As a junior, I have learned key aspects in my life that help me keep going and ensure that I am healthy. Of course, I am still learning and there is no perfect routine out there, but I have come a long way in figuring out some things that work for me. As long as you are willing to learn and experiment with what brings you joy then that’s all that matters. I thought I might share some things I do every day that make life a bit easier.
In the midst of unprecedented times, several musicians have faced a new challenge: several auditions that have typically been in-person have now switched to a virtual format. For many musicians, this is a MUCH more comfortable audition method! However, I consider myself as more of a “one and done” kind of gal. I want to walk onto a stage, introduce myself, sing for a judge, and then call it a day… but sometimes, you gotta record your audition from your apartment. I like to think I’ve got my virtual audition method down to a science, and I would love to share it with you!
In my opinion, there aren’t many more joyful things in life than making music with another person. I recently have had the pleasure of playing with Kevina Lam, pianist for the School of Music. Kevina’s talent is a gift to the flute studio. She accompanies our class week after week, while maintaining a full schedule with several other studios, recitals, concerts, and being a mom.
This week, I had some trouble with my flute. Actually, the problems have been very slight for about six weeks now, but it got worse this week. This comes at a shaky time for me, because my recital is in under two weeks! Yikes! The question for me was whether to chance playing on my flute with its leaks or sacrifice a few practice days without it. Thankfully, the repair person, Tom Peterson of Flute Asylum, loaned me a flute for the days mine will be in the shop. Here are some things I’ve learned through this experience:
Since September, I have been rehearsing 5 days a week for a show that opens on November 12th. It has been a long rehearsal process as it usually is for any production.
This was the first “official” fall break and Thanksgiving in my life. This one-week break allowed me to have some time to relax and recharge during the busy and nearing end of the semester. However, I didn't spend all the time vegging in my house; instead, I managed my time properly. It was really a pleasant and fruitful week.
Today, I was vacuuming my family’s living room in our home in Richmond, VA, in preparation to set up for Christmas. It’s my family’s tradition to set up a Christmas tree and cook our same-old, same-old foods (and for me, the National Dog Show is a must). My mom likes things to be clean, really clean, before we can touch any decorations. I always wish we could skip this step and just get to the pies and ornaments. But today I was reminded of the importance of taking thorough care of the things I need to do before I can get to the fun stuff. My goal for this break was to maximize my time at home by doing all of my homework as fast as possible, checking my eye doctor appointments off the list, turning in some graduate school applications and then putting my feet up for a few days of rest. But of course, fall break just isn’t that long. And with all the things we often have to do, the fun stuff starts to feel like an obligation.
The world-renowned Krannert Center for the Performing Arts offers many performances in a year and provides a vigorous and artistic environment for students in the School of Music. It had always been a dream of mine to perform on stage there. At the beginning of October, I finally entered Foellinger Great Hall, and it was such a great pleasure that my first time there was to be on stage as a performer alongside the University of Illinois Wind Orchestra. I was pleased to see lots of people in the audience. Even though the audience wore masks, I was certain that they enjoyed the music with happy faces.
I’ve been doing a lot of “stress thinking” as we enter midterm season, especially about how to study. A lot of research has shown that changing up the place or environment in which you study can be more effective than any amount of cramming. But when there are busy schedules and rehearsals which are central to Krannert and The Music Building, a change of place can be hard to find. That doesn’t mean we can’t rotate, though!
I am very happy to start my master’s degree at the University of Illinois as an international student. This is my first time studying abroad. Coming to the US for the first time on my own, everything is such a great challenge for me. Booking plane tickets, commuting from Chicago to the Urbana-Champaign area, settling down, buying necessities, or even cooking, are all thrilling adventures. I am thankful so far that this process went smoothly, especially during the pandemic. I also met many friends from different regions, and we all support each other in a new environment. I even started a new hobby of vlogging to treasure all these memorable times
Let’s talk recitals. They’re really hard and also really fun. In my time here, I’ve gone through the process four times. And I’m lucky enough to say I’ve experienced a miracle of sorts with recital prep: Each recital has gotten progressively less scary for me!
For the past year and a half, COVID has heavily impacted our way of life, particularly as students. I am very fortunate that we have in-person classes once again and that the university is taking careful precautions to ensure that COVID will not hinder that. I was lucky to be able to experience college life my freshman year before all of this happened, but now that we’re back in person, it seems that the transition happened way too fast and we as students have to keep up with it.
Sept 24, 2021, marked the first Lyric Theatre at Illinois concert of the 2021/22 season, which sold out within the first two weeks! It was electrifying to sing to a sold-out house (or should I say- garden) of 250+ people after a year of virtual music-making and limited audience attendance. As a part of the “Lyric Theatre Under the Stars” concert, I had the opportunity to perform the witch’s aria from Rusalka and a gorgeous duet from Madama Butterfly. We also sang beautiful chorus numbers such as One Day More from Les Misérables, Va Pensiero from Nabucco, and Make our Garden Grow from Candide.
The topic of advocacy, representation, and equity has always been a crucial topic, but in the most recent years, it has taken the performing arts world by storm. I believe that it is the duty of individuals in theater to be true allies and advocates for the rightful representation of characters in productions. Particularly this past year, I have reflected a lot on this topic and how I can be a better advocate and ally for others and myself.
Everyone says things like:
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,”
“You start to feel like a jack of all trades and a master of none,”
“You can do everything mediocrely or be the very best at one thing.”
