UT University Orchestra members share experiences of pursuing music in college

Isabella Lawson, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 9 flipbook. 

Caitlin O’Callaghan spends most of her days cracking computer algorithms and coding JavaScript. But twice a week, she makes the lengthy trek from West Campus to the Butler School of Music to showcase her unconditional love of playing oboe. 

From string, to brass to woodwind instruments, students perform classical music with the UT University Orchestra. As a class that welcomes non-music majors, UTUO serves as an outlet for students who wish to continue their musical passions in college.

“It’s amazing that (UT has) so many talented musicians,” O’Callaghan, a computer science senior, said. “The sense of community, the high level of talent and the really awesome music we get to play is just a super unique and an awesome experience.”

Although time consuming, O’Callaghan said UTUO serves as a much-needed, relaxing break from her computer science studies.

“I completely forget about everything that’s stressing me out,” O’Callaghan said. “So it’s nice to have that mental break from my academic classes.” 

With her last semester on campus right around the corner, O’Callaghan said the size of UT allowed her a community to both bolster her mental health and build connections outside of her major.  

“This has been one of the most memorable experiences for me in college,” O’Callaghan said. “I have a lot of fond memories, like all the people I’ve been able to meet through orchestra, whether they’re friends or people in my oboe section, or even doctors that we’ve got work with.”

For violinist and electrical engineering freshman Desheng Liu, the sheer number of people who come to the performances in college differs greatly from his experience in high school. His college friends attend the concerts in-person, while his parents back home watch online. 

“I love sharing my music with friends and family, even strangers as well,” Liu said. “I remember right after our first concert we had people stand up to roar and clap. It’s just like, ‘wow we actually made them feel a certain way.’”

Liu felt less pressure in high school orchestra, but he noticed college musicians feel more passionate about music, which fueled the rigor of UTUO. When he first entered the rehearsal space for UTUO, he said he went through the rigorous audition process. 

“I hadn’t had a full orchestra rehearsal in almost a year and a half,” Liu said. “It was crazy. … I was kind of intimidated, but I was excited because I knew I was going to be with a good stringed group.”

UTUO conductors, Ke-Yuan Hsin and Gabriela Mora Fallas said they include a diverse cast of composers for their concerts. For the Nov. 9 concert, they included both Russian and Mexican pieces. 

“We all have different cultural backgrounds, but it’s like we’re family and we’re creating something together,” Hsin said. “It’s something beautiful.”

Fallas said students’ commitment and passion towards music in UTUO surpasses the enthusiasm often seen in professional orchestras. She said she appreciated the students’ constant alertness and concentration. 

“There’s something that this orchestra has that’s special,” Fallas said. “When they come (to rehearsal), they’re concentrated and they want to put all their energy into music making.  Making music is easier when you have people who actually want to learn and want to be there.”