With more than 240 undergraduate and graduate degrees to choose from at Virginia Tech, Travis Whaley, a fifth-year senior from Cary, North Carolina, chose to customize his educational experience in a way that sets him apart from many of his fellow Hokies.
“I want to be a professor. That would be my dream job,” Whaley said. “I never want to enter the real world; I just want to stay in school. I would love to be a music professor and teach music history, music theory, composition, piano, anything like that. That way I could still play piano, still do research, and I could teach — that would be my end goal I think.”
Whaley is set to graduate with a dual degree in spring 2016 — a Bachelor of Arts in piano performance and music composition and secondary degree in German language and literatures. For the past two years, he has been working on a thesis entitled, “Beethoven’s Compositional Process in the Waldstein Sonata, Opus 53,” which qualifies him to graduate with an honors baccalaureate degree.
“In order to qualify for that degree, you have to have two majors, or one major and two minors — and I have three majors,” Whaley laughed. “What I really like about this degree is that it combines all of your fields because it’s an interdisciplinary thesis. I think that’s really cool; it’s a really unique opportunity we have here at Tech.”
Virginia Tech’s undergraduate catalog defines the honors baccalaureate degree as, “The most rigorous diploma available to University Honors students. Designed to prepare students for graduate or professional school immediately following graduation. Thesis required.”
Whaley expanded on this thesis and explained how he first came to the decision to write about Beethoven, the influences that led him there and how he incorporated both his music majors and his German major into the piece.
“This whole project was sort of brought about when I started researching how other composers write music,” Whaley said. “It turns out, Beethoven wrote through sketchbooks. He had about 50 or 60 sketchbooks he used through his life, and he would always sketch pieces before he finished writing them.”
While writing the thesis, Whaley studied abroad in Germany through the provision and aid of Virginia Tech. He traveled to Germany over three summers, participating in vigorous language courses and conducting research in the archives of Beethoven’s original home. Each of the experiences, Whaley said, helped him to develop his thesis and propel him forward in his studies.
“For the past few summers I’ve actually gone to Bonn, Germany, where the Beethoven archives are, and I’ve gotten to see the autograph, and I’ve worked with the sketchbooks and worked with documents. It was really cool to do research,” Whaley said. “They were really good at working with me; any time I couldn’t figure out how to say something, they would help me or help me to write something. It was a really good environment for people who are just getting into research. It was an amazing opportunity.”
Upon visiting Germany for the second time in the summer of 2014, Whaley participated in the International Bach Competition. He was one of 45 selected students from across the globe.
“It’s a piano competition that happens every four years in Germany. I sort of just applied on a whim; I was not expecting to get chosen, but I was one of 45 in the world that got chosen for it. So, I actually had to go and do it, which was terrifying,” Whaley said. “We have a great music program, but we’re not known for it. I was really proud to represent Tech in a competition of that caliber. I was one of four or five Americans invited to come, which was really cool.”
Upon graduating in spring 2016, Whaley will go on to study musicology at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. He will study there over the next two years to receive a master’s degree on a full ride.
“I’m really excited — that’s the first thing I’m feeling,” Whaley said. “I’m excited to graduate and to move on to graduate school, to keep studying. I am sad to leave Blacksburg, but I am ready to graduate. I think especially because it is my fifth year. Last year when all my friends were graduating, I was not ready. I was very glad that I had this fifth year, but now that I’m finishing this year, I feel ready.”
In reflection of his five years at Virginia Tech and the memories made in Blacksburg, Virginia, Whaley offered a few words of advice to the current and prospective students at the university.
“Don’t set limits on yourself,” Whaley said. “I’m here for a fifth year because I have three majors; I wouldn’t do it any differently. I found things I was really interested in, and in some ways they didn’t complement each other all the time, but in some ways they did really well. I made my five years here my own.”