And all of this is true! But it doesn’t help to hear when you really love what you do, and you happen to do two different things. For me, it’s writing and flute. Once I realized my passion for the flute and my love of language, it was clear I didn’t love one more than the other. And because of that, I am a dual degree student today. I want to write and play flute professionally and simultaneously. But that’s tough, especially if you know anything about the dedication required to truly master either art.
Right now, for instance, I am sitting to write this after twenty-minute segments of alternating practicing and researching MFA programs for grad school. And then there’s the rest of it--ensembles, lessons, recitals, regular homework, and heaven forbid a friend wants to hang out! It’s crazy, and not to sound as though my attitude is “woe is me,” but after a while, I really have started to feel like Elastagirl, stretched so thin it seems impossible.
However, if you’re out there and you love music and the thought of not doing it makes you really, really hurt inside, then stick with it. And if you have another passion that also makes you excited and ready to make meaning of the world from a different angle, then stick with that too! Basically, after doing this back and forth thing for a couple years, I’ve learned a couple things.
Learning, Singing, Laughing, and… Crawling:
Joining Lyric Theatre Studio as a Vocal Performance Major
Entering my junior year as a vocal performance major, I wanted to bring more improvisation, movement, and musical theater repertoire into my craft. After a long chat with my voice teacher, I decided to give the lyric theater studio a try! Meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 5, the studio encourages lyric theatre majors, as well as vocal performance and choral music ed majors to join! Led by professors Sarah Wigley and Michael Tilley, this studio has been nothing but warm, welcoming, and FUN!
A lot, and a little, has happened for me this past semester. It always feels that way, but looking back on this semester, has made me realize the progress I have made and the work that still needs to be done as a student, performer, and individual. I started off the semester very excited about what was in store. Fall ‘20 was isolating when I had online classes and we were sent home for finals week but the spring semester had more chances of in-person classes and more opportunities to actually experience college life more. With all the excitement I was feeling, it quickly transformed into stress, anxiety, and depression. Everything felt numb and the drive of starting the semester completely disappeared.
For as long as I can remember, I was excited about summer break. Excited to not be in a classroom, excited to be able to get outside, excited that any work that I was doing was not being done with any deadlines in mind. . .and then this summer walks in - happily reminding me that I am, in fact, writing a dissertation proposal.
We came in together. Nervous from day one about what the next two years had in store for us. Yearning to make the world of music education a more inclusive space - to bring to the forefront issues that are both important to us and important steps for music teacher education, or music education at large. The four of us, the quartet as we were lovingly called, have come such a long way since that first meeting at the Intermezzo Cafe.
As my freshman year nears its end, it has been and is a very busy time, with lots of end of the year activities! With all of the performance opportunities recently, it’s felt more and more like things are returning to normal. Within a two week span, there have been three major performances, with the last one 48 hours. Here’s the rundown.
The Senior Recital is the ultimate culmination of the Bachelor of Music degree. This is an hour-long program, and the solo performer takes the stage for its entirety. I gave a Junior Recital last year, and this was a 30-minute performance in the Smith Memorial Room. I was very excited to present an hour-long program, as I knew this would give me space to tell many stories and present different musical styles.
This past week, I had the unique opportunity to sing for a seminar for student conductors led by Professor Donald Schleicher, who is retiring at the end of this year. This workshop was centered around arias from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and I was lucky that Dr. Julie Gunn recommended me for it. I am always happy to sing anything from this opera, as it is one of my favorites, and the role of Count Almaviva is a staple of lyric baritone repertoire (my voice type). I agreed instantly to help out with this and was eager for the opportunity to sing with a reduced orchestra! I love singing with strings, and it always provides a welcome variety because even in non-pandemic times, rehearsals are typically with piano. Moreover, the aria I was designated to sing at the workshop was “Hai già vinta la causa,” Count Almaviva’s aria from Nozze, and this was an aria I sang many times throughout my audition season. I was eager to use my skills with the aria in this real-world application.
As a current vocalist and former cellist, I don’t get the chance to dive into the realms of cello playing like I used to. Luckily enough, I was told about the Illini Student Musicals production of Little Women needing a cellist for their pit orchestra. I couldn’t turn down such an opportunity as it allows me to perform the cello again. Prior to this experience, I have never performed in a pit orchestra because I was always more involved in the acting aspect of the show. I always knew and have been told that pit orchestra is way different than a regular orchestra, but I never really quite understood until we started to practice.
My dress rehearsal for my undergraduate junior recital is coming up, and I’ve been preparing myself to make the best use of the time that I will have onstage before the night of the performance. Here are some quick tips and helpful things I’ve been thinking about regarding this part of the recital process:
Opening the violin case is a very hard process at times. It often means you are about to focus extremely hard for a long period of time. It is much more convenient to just swipe past the Google Docs tab I’m writing on, to stop on Netflix about two slots over, or go grab lunch with friends. In musical communities, these negatives exit the mind, because everyone else is going to rehearsal/practice as well. It’s inspiring, because you see the hard work and great music of your peers, and also competitive because odds are the person you are listening to will be competing for a job or ensemble seating in the future. However, that practice room inspiration got taken away recently due to the epidemic. For a long time, there were no ensembles, no summer camps, no concerts, and no trips with friends to the practice rooms. How does a musician gain the motivation to practice during the pandemic?