedicated. She maxes it out. Sometimes it can be a drawback.”

Even if her perfectionism could be a drawback, Hunt said Waymel’s work in his upper level sonata theory class was something he could brag about to other professors. Her graphs were crisp, lines perfectly straight, arguments solid. She would come to class with questions on how she could better improve her analytical skills.

As Waymel struggled to understand and cope with her anxiety, she drove herself further into performing. She became concertmaster for the UT Arlington Symphony Orchestra in 2012.

“I would get to the music building at 6 a.m. to practice until I had class, but I would tense up while I was playing,” Waymel said. “I was sleep deprived.”

In a desperate attempt to overcome her self-doubt, she pushed herself to the point of injury in spring of 2013. Waymel suffered from muscle inflammation in her neck and shoulder, resulting in a lack of blood flow through her arm. She could not turn her neck, lift her arm, or move her wrist, and was forced to rest—a little bit.

Little did she know, this injury would lead her down a path to self-discovery, and ultimately the answer to harnessing her anxiety.

“I’ve been kind of rethinking, especially with this injury, the what-ifs,” Waymel said. “Do I want to spend all my time on practicing and injury prevention? Is that really the focus of my life?”

During spring break, Waymel brainstormed ideas with her mother. She needed a plan to discover her true calling. She wanted to somehow combine her love of music with her desire to help others.

Though she was unable to play, Waymel sought opportunities to stay involved in the symphony orchestra. She asked Dr. Clifton Evans, director of orchestras, how she could help. She wrote program notes for the semester and now serves as assistant concertmaster.

“She’s a real leader,” Evans said. “She serves whatever role I ask her to and serves it well. She’s a great student in every way.”

Serving—that was the answer. Waymel and her mother agreed that she should pursue music therapy.

“I’m pretty emotionally intelligent,” Waymel said. “I’m always counseling my friends and my students. With my own experiences in the mental health field, it’s just really something I want to be a part of.”

Though still a perfectionist in most aspects of her academic career, Waymel has learned through counseling to focus more on her quality of life. She attended her first Texas Rangers baseball game since moving to Texas from Arizona seven years ago and loves taking care of her two cats, Huxley and Tobias.

Schafer said she is immensely proud of how far her daughter has come in the last year. She watched Waymel remove anything in her diet that could contribute to inflammation and anxiety. She takes minimal medication and pursues a healthy, positive outlook on life beyond the stage.

After finally overcoming the biggest struggle of her life, Waymel said she cannot wait to graduate and pursue music therapy in graduate school. Texas Women’s University in Denton is her first choice.

“Music is so high pressure,” Waymel said. “It’s interesting now that I’m going to use music as a way to help people deal with their problems when it really, definitely exacerbated mine.”

Waymel was given the 2014 Outstanding Music Student award by the UT Arlington music department faculty, a well-deserved honor to send her into her final year of undergraduate studies.

 

 

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