By: Catherine Allen, Assistant Director, UNC UCS
Today, we bring you James McDaniel, who is a Senior, majoring in Voice. James was interviewed by Catherine Allen, Assistant Director, UNC UCS.
James plans to pursue his music career post-graduation and currently serves as the Director of the Gospel Choir. The Gospel Choir is the largest sub-group of UNC’s Black Student Movement.
Allen: Tell me about your experiences as part of your journey here at UNC-CH.
McDaniel: When you first come here you aren’t necessarily the top of your class compared to HS. It’s a shock academically and you don’t really know people. There are lots of resources on campus so it can be hard to navigate all of it.
Allen: How have your campus leadership experiences helped you on this journey?
McDaniel: First semester, I joined the Gospel Choir after going to a BSM general body meeting. Through that, I became acquainted with different people and connected. The more I stayed in Gospel Choir the more involved I became on campus because people would share opportunities with me. Sophomore year I became Assistant Director of the Gospel Choir. In this leadership role it is important to be someone people can come talk to and not be afraid of just because I’m in a leadership position. I continued as Assistant Director and became Director my junior year.
Allen: What is most meaningful about your campus leadership experience?
McDaniel: The most meaningful thing would just be I am granted the opportunity to make people feel welcome to campus, make people feel like they have a family away from their family. Lots of times students go through things and we don’t always feel like we have someone to talk to or to help us get through what we’re going through. The biggest part, aside from technical things being a Director, is to help people with their environment through resources on campus. Not only do I teach music, the notes, I am also a liaison they can come to.
Allen: What has been your biggest accomplishment or challenge in your leadership experience?
McDaniel: My biggest challenge would definitely be having to step out of my comfort zone. Growing up I’ve always been a bashful person; not the type to be in the front or be seen. As the Director you are the front person. Everyone looks to you, you have to be open, brave, courageous and resilient. Taking on those roles and characteristics applies to my major as well because I’m a voice major. Once a week I am performing in front of people and I have to brave even though I’m still learning about my voice. Even if I succeed or fail, I have to be willing to just do it.
Allen: How has your leadership experience helped you prepare for the future?
McDaniel: I’m definitely, after all the experience of Gospel Choir, my major and Carolina as well, I’m not afraid to fail. I’m willing to do and pursue what I love and try my best because I feel like at the end of the day if you try your best things will work out. What I’ve learned through Carolina is don’t be afraid to take a hard class or audition for something that you may not be qualified for. You have to be willing to try. No matter what happens you have succeeded because you stepped out of your comfort zone and you tried something different.
Allen: What skills/competencies have you gained through this experience that will help you in your career?
McDaniel: As far as my future career, I definitely think I won’t just be a singer or performer. I will be able to manage and budget my performances and money. I will be musically competent. I won’t just take what people say because I am knowledgeable about what I’m doing and the music I am singing. I definitely won’t be afraid to speak up when something is wrong or should be done a different way. I am a lot more brave and independent but also open to critiques that may not necessarily go along with what I may be thinking.
Allen: What advice do you have for other Carolina students? And students who might want to follow a similar path?
McDaniel: Do not be afraid to reach out to your professors, your peers, your RA, anyone on campus. UNC is the only school I know that has so many resources. No matter what you may be struggling with there is someone who has dealt with it or is knowledgeable and can help you. My voice teacher, Timothy Sparks tells me all the time, “There is no need to struggle in silence.” You can get help if you speak up. As far as music, don’t be afraid to pursue it. People say, “You won’t make a lot of money, it’s a hard field.” Don’t be afraid to do what you love even if you don’t make a million dollars. You only get one life and one shot so you should make it count.
Allen: Is there anything else you want to share?
McDaniel: Also, Join Gospel Choir! It’s a great resource. If you want to meet people and find the family away from your family or if you want to learn more about yourself, it’s a great opportunity. It’s more than just singing.