Music School Survival Guide

Ward II

If you’re a prospective or incoming music major at Catholic University, break out your best pen and a notebook because I’ve got some great tips and tricks to help you navigate the halls of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music (or, BTR as we Music School students call it).

To tell you a little bit about myself, my name is Paige and I am a senior B.A. Music major. I play the violin in the CUA symphony orchestra. My favorite composer is Gustav Mahler (his Fourth Symphony is sublime; I have it on vinyl. It was the first thing I played in the CUA orchestra as a freshman and I even went on to write a research paper about it for my Music History II class). My favorite space in the BTR is the Ward Recital Hall. The red velvet seats, high ceiling, and rows of dimmed chandeliers with the exposed brick walls and wooden stage makes you feel like you’re in an old barn turned concert hall—so cute! Finally, my favorite music class has been Music History III. We learned about everything from Ravel and Debussy to The Beetles and Hip Hop!

So, let’s get into the basics and learn the lingo. We already learned what BTR means, but the most popular phrase you will hear students using is JPH. This stands for John Paul Hall. It’s a huge recital hall on the second floor used for everything from rehearsals and classes to Studio X. Since the Music School with its many levels and staircases can be a bit tricky to navigate, I highly recommend searching out the best route to JPH before the first day of classes when you will inevitably have 8 a.m. Ear Training class there.


Now I’m sure you’re wondering what this Studio X thing is. Every Monday, each and every undergrad music student gathers in JPH for whatever performance or lecture the faculty has lined up for us that week. One week it might be a lecture from a Library of Congress music expert and the next week it could be a performance from a military jazz band. Sometimes, it’s even student performances.

Some very important names to know are Lee and Wagstaff. Dean Wagstaff (a.k.a “Swagstaff”) is the dean of the School of Music and you will see him around the building and at every performance. Lee Polites has all the knowledge when it comes to anything Music School related. You can find him in his office with a smile and he’s known to have some candy on hand when you need a sweet pick-me-up. He is the go-to for pretty much everything, so you will get to know him very well.

Finally, here are some pro-tips to help you get used to the life of a busy CUA music major. Practicing is everything. Set aside free time in your schedule to practice every day. Take notice of when the practice rooms aren’t busy so you don’t have to wait around for one to open up. If the main rooms are full and you don’t need a piano, take a short trip to the old wing practice rooms under the main office. For long-term practice sessions, bring a snack and some water and be sure to take a few minutes every hour to see sunlight, it makes a real difference. Also, be sure to brush up on your harmony/music theory skills. The higher you place for this class will mean fewer classes to take in the long run, leaving more space for fun electives! Last, learn to balance. Trying to find time for rehearsals, lessons, classes, practicing, and having a social life can take some getting used to, but it is absolutely possible and worth it!

After just one performance or recital in Ward, Hartke Theater, the Basilica, or even the Kennedy Center, you’ll realize just how great it is to be a student of The Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music.

Paige Blog Photo

Paige is a senior pursuing a double major in English in the School of Arts and Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Music in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. She’s from Port Tobacco, Maryland. When she’s not on campus giving tours, you can catch Paige at Capitol Hill Books in Eastern Market. During the school year, Paige spends long evenings in The Tower office editing the school paper when she’s not practicing in BTR.


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