Coming from a musical family and performing in local theater productions since the age of 3, Eliza Howells credits her involvement in chorus and a cappella groups at Marblehead High School as the formative experience that led her to pursue a degree in music composition and voice performance at UMass-Amherst.
The recent college graduate loved the school’s collaborative, supportive environment, and as a member of its honors college and a variety of university clubs and organizations, she worked hard and received an excellent education over the last four years, two of which were impacted by COVID.
During the height of the pandemic, concerts and recitals were held outdoors, under tents. Howells said those chilly events were bonding experiences for the performers.
She took classes in music theory and history, aural skills, piano and ensemble groups and enjoyed learning about different composers and styles of music.
“I was able to grow in my music knowledge and musicianship and learn how to collaborate and perform on stage,” states Howells, who also participated in the all-female a capella group Sharp Attitude and was the president of the UMass Amherst chapter of international music fraternity Sigma Alpha Iota, a group that did service projects and performed a benefit concert.
For Howells, Voice Studio was a seminal class that spanned all four years of college, where she honed her craft with one professor and collaborated with her peers. Weekly, she and other voice students would perform and receive honest feedback from the professor and each other.
Howells loved the supportive environment and symbiotic relationship that developed in this class, and she learned the importance of “being there” for her fellow musicians.
“This was a really poignant aspect of college for me,” she remembers.
Howells senior recital, which is mandatory for voice performance majors, was a memorable experience as it required rigorous preparation, collaboration with other vocalists and musicians and the memorization of foreign language lyrics.
In addition to solo performances, her repertoire included a duet, a trio and a quartet, but what excited Howells most was having some friends perform a piece she’d written for a composition class, a duet for clarinet and piano. Her music composition and voice performance majors were a great complement to each other, giving Howells a more well-rounded understanding of both disciplines.
As challenging as it was to study, prepare for exams and performances, do gigs with her a cappella group and devote time to important issues through her work with the university’s Racial Justice Coalition, Howells said she’s glad she got to meet so many wonderful people and do so many cool things as an undergraduate.
After a school-sponsored summer trip to Italy for a conducting workshop in which she’ll participate as a member of the UMass-Amherst chamber choir, Howells will begin a master’s degree program in music composition at Tufts University in the fall.
She is excited about the interdisciplinary nature of the Tufts program, as well as its focus on diversity, equity and justice in music.
Exactly what the future holds for Howells is to be determined, but she knows one thing is true: “As long as I’m singing and writing music, I think I’ll be happy.”
Howells was fortunate to pursue her passions in college, but she admits the cost of her education put a financial strain on her and her family, especially during the pandemic. She believes many college students have a financial cloud hanging over their heads during their undergraduate years, and after they graduate too, due to loan debt.
“With Marblehead Dollars for Scholars support, I didn’t have to stress out too much over the financial aspect, and I was able to focus on my studies. I’m grateful for that,” explains Howells.
As she reapplied for a scholarship each year, she said she enjoyed providing the scholarship committee with an update on her academic and extracurricular accomplishments, and she appreciated the interest and support she received from a hometown organization.
Expressing how meaningful the scholarship is to Howells, she concludes, “it was a motivator for me to keep my grades up and to strive for leadership positions and do the best I could in my program and in my clubs.”
Nancy Marrs is a member of the Marblehead Dollars for Scholars Board of Directors