For Joy Chayna, finding a college or university that was community-focused and backed by strong Christian values was very important to her when deciding on where to study. After finishing her New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 2016, Joy didn’t have her heart set on a particular course. ‘I was never the person who knew what I wanted to do post-school,’ Joy explains. One thing was certain though, music was in her blood. Growing up with a musical mother, both Joy and her brother were enrolled in piano lessons from a young age. Later, as a teenager, Joy was involved in school bands, jazz improvisation, and various ensembles at the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. ‘Those were my extracurricular activities and I thought that was the natural pathway because that was my thing.’ Sadly, Joy’s mother passed away when she was in Year 11 but her death was the catalyst for Joy deciding to carry on her mother’s love for music and all the hard work her mother had invested in her.
Joy also didn’t have her heart set on a particular place of study. ‘I was weighing up whether to attend my local uni, the University of Wollongong, to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Music or audition for the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) or The Conservatorium of Music (both located in Sydney).’ In 2016, after attending an Excelsia College open day, Joy found what she was looking for. ‘I noticed that everyone was so nice and seemed to know one another and it was a homely environment. Community is my big thing, and I love people and intentionality, so seeing a college that stands for that is something I wanted to be a part of. That was my process of thinking around Excelsia.’
After successfully being accepted into a Bachelor of Music (Classical piano), Joy decided to defer to do a gap year with Morling College. ‘I wanted to be a year older and have a bit more maturity before I came to Excelsia,’ Joy explains. In 2018, Joy joined the Excelsia community and cemented her Christian faith in the process. ‘I’ve always been part of a really strong Christian family and grew up in a very protective and sheltered Christian bubble.’ Excelsia played a key role in contributing to Joy’s personal faith. ‘Moving out of home as an 18-year-old, I found meeting new people at Excelsia was really formative for me in being more concrete in my values and for standing up for what I believe in … Excelsia really helped me to form my identity and was a safe space to express my values … The lecturers were always up for a chat.’
During her studies, Joy was also working part-time at a music school where she taught piano. With her years of experience performing to crowds, it’s a surprise to hear that performance anxiety plagued Joy, stripping her of completely enjoying music. Thankfully, Excelsia was able to help Joy overcome these anxieties. ‘I had performance anxiety and it was very debilitating, I wouldn’t be able to move. But I had a really nurturing piano teacher who was relational, so we almost had mini counselling sessions in our lessons. It was really helpful to understand how deeply music is not just a physical thing where I play; it’s an emotional thing as well.’ The performance degree also allowed Joy to discover who she was as a person. ‘When you’re forced to work in group situations to do assessments and encouraged to come to different events, you’re constantly being forced out of your comfort zone. It’s almost like you can’t feel isolated going to the College because you’re surrounded by community and events.’
Excelsia’s creative and performing arts programs expose students to a variety of front of house roles, as well as behind-the-scenes work. ‘Because of its size, Excelsia enables you to do things in a way that a big college couldn’t do. Because you’re known by everyone, you can get involved in more unique ways,’ Joy explains. ‘We got to be stage manager one week or pack down equipment another week and I feel like these tasks encouraged a sense of ownership. You get to do every job at least once, so it gives you a taste of it all.’ Joy also had a strong work ethic instilled in her from the teaching staff. ‘The lecturers went above and beyond. I think they really encouraged a system of “this is your responsibility, and we won’t baby you”. They treated us like adults and taught us good life lessons on learning to be responsible for ourselves. It was a balance of tough love but a really kind way of doing it.’
For Joy, the live performances were a highlight of her time at Excelsia. ‘The music students got to perform in classical concerts where we would dress up in fully Shakespearean costume; it was the best thing in the world for the classical buffs! I remember we got to do a porch concert on our teacher’s terrace in Newtown to random people in the street and gigs in Marrickville at cool bars. Those experiences really shaped my time at Excelsia. The campus was also a warm and inviting environment and I honestly just really enjoyed being in the student lounge space and hanging out with people,’ Joy explains.
Since finishing at Excelsia in June this year, Joy has been busy undertaking wedding preparation and continuing to tutor piano at a local music school. Within the next six months, Joy hopes to complete her Early Childhood Education Certificate, and later a Master of Teaching to enable her to teach in schools. As for her long-term goals: ‘I want to create my own music school business to encourage kids in their musical pursuits, but which is also a space where my employees love coming to work. I want the parents of my students to feel known and I want to create a community where people feel safe, accepted, and valued. If I can do that through my musical gifts that would be a fun medium, so I am working towards that. I need a lot of money to start that up – to buy a place, buy some pianos and resources and employ teachers – so that’s a long-term goal,’ says Joy.
In terms of what advice Joy would give to future Excelsia students, she recommends going in with an open mind. ‘It enables you to make the most of the opportunity and meet people, and get involved in any activities. It’s up to you to fully enjoy the experience here. For me, I got to meet lots of students and, through my assessments, people in the industry, which was super formative not only for being in the industry but for life. You can sit back, complain and not do things but if you go in with an open mind and a positive attitude it can be a really enjoyable experience and you can learn tons and meet people.’
We can’t wait to see where Joy ends up using her musical gifts. If you feel inspired by Joy’s journey, why not explore Excelsia’s Bachelor of Music course