The scene is like a fairy tale. A beautiful young woman stands at the edge of a woods dressed in an emerald gown. She sings in a spellbinding soprano that could summon animals from the forest, break an evil curse or cast an enchantment across the land.
But this is not Cinderella in glass slippers at the ball. It’s a campus photo shoot with Elizabeth Curtin (ACCT ’15) in elegant green pumps, dodging deer droppings as gnats buzz in her face. Dressed in her witch costume from the just-finished student production of Into the Woods, she sings the haunting “Witch’s Lament” and gestures dramatically as the camera clicks. She is unwaveringly focused, gloriously confident and improbably professional.
And it’s completely clear: If magic exists here or in any of Curtin’s time at Notre Dame, it’s only a sprinkling on top of her hard work and talent and whatever else she can give.
Because Curtin is walking two very demanding paths.
One minute, she’s in a voice lesson singing scales while standing one-legged on a stack of books in a complex yoga pose, a holistic method to help with focus and breathing.
The next minute she’s agonizing over memorizing the parts of a balance sheet. During spring break, she cries over a word from a German aria that she just can’t seem to nail.
And in her Cost Accounting class, she stares at T-account paths until her eyes blur and she can’t get the words “direct materials” out of her head.
Sometimes she throws herself into cleaning frenzies as therapy. And she gets accustomed to operating on very little sleep.
But then there are the glorious moments.
Landing lead or prominent stage roles in four campus productions including Sweeney Todd, Legally Blonde and the lead female role of Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide for her last college performance.
Performing with the Notre Dame student rock group Band du Jour in local clubs and at the first-ever Mendoza Gala, held spring 2014 for business undergraduates.
Earning enough credits to sit for the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) examination upon graduation.
And performing brilliantly enough at a summer tax internship to be offered a job with BDO, one of the largest and most prestigious accounting firms in her hometown of Houston.
Even so, what kind of person decides to embark upon this dual path in the first place? And why?
“Music is my first love, and I was thinking about studying music only,” Curtin says. “But I decided I also wanted to understand business as well. I’ve always loved the idea of entrepreneurial endeavors, especially after working in a restaurant and thinking maybe someday I’d open my own little jazz bar or restaurant. And my dad impressed upon me that business is applicable to any life path. So where else would you study undergraduate business but Notre Dame?”
She decided to go for it, to honor both hemispheres of what she calls her “dual brain.”
Before enrolling, Curtin spoke to Notre Dame voice professor Georgine Resick about the demands of music: at least nine hours of practice a week, commitment to strenuous physical exercise and learning to sing proficiently in German, Italian and French. “Music will take everything you can give it — physically, emotion- ally, mentally, spiritually. And still ask for more,” Resick says. “It is a profession of complete commitment.”
Accounting, of course, is no less demanding. Curtin’s older brother, Matt Curtin (ACCT ’05), guided her toward the major. “Beth is hard-working and intelligent, which are base requirements,” he says. “But I recommended accounting because it would make her a more effective contributor, decision maker and problem solver, no matter what field she chose.”
He worried about the double major. “Accounting at Notre Dame is difficult by itself, let alone adding a second major in an entirely different discipline,” he says. “But Beth has more than risen to the challenge.”
Resick agrees. “Elizabeth works hard and walks in ready for anything. But she also is very clear about what’s going to work for her,” she says, calling Curtin one of the best students she’s taught in her 25 years at Notre Dame. “And beyond her hard work, she has her own creative vision. She realizes how much she needs to learn, but nobody will ever dictate to this young woman how to approach a piece of music, how to sing it, how to perform it. This is why I am certain she could make it in the music business. Elizabeth is her own architect.”
Yes, an architect like so many Notre Dame students who are choosing to build their experiences on seemingly disparate majors. As of fall 2014, there are 1,399 Notre Dame students pursuing double majors.
But does the dual path distract from or diminish something as esteemed and rigorous as an accounting major? Should accounting students be only accounting students? No, says Assistant Accountancy Professor F. Asis Martinez-Jerez, Curtin’s Cost Accounting teacher who urged her to follow her diverse interests.
“We are at a university that calls for universal education and not-so-much specialized education,” he says. “We need to form well-rounded people, individuals and society members. So if you have a second call, then do it. In my point of view, it would be a big mistake to try to straightjacket everybody in only accounting courses. That’s not our mission here.”
Indeed, Curtin has already seen how business and music can complement each other. In her junior year, she served as co- president of PEMCo, a student group that produces musicals. “I was glad I had done those team projects in my business classes,” she laughs. “It helps you handle conflict and communicate and schedule. I was grateful for those skills.”
But no matter how enchanted their lives, most double majors must choose one direction and deny the other path at some point. For Curtin, two promising futures lay ahead after narrowing her choices: graduate school for vocal performance or the job with BDO. After some soul-searching and a few personal factors that made her want to stay close to home, she chose the accounting job. And she’s excited about it. “When I got into the upper level accounting classes and the tax internship, I started seeing the big picture and it really appealed to me,” she says. “I have become fascinated by it, and I can’t wait to start my business career.”
But what about music, her first love? “Yes, I’ll miss the level of time and dedication to music that I’ve become used to, but music will always be part of my life,” she says. “I grew up sitting under a baby grand piano while my three brothers made music, and that was the most potent feeling of home and family, and I always want that in my life.
“And I haven’t necessarily given up on music in the future. But if I do it, I want to do it when I’m ready and from a position of strength.”
She’s confident her dual path has prepared her for what’s ahead. “This has certainly been a challenging place, but it has been the best experience I could imagine,” Curtin says. “Even though I have zero free time, I would rather do it this way and get everything out of it that I can.”