By Becky St. Clair
Natalie Fode is a senior piano and nursing double major who grew up right here in St. Helena. With an Associate’s Degree in music (flute performance) and one in nursing already under her belt, she plans to graduate in June 2021 with her Bachelor’s Degrees in both. Natalie plays flute in the PUC Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and when we’re on-campus in person, she works in the department office managing recordings. She currently lives in Yountville with her husband, Jordan.
I’ve always been fascinated with music for as long as I can remember. I have a musical family; my grandfather taught choir at various academies, and my grandmothers were/are both very good pianists. My dad is a great musician too, and plays the bass guitar, and my mom also plays the flute. I think this combination made me interested in music from a young age because music was often in the home in some form or another. I ultimately decided to pursue a music degree because I couldn’t imagine my life without it and I wanted to be better able to share my love of it with others, as well as to grow my composition, piano, and flute performance skills. I hope to someday teach lessons and continue writing music throughout my life.
So it surrounded you for most of your life, but do you recall when you first started really noticing it and exploring it for yourself?
My grandma first taught me the basics of piano when I was about four years old, which first awakened my love and fascination for piano. I don’t know where I got the idea of composing, but I remember playing the lap harp when I was about five or six and creating my own music on it. I also remember going around and making up songs (if you could call them that) about everything that happened in my life when I was little. It turns out each of these early interests developed into something that I now know and love and are all a part of me to this day.
I ended up becoming extremely interested in composition and songwriting as I got older, writing songs from the time I was about 11 and starting my first choral piece at age 14. I have continued to pursue flute, piano, and composition during my time at PUC. Each of these early musical experiences are still a part of my life today as a college student and they will forever be a part of my musical identity.
How has your experience been pursuing both music and nursing simultaneously?
I would say the biggest challenge for me has been finding the time to stay in a creative headspace while also pursuing nursing, which is a different-type-of-difficult degree. I adore composition and wish that I had the time and creative energy to do it more often. Though it hasn’t always been an easy balancing act, I would say that music has been an oasis for me during the difficult times of the nursing program, which, as much as I love nursing, certainly existed.
Nursing majors have crazy schedules; how did you manage that while also being in a music ensemble?
First of all, I would like to mention that I took the first year and a half of my time at PUC to focus primarily on music and attempting to get into the nursing program. That allowed me to finish a lot of my classes for the AS in music degree, but not all. Once the nursing program began for me, the music department professors worked with my crazy clinical schedules and helped me achieve my goals in both nursing and music; I couldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for their graciousness.
Nursing is, by necessity, a very structured program and so it speaks volumes that the music department has been willing to work around and with that to help me create the perfect fit during my time at PUC. Now, during my two bachelor degrees in nursing and music, the music professors are working with me more than ever due to “core weeks” (weeks one and six each quarter) which are a part of the BS in nursing when I have classes the majority of the day and can’t typically attend normal class periods. They’ve also worked with me through more crazy clinical schedules and have always been so understanding through it all.
I couldn’t be more blessed and grateful with the music department. It’s taken me five years to finish these two degrees, but the incredible experiences, connections, and future opportunities that I’ve gained along the way has made it all worthwhile.
You and Jordan have recorded a few videos performing together; do you have plans to do something more formal with your combined skills?
Jordan and I both love music. He’s been playing guitar since he was 12 and saxophone since he was nine, and we’ve both been casually singing in choirs and on our own from a young age. We have just recently started exploring who we are as a musical twosome and it’s been a really fun journey. We hope to make it a “thing” in the near future.
We have a YouTube channel and want to fill it with covers and original songs, and hope to utilize other social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to share as well. We also want to do concerts both locally and across the U.S. as a ministry, once things are a little less “germy” of course. Ha! This is important to us because we both want to share God’s love and the message of righteousness by faith with as many people as possible. We’d love to combine that message with speaking and music in the form of concerts and social media.
What do you enjoy about being part of the music department?
One of my favorite things about the music department is sitting in the office, working and listening to all of the students and ensembles practicing. It’s so inspiring, makes me smile, and it’s fun to hear people progress in their pieces. I also love the family feel of the department. It’s not huge, and so everyone gets to know everyone and there’s a real sense of closeness there that is quite unique. It feels like a home away from home.
How do music and nursing intersect—at least for you?
Music is inherently therapeutic, and so I definitely feel that my knowledge of music can help me provide my future patients with better care in the hospital. I’ve heard stories of nurses singing or performing for patients per their request and I can see that being something I’d be open to since I’m interested in treating the whole person in their healing process. I see it as a connecting point, regardless of where I am located or what I’m doing; music is something that I’ll carry with me everywhere.
Likewise, I think that the nursing mentality and my nursing skills are things that can benefit me in many different situations. Nursing has helped me to attack my instrument practicing more systematically which has been helpful for me. I also know that it will come in handy if anyone hurts themselves or has something go physically wrong during a rehearsal or lesson. Both music and nursing are focused on connecting with the whole person you are serving at that moment, and because of this they are interchangeable disciplines in many respects when they are done well.
What is your ultimate career goal?
Well…that’s rather ambiguous at the moment, if I’m honest. I am currently hoping to find a nursing job so that I can begin serving my community in whatever capacity is most needed. Eventually, I would love to work on a labor and delivery unit as I’ve always had a passion for obstetrics. This passion was likely spawned by being an aunt to eight kiddos and watching three of those births at various points throughout my childhood, as well as having a sister who worked as a labor and delivery and postpartum nurse for most of her career. It is possible that I would want to pursue a certified nurse midwife/nurse practitioner degree in the future, but that would be many years down the road, if ever; there are no concrete plans in place for that at this point.
As far as music goes, from home jam-sessions with my husband and family, to writing my own compositions and songs, to teaching lessons or even potentially leading ensembles at the elementary or high-school level, I see myself using my music degree all the time. I would say that the knowledge I gained during my time in my AS and BS in music degrees is even more valuable to me than the degrees themselves in many respects. I’ve learned so much that I will carry with me throughout my life, and though the degree titles are inherently valuable, the information I gleaned while earning them is invaluable.
If you could offer one piece of advice to incoming first-years at PUC, what would it be?
Embrace the changes that inherently come along with your first year in college and to go for the thing that seems audaciously out-there if it’s something that you truly want to pursue. It’s not too late to switch your declared major, not too late to change your mind in pursuit of the desires of your heart. By all means, be smart about it, but whether it means adding, switching, or dropping a degree, if that’s what you think is best for you – do it! And go all-in.
Also, don’t wait any longer than you have to, because the sooner you make the switch, the more time your professors and advisors will have to work with you. Have those conversations early on, and bounce ideas off people you trust. I switched at the end of my first year, but there’s no “right way” to do it. It’s never too late to make a change. Don’t let your life decide itself for you–you get to hold the reins. Ask questions. Don’t let things just “happen to you” academically. Take an active role in your course planning, picking a major, and the timing, difficulty, and pace of your quarters.
And then, I would say something that seems almost contrary to my previous advice, but it isn’t: Prioritize your health, both mental and physical. Don’t push yourself too hard, it’s not worth it. Don’t hesitate to reach out when something feels off, and take advantage of the resources that PUC has to offer because no amount of hustle is worth your well-being. I pushed myself so hard and I got through it, but looking back I would advise my younger self to prioritize my health more. You’re a human, not a machine, and it’s important to realize that–and the earlier on, the better.
Most of all, I want to say: You’ve got this! It’s a long road ahead, but if you find a major and future career that you love, and prioritize your well-being so that you can enjoy the journey and the destination, it will all be worth it.