All or Nothing
Alena Miskinis, a senior and triple major in the Kent State University Honors College, has passionately seized every opportunity she can to pursue her combined interests in the arts and science. With a diverse array of classes intensified by Honors courses, as well as projects, internships, and events to attend, Alena has changed what it means to be a busy college student.
The task of completing three majors is no small feat, but Alena refuses to sacrifice any of her passions while in pursuit of her goals. With majors in English, piano performance, and psychology, Alena pushes herself to expand her education in many directions.
Music has been a constant in Alena’s life since a young age, due to her time at The Music Settlement in Cleveland, an early childhood and music school, and Spring Garden Waldorf School, a holistically educational grade school. These institutions exposed Alena to singing and instruments such as the violin. At 10 years old, she began playing piano and would continue this passion throughout high school.
Alena decided after high school to continue to study English and some music in college but didn’t realize how impactful her decision would be. Alena states that she, “never envisioned the field of music to explode for me as it has, thanks to my incredible teacher, Dr. Donna Lee.” Today, Alena’s main instrument is the piano, but she is also involved in the Kent State University Choir and had previously played in the Kent State Steel Drum Band.
In the spring of 2022, Alena was asked to play at Severance Hall in Cleveland for a performance to commemorate the tragic Kent State University events of May 4, 1970. The concert featured fellow musicians, singers, and dancers coming together to remember and honor those who were lost. Alena performed Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues on piano, a social justice piece written in 1979, and also sang part of the Brahms Requiem, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and “Be the Change” with choir and orchestra. Alena describes the experience as, “truly magical” and that she had, “seen the most amazing musicians play at Severance Hall, so it was surreal having the incredible opportunity to perform in that space.” This concert would be just one of the many opportunities presented to Alena that she would continue to grow from.
Part of what expanded Alena’s perspective of music was the incorporation of other studies. Along with music, she notes that “as an English major, I always enjoy the process of reading and writing.” But it was through her interest in music that Alena discovered that she could expand her abilities into science as well.
During her sophomore year, Alena was introduced to research and innovation through a competition presented by her piano instructor and was enthralled by the possibilities. She describes the opportunity, explaining that she “collaborated with doctoral students in computer science and nursing to create a device that combines virtual reality and music therapy to reduce stress. It was part of a competition through Design Innovation, and we ended up winning and getting to present it in Curitiba, Brazil.” Realizing she wasn’t limited to a single field by any means, Alena combined her passions which have culminated into the creation of her Senior Honors Thesis/Project.
Alena’s Senior Honors Thesis/Project through the Honors College, entitled, “Translating Music into Words: Figurative Language as Evocative Descriptors of Musical Expression in 19th Century Music Periodicals” focuses on the relationship between musical expression and figurative language. The project was divided into three studies: 19th-century critics’ accounts on music and their metaphors, how instrumentalists conveyed descriptive words in their pieces, and research on music from the previous study determining if listeners could correctly interpret the intended meaning.
The thesis, Alena states, was inspired by notes she had taken for a friend's piano recital and was also encouraged by Uma Krishnan, Ph.D., Writing Internship Program Director and also, her English instructor. Questions such as, “How do we know Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is about moonlight and not sunlight?” were another driving force behind the project. Joshua Albrecht, Ph.D., a music theorist and assistant school of music professor at Kent State, was Alena’s Honors thesis advisor and the project was empirically driven. Through a method of running participants and collecting/analyzing data, the research depended more upon the scientific method than a theoretical approach.
With her extensive work and diverse education, Alena may be described as a renaissance woman. Her time at Kent State has been spent zealously discovering new ways to utilize her talents and help others. Alena will graduate from Kent State University this May of 2023 and will be pursuing a graduate degree in sport psychology this fall. After attending graduate school, she hopes to conduct research and eventually receive her certification. Alena says her ultimate goal is to adapt a “scientist-practitioner model in addressing performing artists’ mental health in relation to peak performance, motivation, inspiration, burnout, and performance anxiety.” A goal she’s been developing throughout her time at Kent State. With so much accomplished during her time at Kent State, there’s no limit to the successes in store for Alena’s future.
For more information about the Honors College, please visit the Honors College Website.
For more information about the Kent State English Department, please visit the Department of English Website.
For more information about piano performance, please visit the Kent State School of Music website.
For more information about the Kent State Psychology Department, please visit the Department of Psychological Sciences website.
PHOTO CAPTION 1: Alena stands next to her research thesis poster "Translating Music Into Words: Musical Expression of Figurative Language" at an exhibition in Portland, Oregon.
PHOTO CAPTION 2: Alena plays piano with the Severance Hall Orchestra at a rehearsal for the Kent State May 4th rememberance concert.
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