Senior Aida Soria knew she wanted to go into music after her junior year of high school marching band. “We didn’t have a percussion instructor that year, and as a junior I was faced with a choice: step up and lead, or have no frontline [percussion] in the band at all.”
She rose to the challenge.
“I taught everyone in the section: myself, another junior, and a herd of incoming freshman boys, some of whom couldn’t read music. I loved watching everyone’s progress as they grew; seeing that ‘Aha! I finally get it!’ moment when a concept I was teaching made sense was so rewarding! That’s when I decided I wanted to be a band director.”
She was talented, ambitious, and not afraid of hard work: while many music majors have been practicing their craft for years and enrolled in private lessons since childhood, Soria picked up the piano as a high school student. Despite her late start, she was accepted into the UNO School of Music and excited to begin her journey as a music educator. But there was a problem.
Due to family issues, she would not receive any financial aid through the FAFSA her sophomore year at UNO. Without that assistance, she couldn’t live in the dorms - and she didn’t have a car to drive from her family home. Public transportation wasn’t an option either. “...in high school, the public bus I took to school was so unreliable that I was nearly sent to court for missing too many days of school. I couldn’t afford absences in college: many of my classes had strict attendance policies, and would fail me even if the absence wasn’t my fault. Faced with all of this, I felt ready to drop out.”
Still, she pressed on.
“I decided to pay for the dorms out of pocket. This quickly became far too much of a burden. I was taking an incredibly heavy course load while working full time and I still couldn’t pay rent. I confided in one of my professors, Dr. Taylor, about how I was ready to drop out because of finances. She found a music scholarship that was worth $500 per semester.”
That wasn’t going to cover everything, but it was a start. She decided to stay another month and see what happened. “The next month, a generous soul who had heard about my situation donated $400, and I was able to pay my rent again. One month at a time, between my job and the generosity of my community, I was able to stay in school. That scholarship is the reason I stayed, and the reason I am still here. It was the lifeline I so desperately needed.”
Now Soria is a senior music education student at UNO, and she’s still teaching the percussion section at Omaha South High School - where she first realized what she loved to do, back in junior year marching band.
I was faced with a choice: step up and lead, or have no frontline in the band at all.
- UNO Senior Aida Soria
Soria will graduate with her Bachelor’s of Music in Music Education, and intends to earn her way to a doctoral degree in the field. “Plans change, but that’s what I’m aiming for at the moment. I hope to become a teacher that my students trust. Making music can be a vulnerable thing, and students need to feel safe in order to fully express themselves.”
In her spare time, Soria teaches piano lessons. She says her adult students, when asked why they are beginning piano lessons as adults, usually mention their family’s fiscal difficulties, which kept them from learning as children. “I wish I could totally eliminate the financial barriers and make music financially accessible for anyone, at any age.”
She believes that having an understanding teacher who is not only sympathetic to students’ situations but has actually experienced it can be life-changing. She knows, because she’s had teachers who didn’t understand.
“They couldn’t fathom something such as not having access to a washer/dryer to properly wash uniforms. Some teachers will never truly understand their students - and that’s okay, we all come from different backgrounds - but having a teacher who truly understands poverty can help students feel able to confide in them.”
Financial struggles for students can feel insurmountable - and representative of more than just money. Soria says, “I was starting to feel as if I didn’t belong. I’ve lived below the poverty line for most of my life: it feels like a miracle that I’m even in college, especially as a music major. The scholarship I received gave me hope and made me think, maybe I am able to be here. Maybe I do belong.”
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