Born and raised in France, music education major Héloïse Goncalves always knew she wanted to go to study music in the U.S.  

“My mom is from outside of Boston. Since we’ve been little, every summer we’d come to the U.S.,” she says. “I always wanted to go to university in the U.S. especially when I found out I wanted to continue music at university. If I stayed in France, it would’ve been staying in the conservatory path, which I had been on since I was 13. I wanted to get away from that and get a more university music path.”  

She applied to more than 20 different schools, including some in England and Canada, and then decided to apply to UMass Amherst following a suggestion from her mom. 

After she was accepted, she visited campus and just about everything that could go wrong did. It was pouring rain. There was construction everywhere. And yet... 

“It was a gut feeling. At the end of the day, I was like, Yeah, this is it. I’m going to UMass,” she says. “I just fell in love and knew this was where I was going to be.” 

Following years of conservatory training in France, Goncalves initially thought she would enroll in the university’s music program as a performance major and continue to play the classics. She even began her time here as a piano performance major.  

But she quickly realized she wasn’t sure it was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.  

“I started looking at the music education path. We have some of the same classes as performance majors, but I also have psychology and other types of classes,” Goncalves explains. “For me, the right path was music education. It felt comforting to know that after my four years, I could teach in public schools.”  

In addition to her studies—and student teaching—Goncalves is involved in several music and vocal ensembles, including Vocal Jazz, and she’s also the mastermind behind the university’s first-ever Songwriting and Production Club.  

“At first, it was tough to get people to participate. I didn’t realize how vulnerable it is to share your own music,” she says. “But now we’ve actually built friendships, and people feel a lot more comfortable sharing stuff and getting feedback from other people.” 

The club hosts music and songwriting workshops, group sessions, guest speakers, and even open mic nights, the most recent of which was held at The Drake in downtown Amherst.  

As for students who are new to UMass, Goncalves offers two pieces of advice.  

One: “Ask questions. I know that I didn’t ask enough questions as a freshman, and I didn’t get involved with things because of that,” she explains. “I thought I could figure it all out myself. But it’s overwhelming, so if you don’t know something, just ask.”  

And, two: “Be open to doing anything and trying new things. . . . My freshman year, I would never have had the guts to start the Songwriting Club. I was very homesick. But, eventually, I found a couple of friends on my floor that are now my best friends. I made my UMass my home. It was very gradual and very hard, but so worth it.”