Grief following family death inspires student to pursue double major in music


Joseph Barringhaus

Ashleigh Rhiannon-Burrow, double major in vocal performance and music education, sings in Wiedemann Hall.

Music is second nature to Wichita State sophomore Ashleigh Burrow.

“My mom said I was singing before I was even talking,” Burrow said. “She’d find me in my crib humming to myself before I had ever spoken any words.”

Though her interest in music began early, Burrow said she wasn’t aware it would have such a significant impact on her until her brother’s sudden death a few years ago.

“My little brother had died and I just had no idea who to speak to about it or how to speak about it,” Burrow said. “I was really struggling in school, and then I found this community of people that was really supportive, compassionate, and passionate, which is important to me.”

Burrow began diving deeper into music to cope.

“When you’ve lost someone, grief is really hard to deal with,” Burrow said. “Especially because there’s not an arena in everyday conversation to deal with it. I found that I was really finding myself in music as well as feeling connected to others, and I think in high school, it’s especially important to feel connected to others in a genuine way.”

Burrow said teachers were her primary support system as she coped with the lost of her brother, and she was inspired to pursue a double major in vocal performance and music education.

Though she said she knows she wants to teach vocal music to high school students, Burrow isn’t sure exactly what her ultimate goal is.

“The double major is because I love performing and I think the best educators are people who have experience in the fields they’re teaching in,” Burrow said. “Several teachers around me inspired me so strongly. I decided then that not only did I love music, but I wanted to do my whole life with it and if I could do the same for any other students that my teachers had done for me, then my life would have total meaning.”

“Even if it was just one person, I would be paid back a thousand times over.”

In addition to learning and performing music, Burrow studies music theory, music history and diction.

“Music theory is one of the more challenging classes,” Burrow said. “We also take diction classes to learn different languages. Not necessarily to be fluent, but to be able to look at a word and know exactly how to say it and to know the rules for the languages because we have to sing in them.”

On top of regular classes, Burrow participates in master classes on Fridays.

“All the students the teacher teaches will gather together and sing in front of each other,” Burrow said. “We get feedback from the instructor and support from peers. It helps us practice to sing in front of people.”

Burrow said practice has made her comfortable with using her voice for extended periods of time.

“I use my voice just to sing upwards of probably one and a half to two hours a day, and that’s without any practice time,” Burrow said. “If you do it enough, it becomes second nature.”