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Singing My Heart Out

At the beginning of the school year, the college guidance team at my school visited our classes to explain the importance of summer vacation. At first, I wondered why we had to worry about it — we were only 10th graders! But the counselors explained that what we do in the summer really impacts our resumes and our college applications. My guidance counselor Mr. LeeYow knew I loved music and singing — I had performed in the musicals Aida and Schoolhouse Rock at my high school. He suggested I apply for a program called the Summer Arts Institute in New York City.

To apply, I had to request recommendation letters from my teachers and write an essay that described my singing experience and explained why I should be accepted. It was a new experience and made me feel really independent. I got a glimpse of what applying for college must be like. When I arrived at the audition, I heard other students singing classical and opera pieces, and I was so nervous. However, as soon as I started to sing, “I Know The Truth” from the musical Aida, my nerves went away. In June, I got the email that I was accepted and I felt so accomplished and proud. Hundred of vocalists had auditioned — but they chose me!

When I arrived at Summer Arts Institute in July, I was nervous and excited. But again the nerves went away — from the minute I stepped through the door, we sang non-stop every day. I had two vocal coaches, Ms. Skoog and Dr. Bardellosi, who gave us difficult music to learn. I had trouble learning how to read music at first — and singing the classical pieces we were assigned was quite intimidating. I sometimes felt like I was lagging behind compared to the other students in my studio. But the instructors took the time to teach us and helped me realize I wasn’t alone — there were many students like me who were learning to read music.

During my three weeks there, I learned so much about music notes, such as the tones of the chromatic scales and the Circle of Fifths, which all seemed so foreign to me when I began. I memorized the solfège notes (do, re, mi, fa, la, ti) and learned how to use them to find my right pitch. My vocal coaches taught me that singing isn’t just something you do, but something you feel. They explained why it’s important to truly understand the meaning of a song when you present it on stage. Now I no longer just belt out my songs, but I feel them throughout my whole body.

My vocal coaches taught me that singing isn’t just something you do, but something you feel.

At the end of the program, all the disciplines — vocal, dance, instrumental, visual arts, film, and theatre — came together for the final showcase. It was magical. We sang “Gloria and Kyrie” from Mozart’s coronation mass in C Major and a Tony Bennett medley arranged by Mr. Bardellosi. The medley included the songs “Stepping Out” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The most incredible part was that we got to perform those songs in front of Tony Bennett himself! It was so surreal. From the student orchestra, to the dancers, everyone did an amazing job during the showcase. I felt so accomplished singing these songs in front of a large audience and earning praise for our talents.

I was also proud to be singing alongside new friends — especially one girl named Alicia, who had recently moved to New York City from Colombia. She knew so much about music that at first she intimidated me, but I soon realized she was very down-to-earth and we became fast friends. During the program, we gave each other advice on our singing and encouraged one another.

This program awakened my dream to someday sing professionally and opened my eyes to how much work and practice it is going to take. In just one summer, I added both opera and classical music to my portfolio of skills. I know I will continue to challenge myself in the future as I learn all different types of music.

Written by Ashley Rivas September 1, 2016

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