A Love of Music and a Commitment to Humility
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2012 - 13:28
Photo courtesy of Ioanida Costache '12
Costache draws her strength from her Romanian parents and her brother, an alumnus of the College who was an inspiration to her.

For someone who claims to be shy and uncomfortable with the thought of speaking in public, Ioanida Costache is remarkably eloquent. Her unassuming character makes her a favorite among her friends to settle conflict and it’s not until one talks to her boyfriend that one discovers the numerous awards and accolades she has amassed during her four years at Amherst. So even though nobody mentions it specifically, humility might be one of Costache’s defining personality traits. After all, Amherst students all aim high, but not everyone will have the strength of character to match their career.

Leaving Home

Some of that inner strength would have to be attributed to her family. Her Romanian parents were always supportive and driven by the need to give their children opportunities they never had. Costache started learning the violin when she was five. She said that “they of course went through the phase when they wanted my brother to be pre-med and all that, because who doesn’t do that? And they worry, like everyone else, but they’re not crazy: ‘What are you going to do with a music major?’ They have confidence.”

And though some people resent being in an older sibling’s shadow, Costache claimed that “it was the best. I would walk into a classroom, and I’ve already got a good impression because they know my brother and think he’s great.” Additionally, since they both attended Amherst and then he got a job with a consulting firm in the town, it gave Costache a support system and a way to bridge the transition from high school to college. She remembered “the first night I came here, I wanted to weep immediately. I had a nervous breakdown, I called my brother, and I remember we met. And I was like, ‘What are we doing here? What is this thing?’ I was going to college and it didn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think I could have gotten through the first year if I didn’t have him.”

Finding a Niche

From a small suburb outside Portland, Ore., Costache found that the size of Amherst, at least, was easy to handle. She found a niche in town through working at the ABC, or Amherst Brewing Company and later at the High Horse. And following her brother, who also lived there, Costache found a community in the Zü (officially called Humphries House). She claims that it was a grounding experience: “You have to stress out about cooking and cleaning, and it’s nice to have that distraction instead of stressing out about school.”

Finding an academic niche was less easy — Costache came to the College originally thinking that she would be a Chemistry major. While she excelled at the subject in high school, taking two independent-study chemistry classes and winning the Chemistry Student of the Year award, it all changed when she took Introductory Chemistry at the College. “It was terrible!” she exclaimed.

The music class she was taking was much more agreeable, and that set the stage for her music major and her interest in musicology.

But it’s not just music that drives Costache academically. Though she regrets not broadening the list of classes she took, Costache has nonetheless dabbled in topics ranging from James Joyce to the Monastic Challenge to Poetic Translation. Her close friend, Emma Buchsbaum ’12 claimed, “at Amherst she has taken everything. She’s incredibly creative and can and will do anything that sparks her interest. She’s very curious about the world, and I know wherever she goes after Amherst she will have interesting, rewarding experiences because of it.”

Although most people are more than willing to list their laundry list of achievements, Costache is the opposite. She has won awards for both her thesis and work in the Computer Center, but she won’t even mention them. Besides, it’s not her involvement in the orchestra or chamber music she finds most rewarding, but the low-profile work as a tutor for the music department that she truly enjoyed. It gave Costache a chance to realize the passion she holds for teaching. When preparing a mock lesson, her boyfriend Mark Santolucito ’13 remembers that “she taught the lesson five times to me. I heard the lesson five times, and each time, she revised it and made it a little better. Everything she does she does with a 100 percent passion. And she’ll only do things she cares about. She won’t do anything for the reward or the grade.”

What is Musicology?

In the end, Costache found her passion in musicology. Her senior thesis was on the piece, “Das Lied von der Erde” by Gustav Mahler. Her passion shone through the piece.

“There’s something about his [Mahler’s] music,” Costache insisted, “that expresses something about the human condition. You listen to the music and you feel that Mahler really understands how we feel.”

She was originally introduced to Mahler through one of his symphonies that she played in high school, but she wasn’t interested in the actual piece until she took a seminar with her advisor, Professor Jenny Kallick, about it. While an entire class might be enough for most people, Costache claimed “there was so much left to read about it and to study.” She decided to write her thesis on the piece because “[she] resonated with it on an emotional level.”

Her focus was on the links to nature that Mahler emphasizes on in the piece. More specifically, this emphasis on nature reflected the ways man related to nature, man’s condition on earth and what comes after. It was a rather dark and “angsty” piece, yet Costache stated that despite its heaviness and the sheer intimidation she felt when approaching her thesis, “it was worth it. I had a lot of fun with it.”


This coming year, Costache will be working as a Graduate Associate in Music. This job, part assistant to Mark Swanson, the Orchestra Director, part intermediary between professor and student, will give Costache a chance to spend a less hectic year applying to graduate school for musicology. Before getting her degree, she will be working at the Chamber Music Festival in Portland. After getting her degree, Costache hopes to be a professor, her “dream job,” and one of very few careers available for musicology degrees. As she so dryly mentioned, “There aren’t a lot of musicology degrees out there.” But knowing Costache, and how she had always enjoyed being a tutor for the music department and defending her thesis, one can predict that Costache has made the right choice. And though the career options for a musicology degree are limited and very competitive, she approaches these challenges with a philosophical mood. “Everything is competitive,” she mused, “so that shouldn’t be a deterrent for anyone to do what they want to do.”

Yet, she doesn’t want to restrict herself to the desk: Costache plans to reconnect with her violin, practicing so that it can be a significant part of her life and possibly career. She finds that the two successes during her college career were the thesis, and the “epiphanic, almost cathartic” feeling she had during a concerto performance she played during her last week of school.

“I was super sick, and just powering through it, that was huge. That was probably one of the best moments of my life,” she said.

Reconnecting with the love she holds for her violin, Costache is determined that her career be the best mix of the practice and study of music.

But Costache isn’t looking towards the future like so many do, caught up in the possibilities and the potentials and the accompanying worrying and stress. And yet, she isn’t stuck in the past either, as much as she claimed that she “came into her own” at the College. Instead, she’s fully invested in living the moment. She claims that “one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the four years is about realizing it’s just life. It’s just not that big of a deal. You can be stressed out, you can be worrying, but overall, life is so beautiful.”