Conquering fears through human connection
Standing up on stage can be a terrifying experience. We’ve all had someone tell us to just imagine the audience in their underwear, but some people have mastered the art of performing without drawing up that emotionally scarring image to put them at ease. The Voice Department Recital gives Vocal Performance students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance the opportunity to face their fears and perform meaningful pieces that connect them to their artform and to their audience.
This is Assistant Professor Matthew Thompson’s second year running the event, which took place in the STAMPS Auditorium of the Walgreen Drama Center, and he has enjoyed every minute of it. Thompson received his masters and doctorate at the University of Michigan in collaborative piano — playing with instruments, singers and choirs — but now he works with singers as a vocal coach, as well as teaching diction and an introduction to art song class. He says his favorite part of orchestrating such an important concert is that he is also the stage hand for the show, so he is able to see the performers in their pivotal moments before and after performing.
“They’re so nervous, huffing and puffing you know, and then they walk,” Thompson said in an interview with The Daily. “Then to see them the minute after they’ve done that with all that energy instead of all that anxiety. I just love to be there and be in that moment, I myself have been on that stage many times and others so I understand it very well.”
SMTD freshman Alana O’Donnell, who is studying Vocal Performance and Choral Education, has felt exactly that. Her first time performing in the Freshman Extravaganza was a blur, but now she has more of a routine for her precious moments backstage, including meditation.
“I don’t want to start the song until I’m entirely ready,” she said. “Just that moment of peace before the music starts is really important just to be like, ‘Okay, I’m finally ready. I can sing, and I want to present this to the world.’”
At this concert, she will be singing “She Never Told Her Love” by Joseph Haydn and “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” by Heinrich Heine, two songs she feels have beautiful messages. The concert gives her a perfect opportunity to share those messages and advance her craft.
The Voice Recital allows students an opportunity to see what it is like as a singer in the real world, providing practice and preparation for any performance their futures may hold, and giving them the perfect opportunity to quell any fears or nerves. “One of the hardest things to do as a musician is to go sit on stage and go out there and do your first thing,” said Thompson. “After you go out there and do your first thing, it’s much easier.”
Not only do the students become more comfortable onstage and grow as singers from performing themselves, but they also gain valuable insight by watching their peers. The concert showcased a wide variety of songs and performers, from opera to musical theatre and SMTD freshman to SMTD doctoral students. O’Donnell says learning from her fellow students is her favorite part of the concert.
“I love to hear everyone sing, all my colleagues, I love to see the progress they’ve made and their character,” O’Donnell said. “I love to learn from them and appreciate their hard work and learn ways in which I can apply that to myself.”
The students aren’t the only ones forming connections through music. With such a variety of pieces being shared, there’s something that everyone can connect with. Music is a rare artform that can speak to anyone and bridge gaps of time, language and experiences.
“Really connecting to the text and sharing that story can really bring communities together, and it’s just a beautiful thing,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just really exciting I really recommend for people to see it.”