BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Alessandra Shellard’s last big move was when she was just starting school. She and her parents relocated from Dean Street to Hempstead Road, a trip that was all of about 2 1 /2 miles in a UHaul truck.
So after she graduates this June, alongside friends she made in kindergarten and played next to in band since the fifth grade, moving to SUNY Potsdam to attend the Crane School of Music will be a big adventure.
“I’m excited for a new journey, just in general,” Shellard said.
“I think the adjustment from home is going to be different, especially the whole sharing a bathroom thing,” she added. She is an only child, so she’ll have to make a lot of adjustments: not just sharing a bathroom, but a bedroom, a dining hall and a noisy dorm.
But Shellard, a musician since around the same time she moved to Hempstead Road, knows exactly how to find consistency when she needs it.
“A lot of the things I do are focused mostly on the music,” she said. “I always felt comfortable around the music people.” In fact, that’s what helped her choose to commit to Crane in the first place. Shellard also considered Union College, of which her mother is an alumna, and tossed around the idea of studying business. But when it came time to make a deposit and tell friends and family what she had decided, she knew she had to go where there would be plenty of music.
One experience, a summer music camp at The College of Saint Rose just before her junior year, gave her a taste of what it might be like during those first few weeks of college.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting kids who are into the same thing as me,” she said. “We all support each other.”
Though she started out as a classical musician, playing piano, Shellard also plays the clarinet, which she began learning in fifth grade, and the saxophone, which she began studying a couple of years ago. Especially since picking up her most recent instrument, she’s found playing jazz to be a freeing departure from classical music’s precision.
“One of the things I have the most fun with is jazz quartets, just playing and soloing in intimate groups,” she said.
Shellard loves performing and playing with others, but her major will be in music education, probably with a minor in jazz studies, to keep things interesting.
“I really enjoy teaching music to people,” she said. She hasn’t had as many opportunities to teach as she’d like, but she said being lead clarinet in the Niskayuna High School band helped her realize her skills as a leader.
Plus, Shellard said, you don’t have to be as music-obsessed as she is to gain something from learning to read a piece of sheet music or pluck out a few notes on a guitar.
“Through music you learn more than just how to create something beautiful,” she said. She also believes students learn patience, discipline and plenty of other important qualities as they sound out the notes during practice.
Shellard said as she made her school decision, she recognized that choosing to go into the arts isn’t the trendy thing to do at the moment. She’s not bothered.
“Everyone right now is putting emphasis on STEM,” she said. “You can’t forget about the arts.” Her saxophone teacher has encouraged her, too, telling her not to worry too much about the job market. Music teachers have to retire eventually, he reminds her.
“I’m not too worried about it,” she said, focusing in on the immediate future.
That future is likely to include plenty of new, musically minded friends. She knows at least one classmate from Niskayuna who’s planning to attend Crane with her, and she’s also connected with a fellow clarinet player who will soon be her roommate.
Plenty of musicians might not be too keen on sharing a room with potential competition for different college ensembles, but again, Shellard is calm and glowing with excitement about entering college after living her whole life in the same place.
“Of course there’s always competition,” she said. “You have to keep going and control what you can control.”
But while her mind is fixed on the new experiences headed her way, Shellard said she knows she’ll miss her parents and her friends.
“It’ll be nice knowing I can always come home,” she said.