Changing Tune


Sometimes, it’s hard to handle hobbies on top of school. That’s why Raquel carries around a mellophone case. We sat down with her to learn more about her passion for music, her love of teaching, and how she’s incorporating both at Illinois. 

Raquel smiling in a field of flowers.
Even though she’s busy with school and activities, Raquel takes time to smile and enjoy life.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

“Well, I am a senior currently in Elementary Education here at Illinois. I am in the process of getting my ESL and bilingual endorsements, which is a lot of fun. I’m also involved in the Marching Illini, which takes up a lot of time but is the best and most fun thing I do on campus.”

What made you want to go into Elementary Education?

“When I first came to Illinois, actually, I started out as a Music Performance major. … I just really loved music, and I thought it was the only thing that I was good at. I never considered anything else because prior to coming into college, music was my whole life. … Band and choir and dance and anything music-related, I was into.

“Two years within the program, I realized that I just wasn’t loving it as much anymore. I felt like I was kind of lacking something. … I realized that whenever I performed, by myself or in a solo, I would get really bad performance anxiety, which going into music is not really a good quality to have. So that was when I started having a little bit of doubt.”

So what happened? 

“After my sophomore year, I became a summer camp counselor, and I was working with kids every single day for the summer, and I realized that that was what was missing from my life. … Working with the kids gave me a lot more pleasure than staying in a practice room for four hours on end, constantly practicing the same thing over and over again. … That was when I realized, ‘Oh, I love working with kids. I’m good at it. I could see this being the rest of my life.’”

You also mentioned you’re getting ESL and bilingual endorsements. Why is that important to you?

“I am bilingual. My mom’s family is from Mexico, and so I grew up speaking in Spanish to my mom and then speaking in English to my dad. … I knew that I have this skill, so I might as well use it. … I’ve been in schools, too, where I’ve seen a lot of students struggle just because they couldn’t speak the language. … I guess I just aspire to be that teacher who can help a multiple range of students instead of just one set.”

Elementary Education is typically first through sixth grade. Is there a specific age group you prefer to teach?

“I love working with all age groups. … I would just say that the younger age group is a lot more fun to work with. … They’re definitely more difficult to work with, I would say, in terms of behavioral management and stuff like that, but they just have a brighter attitude and outlook on things. They give off such a positive energy that you feel like you have to give that back, so that’s why I like working with them.”

Raquel poses with a group of elementary students.
Students are eager to learn, and Raquel is eager to begin her teaching career.

What’s student teaching in a classroom like?

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, definitely. I think it’s a lot more work than people think it is. But it’s a high-workload, high-reward kind of field, because it takes a lot to go to the classes and learn about how to teach a student … but then when you finally see a kid’s face light up, like Oh, I get it now! and know that you helped them to understand that concept or problem, it makes it all worth it.”

Do you think your music background has helped you in any way?

“I really enjoy my major now because I am doing what I love, but I also feel like being in the music major helped me gain skills and qualities that transferred over to the education major. … When I did make the change, I was still thankfully able to stay in the Marching Illini and be in ensembles and stuff, so I was really able to have the best of both worlds.”

What instruments do you play?

“I play the mellophone, piano, and harp.”

Raquel playing a mellophone in Marching Illini.
Being involved in Marching Illini is a lot of work, but it is one of Raquel’s greatest pleasures.

How did you get involved in Marching Illini?

“I originally did not want to be in marching band for my first year. I thought it would be too much with my schedule and everything, and I just wanted to focus only on Music Performance. But then my dad, who’s a huge marching band fanatic, told me, ‘Oh, no, you should definitely try out. Email the director.’ Because I had originally missed the auditions for it, I think. And so I said, ‘Okay, you know, I’ll just send in a recording.’ And the director liked my video because he let me in, and I just fell in love with it the first day.”

How many shows do you put on?

“We try to put a new show on every week. So every football game, we usually have a different show. One of the football games, we had a Queen show where we played songs by Queen, like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ … I think that’s where the huge time commitment comes in, because we have to learn all this new music and new drills every week, and we have to memorize a new fight song too. So it’s stuff that you’re working on outside of band hours.”

What are rehearsals like?

“We have hour-and-a-half rehearsals every day. … In the fall, your Saturdays are basically non-existent because we’re prepping for the football game. We have morning rehearsal, we have the football game, we have this thing called the Post Game where you put on a concert for the fans afterward. It’s a bigger time commitment than people realize, but again, it’s definitely worth it.”

What’s your favorite part about being in Marching Illini?

“It’s not just the music aspect of it that I love, but definitely the environment and the culture around it. … There are 375 of us, but it feels a lot smaller because it feels like a family. … We’re all there to support each other inside and outside of band, and I think that’s really the aspect that I like about it. There’s always someone to talk to if you’re having any problems. There’s always someone to lean on. For me, it’s really grown into a support system. …  I think my Illinois experience would be much different if I hadn’t been in the Marching Illini.”

Do you ever second guess your decision to switch majors?

“I would say no. If I do, the only reason is because I miss performing and playing the way I used to, but the perspective that I put it in was that I don’t have to major in music in order to keep playing it. And I think that was the mindset that I had going in, like, ‘Oh, if I don’t major in music, I’m never gonna play music again.’ I still regularly play my instruments, I still talk to the friends that I made in the School of Music, so I don’t think I have any regrets. … Music is my hobby. It’s my passion. So that’s what I usually put most of my extra time and energy into.”