Unsure if she would be able to make a living as a musician, ArtSmart mentor Agnes Kalinowski began college as a math education major. Unhappy in her chosen major, she knew something had to change. By switching majors and meeting an influential music mentor, the trajectory of her life shifted towards a thriving career in music.

If it hadn’t been for my mentors in music, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Today, all my work involves music, and I’m fully supporting myself through jobs in music education, music ministry, and performing. Just a few years ago, it didn’t seem like music was a viable option to pursue. My parents emigrated from Poland to the United States, so I was always encouraged to take the practical and safe route to support myself. “Why don’t you become a math teacher like me?” said my mom. “They need them everywhere!” Not to mention, I didn’t come from a musical family. I’m the only musician, and always wished I could share my joy and passion of music with them. No one plays anything, and there is only singing in the shower if you’re lucky to catch it! Thanks to my first mentor, my piano teacher Mrs. Megale, I was given the opportunity and real introduction into the world of music. She gave me the opportunity to accompany all the various choirs and soloists on the piano in my high school, and encouraged me to join the music ensembles and classes. I became a part of every music class and extracurricular music activity I could: show choir, women’s glee club, concert choir, musicals, talent shows, AP music theory, and a new opera class which allowed us to compose our own musical in which I led the music composition. I took it all in, and was blessed to have these opportunities. Mrs. Megale also worked towards helping me and some classmates to audition and eventually join the New Jersey All State Jazz Choir. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Megale seeing my potential and always asking of my best, I would not have received the fantastic foundation in music that has served me in my profession, time and time again.

Finally, my senior year came and I had to make the decision on where I was going to study and in what. I had become known school wide as the piano girl and the Star Spangled Banner girl, because at so many school events I was either singing or accompanying. My dad watched me go for four years from rehearsal to practicing at home to concerts, and always joked, “Do you even have time for your homework? It looks like schoolwork is your extracurricular activity.” Simply put, music had become my life. I applied to many schools and was accepted for two majors: math education and music education in piano and choral studies. In the end, I decided to attend The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in Pennington, NJ, to study secondary math education. I thought, maybe it’s time to try something new and focus on something that may guarantee me with a job when I graduate. So I decided to put aside my endeavors in music and put my full attention on studying math.

I began my freshman year at TCNJ, and decided to see if maybe music had just been a part of my journey and that it was time to give it up for what’s to come next. All things considered, it was a difficult and overwhelming transition for me and by the time the fall semester ended, I was unsettled, felt lost, and most days asked myself – where is my life going? Perhaps I miss music and joining a choir class and extracurricular choir could be the answer! So I signed up next semester for the women’s choral ensemble and became a member of a choir called i-Tunes A Cappella (International Tunes) which sang a cappella music from all over the world in all languages.

My career changing moment occurred when I had to audition for the women’s choral ensemble. The audition was conducted by our choir professor Dr. Leonard, and he assured us that it was more for him to see what his singers were capable of and if it was a good fit. So I sang some scales up and down, we did some ear training, and finally I sang an excerpt of a piece we learned. The next words that came out of his mouth have stayed with me till this day. “Agnes, you should be a voice major.” That was the moment that Dr. Leonard became a mentor to me (pictured). I had always dreamed of singing, but everyone always just identified me as the piano girl, including myself, despite always wanting to sing as my primary instrument. And while nothing in me drew me to studying music further than as a pianist, everything in me was screaming YES to doing it as a voice major. I had always been so focused on playing the piano, but on this day someone saw the potential in me and encouraged me to pursue what was really my heart’s desire and passion, singing!

After auditioning and being accepted into the voice program, I switched majors right away. Immediately after starting next fall as a music major, my world fell into place. I felt settled and at peace that I had found what I was meant to be doing all along. 

Knowing how crucial my mentors were to me is why I am so excited to be a part of ArtSmart – to be able to support and encourage my mentees in their musical endeavors and help them develop as singers themselves and for the world. Without all of my mentors and their contributions to my journey along the way, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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By Agnes Kalinowski, ArtSmart Mentor  |  Published on 02/03/2020