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Turn, turn, turn

One spring graduate’s journey from molecular biology to musicology

Campus and Community

By Lisa Pendergast

Cameron Bennett started his academic journey at Memorial University focused on science and ended with a dissertation on Taylor Swift.

Cameron Bennett leans on a column outside a building with porthole windows on a sunny day. There is a gold sash with the text "special feature" on in in the upper left-hand corner.
Cameron Bennett is graduating on May 31 with a bachelor of music degree.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

And now, the 2024 spring graduate is the first person from Newfoundland and Labrador to be accepted into the master of arts in musicology program at Dalhousie University.

Science era

Mr. Bennett excelled in biology in high school.

He decided to pursue a bachelor of science degree, majoring in cell and molecular biology with a minor in psychology.

“It was ironic to graduate in May 2020, when my research focus had been on infectious diseases.” — Cameron Bennett

Even as a confessed overachiever, it surprised him how difficult the work was.

“I struggled those first couple of years,” he said. “I met with the Blundon Centre. Receiving accommodations made it so that I could focus on the work rather than being anxious about the exam space and amount of time I had.”

With this support, Mr. Bennett excelled and graduated, but he knew science was not his future.

He applied to the School of Music to pursue a bachelor of music degree.

He received his acceptance letter one week before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Cameron Bennett leans against a wooden wall that is slightly out of focus while holding a clarinet.
Cameron Bennett has been playing the clarinet since fifth grade.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“It was ironic to graduate in May 2020, when my research focus had been on infectious diseases,” he said.

But he was still excited to pursue his passion.

“I had been taking piano lessons since I was three and playing clarinet since fifth grade. In the back of my mind, I knew that music would be where I ended up.”

On Friday, May 31, Mr. Bennett will cross the stage during convocation ceremonies at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre to collect his degree.

Music era

It wasn’t the start he had imagined, but in some ways, it was even better.

“My classmates were each other’s cheerleaders,” he said. “If we could get through 2020 together, we knew we could get through the degree. The faculty and staff at the School of Music did a fantastic job of making us feel like we were a community, even when we were online.”

Mr. Bennett thought his music career options were limited to performing or teaching.

“Music and pop culture are how a lot of people are introduced to concepts of gender and sexuality, so why not focus on this?” — Cameron Bennett

During his core course requirements, he discovered musicology.

“I loved the research and writing side of music,” he said. “A lot of musicology is focused on classical music, but I think the music the people are listening to today is worth just as much, if not more, attention.”

When megastar Taylor Swift released her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, he was invited onto CBC Radio’s On The Go program to discuss his dissertation, titled I Bet You Think About Me: Taylor Swift, Illusory Intimacy and the Economization of Fandom.

His dissertation experience with the School of Music’s Dr. Jane Gosine led to thoughts of graduate school.

With support from the school’s Drs. Meghan Forsyth and Kati Szego, Mr. Bennett was able to apply for, and receive, at Fountain Graduate Fellowship, a Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship and a Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s and acceptance to the prestigious musicology program.

Graduation era

Mr. Bennett’s graduate studies will focus on Dolly Parton and how she has become a queer icon, despite country music traditionally being a conservative genre and her upbringing in the rural American South.

“In a world that is highly politicized, when people seem more divided than ever, Dolly is a figure that can appeal to everyone,” he said. “Music and pop culture are how a lot of people are introduced to concepts of gender and sexuality, so why not focus on this?”

The text "class of 2024" is in gold against a claret background with gold bubbles and subtle circles. There is a gold sash with the text "special feature" on it in the upper left-hand corner.

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