Five things Richard Danielpour wishes he’d known in college


Richard Danielpour, a recently employed professor at UCLA, shares the crucial tips he wishes he knew while in college. (Mitchell Lisowski/The Daily Campus)

Richard Danielpour, a recently employed professor at UCLA, shares the crucial tips he wishes he knew while in college. (Mitchell Lisowski/The Daily Campus)

On Sept. 22, award-winning composer Richard Danielpour stood on stage in the Von der Mehden Recital Hall and did what Pinterest has tried to do for years: he offered inspiring kernels of wisdom he wished he’d known in college.

Danielpour studied at Oberlin College, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School of Music where he received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree (DMA) in composition. The world-renowned composer has been sought out for commission by well-known names in the industry including Yo-Yo Ma, whom he fondly referred to throughout the talk as “Yo-Yo.”

Despite the intimidating list of world class names he casually dropped like only a lifelong friend would and the numerous times he mentioned the expensive glass of wine he was drinking, Danielpour came across as the cool uncle urging you to do better than he did. Here is his list of the five things he wishes he could go back in time and tell his college self.


1. Learn how to listen.

Danielpour explained how, like many young students today, he only listened to the beginning of a phrase rather than listening all the way through to the end.

“This also became a metaphor for life,” Danielpour suggested. “Sometimes you only listen to the beginning of something that’s interesting and then you kind of get distracted because we’re habituated to be living in the world of 25 second sound bites.”

Paying attention, he goes on to say, is important because you might have a moment of grace where someone offers you something that might change your life.

“If you’re not paying attention, you won’t know this angel who’s visiting you,” Danielpour said. The angel could come in the form of a stranger on an airplane, a professor who you aren’t crazy about, or an acquaintance you don’t know really know. Still, these people might be the ones who say or do something that creates this “moment where a door opens,” as Danielpour said.


2. Compose your life.

Danielpour explained his fascination with the art of creating a piece of music and how he can make something where there was originally nothing but a hint of an idea.

“If I can compose a piece where all I had was an idea… and now all of the sudden the work exists, I thought, you know, maybe you can also compose your life through a series of choices,” Danielpour said.

These may include choices like where you want to live, what kind of car you want, and what kind of job you want. He goes on to explain how these choices are not set in stone; you can change your mind just like you can alter a composition, a painting or an essay.

“What works in your twenties won’t work in your thirties, I guarantee you,” Danielpour said in order to emphasize that your life needs to be reassessed based on where you are at. He also stressed that the steps on your path towards wherever you want to go don’t need to be a war. Sophomore pianist Niccolo Meniconi was particularly impacted by this idea of not having to go to war with his music. He doesn’t want to have to conquer his goals in order to lead a successful life, but rather he wanted to find joy in his passion and his life.


3. Surround yourself with positivity.

Danielpour stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and positive energy, even going so far as to claim it as his most important piece of advice.

“If you have a teacher who’s telling you things like ‘You can’t,’ ‘This is difficult,’ ‘This is impossible,’ ‘You’ll never…’ you know you’re in the wrong place [because] that’s not going to help anyone,” Danielpour said.

He suggested multiple ways to foster positivity in your life, which included the notion of “taking out the trash.” The phrase refers to pushing aside those negative thoughts and emotions that fester inside of you, like “You’ll never have what it takes” and “This will never happen to me.” His response to these thoughts is: “I have no room for you and I don’t accept you.”        


4. There is no perfect school.

While this piece of advice was not what the audience wanted to hear, Danielpour calmed them by suggesting that you are in control of your education.

“The moment you look outside yourself for that nugget of knowledge and that you feel dependent that you’re going to get it outside yourself, you’ve already… cut your legs out from underneath you,” Danielpour said.

He went on to say that the point of higher education is to get you to become your own teacher. He urged students to get organized, set their own goals and to treat their instrument, whether that’s mind or body, like it’s priceless. A major way to appreciate the body is having a solid sleep schedule.

“If you draw from your sleep, you’re basically drawing from your capital,” Danielpour said. Just like a singer or a composer, you need to let your body breathe and regenerate so that you can come back and see things clearly.


5. It’s all about love.

Whether or not you’re composing a song, what you’re doing must be about giving love. Danielpour drew the talk to a close by urging us to “recognize that we’re all part of the same family; that we’re all part of one family and that family is the human race.” This inspiring call to action is one felt, not only by artists, but by all people to build things together rather than tear them apart. This hopeful idea provides a brief moment of comfort in the face of seeing divisiveness all over the news and on social media.

Alexis Taylor is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at  

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