If you wanted to pursue a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of music at the same time, it might seem sensible to choose a college major you’re already good at. Not so for Vera Rudi ’17.
“I looked at a list of subjects and thought, ‘What other things could I possibly be interested in?’” recalls Rudi, who also wanted to study classical piano. “Neuroscience popped up because I knew very little about it."
But the more she learned about neuroscience, the more enamored she became, and she is now pursuing a double degree in piano and neuroscience. “It’s the science of our age; it’s exploding,” she says. “To potentially be a part of that field will be really fun.”
She knows that neuroscience could open the door to a world of exciting opportunities after college—especially in her home country of Norway, where the field is growing quickly. But she also knows the value of opening doors while she’s at Oberlin.
“If you study music exclusively, it’s hard to explore other things simultaneously,” she says. “You’re expected to give your all to this one thing, and if you don’t really know from the bone marrow that you want to do this, it might be more restrictive than constructive to lock yourself down when you’re 17.”
Neuroscience and piano have proven to be very compatible companions for Rudi—it’s her artistic side, in fact, that informs her interests in research. The connections between music and the brain are only dimly understood, and she is curious to explore them. “How we process and make meaning from art is fascinating to me,” she says.
“I’m trying to be very aware of my experiences playing piano and see if I can link that back to my classes and the brain. How can I learn things faster? What mindset am I in when I play a concert?”
Rudi’s teacher in the conservatory, Professor of Piano Peter Takács, agrees that her study of the brain improves her musicianship.
“I am sure part of Vera’s astuteness in understanding musical motivation is partly rooted in her work in neuroscience,” he says. “Much of our work in interpreting the musical score is analytical and requires a scientific mindset. Vera is an unusually mature, articulate, and perceptive student.”
Rudi’s attention to her own mental processes has led to a change in her attitude toward learning, both in the conservatory and the college. “One of the big things for this year is to be really excited about what I’m learning,” she says. “If I have a positive attitude, I’ll learn more.”
She’s excited to learn for learning’s sake, and she knows she’s in the right place to do just that.
“I’m trying not to think so much about where I’m going but instead just enjoy learning and see what captures my interest. That’s the best part of being at Oberlin. There are so many things all the time to stimulate you: terrific professors, all these great guest lectures, meeting kids that are really engaged in whatever they’re doing, making connections between subjects. I’m embracing not knowing right now.”